How to Migrate a URL to a New Domain for SEO

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How to Change URLs and NOT lose SEO traffic

I’ve had the unique experience of making full URL and brand migrations for multiple companies (including nine figure ones).  The larger ones are different than a smaller brand because there’s more moving parts, and at least one was in a regulated industry adding to the complexity.

But in each instance we maintained or grew SEO traffic, specifically new non-branded keywords.  The following instructions are what we do as a baseline when changing URLs and we don’t want to lose SEO traffic or potentially damage other marketing channels.

Note: Each site has unique variables and instances.  The guide below does not account for a new CMS system which may not be set up the same as your current.  These changes are often overlooked and can result in a loss of revenue from SEO, affiliate, and other channels.

Here’s the checklist for migrating to a new URL and changing brands while keeping SEO in tact:

  1. Crawl the website and map out every page and URL with the categories.  All quality SEO spiders do this.
    • Once the spider is done, add landing pages into the list.
      • Landing pages are used by email, affiliate managers, PPC, and other channels.  If you don’t move them then these channels can get damaged.
    • Now look at your database to see how many pages there are in total.  It should match exactly to the new site if you’re not pruning. 
        • Pruning could involve additional redirects, combining content, or deleting pages.
        • Check for backlinks when pruning, sometimes there are amazing ones and you don’t want to lose them because the page didn’t have SEO traffic.
      • There could be some excessive pages or outliers, so don’t panic if you miss a couple that don’t have traffic and/or are thin content. 
    • Any page that is vital traffic wise should have the keywords the page shows up for in a separate document.  Watch and see if those same keywords are picked up for the new URL once the migration happens.
      • I use whimsical to map out the site and pages with the keywords it shows up for.  
  2. Put all the URLs in a spreadsheet using the following columns.  The goal here is to match each URL from the current domain to the new domain so we can set 301 redirects to each.
          • Column A – existing URLs
          • Column B – new URLs
          • Column C – (drop down and optional) marketing page, blog post, landing page
            • Look for broken URLs or duplicate URLs because of spaces, weird characters, misspellings or typos, and capital letters that don’t redirect to lowercase.  We want to fix these issues before migration for important pages.
          • Column D – Status code (3XX, 4XX, combined, or deleted) to keep track of what should be happening if you’re pruning and combining.

Note: This is also a good time to undo any daisy chain redirects that are in place so we get a better crawl once the new site is live.  Use a scraper that has a report showing you all internal links.  And make sure to update any internal links within the content.

Pro-tip: If you move a blog post over, the content in the blog posts will have links to the old domain.  But the old domain will have canonicals to the new domain.  By not updating these internal links you send search engines spiders into a loop of inconsistent crawling signals.  We want to update those links in the new content so it points to the new domain and not back to the previous.

As long as the 301 redirects are in place the traffic and spiders will flow, it just isn’t the best experience for the search engines.  Places to update internal links include:

      1. Main site pages
      2. Navigational elements like the menu
      3. Footer links
      4. Blog posts
      5. Landing pages
      6. Breadcrumbs
  1. Now we log into search console and load the new URL.  Here’s how to do it from Google.
    1. This step can be done later as well, depends on your situation.
  2. In addition to the internal links, we want to make sure:
    1. The sitemap only features the official URLs (not extra trailing slashes or www if we don’t use www on the official version and that all sitemap URLs are canonicalized.)
    2. Robots.txt allows proper paths and blocks any features we don’t want indexed like search queries, parameters, etc…
    3. Meta robots are set correctly on both sites.
  3. Once we roll out the new site with the new URLs we need to change the canonical links from to point to the exact spellings on the new URL.
    1. redirects to
      1. It cannot have a type like a trailing slash at the end or a capital letter that redirects.  100% exact matches for the official new URL.
    2. In the example above, the canonical link on would point to so Google knows that is the official version.
  4. Once the canonicals are checked we log into search console and request indexing for the homepage.
    1. At this point I normally update the sitemap too, but you could do it in step four as well.  Either way is fine.
  5. Now its time to cache the website and watch for Google to crawl and begin indexing.  Once we see the new URLs beginning to show up, that’s it. 

    Note: There’s nothing any of us can do here.  Go for a run, have some wine, or focus on something to keep your mind off of it.  Focus on what is in your control.One thing that helps build my confidence while waiting for Google to do its thing is to go back to the sheet in step 2.  I click random URLs from the first column and watch them redirect to the proper one live in my browser.  Mentally it helps me know that the redirects are working and Google will find them properly.
  6. There’s a feature under settings in Google search console that shows crawling, downloading, refresh, and discover.  It’s not perfect but you can keep a close eye on these and how it’s crawling us to see if there’s any concerns.
  7. The migration is a success and we celebrate!

Other things to check before changing URLs with SEO:

  • Robots.txt matches and accounts for pagination, filters, search queries, parameters (affiliate, PPC, social, etc…)
  • Schema is updated so that we reference proper pages and URLs (this should be done prior to migration and during the page builds)
  • Have an editor at wikipedia or wikidata update your listings there
  • This document from Google is about server side redirects when migrating URLs and using 301/308.  It’s a great read as well.

If you’re changing domain names because of a rebrand or for another reason, I hope this guide helps you.  And feel free to reach out if you want a second set of eyes on your project.  We offer this when we have bandwidth as a one-off service with no monthly commitments.

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