The simple answer here is yes, changing a domain name can impact a website’s SEO if you do not take steps to preserve traffic and communicate the change to search engines and your website visitors.
As your company grows or diversifies, you may be considering a rebrand. Alternatively, you may just fancy having a shorter, simpler domain name. Whatever your reason, it will mean updating all your online and offline marketing, and branding, to reflect the new change. Your domain will need updating too. Before making any rash decisions, make sure you ponder the impact a change in domain name might have on your search engine rankings. After all, your website will have gained a lot of domain authority to get you ranking well in search results and while it is likely your website will experience a temporary drop in search rankings upon changing its name, you want to make sure the associated affects are not permanent. Let us look at what might be affected and how to safeguard your search traffic while you transition.
Losing domain authority will result in a drop in rankings
As a digital marketing agency, we talk about ‘domain authority’ a lot! It is the key to ranking well on Google and other search engines. Every domain name has a level of ‘authority’, which in simple terms, is a measure of how much Google will trust the domain, and it is the level of trust that affects how high Google is likely to rank that website for any given keyword. For example, sites like Wikipedia.org and BBC.co.uk have high domain authority, they are well trusted sources, so any article or new page put on either of these sites will stand a great chance of ranking well. In comparison, a brand-new domain dame brought today with zero domain authority, will unlikely rank for anything until it has earned its trust online.
In short, deserting a domain name that you have had for years for a brand new one could mean your website goes from having good domain authority, back to zero and this will mean you will drop down the results pages. Your customers will find it harder to find you and this will impact on your website search traffic
Links will become broken
The quality and quantity of backlinks that direct to your website is another factor that greatly impacts your Google rankings. If you have had your domain name for a while, there will hopefully be lots of links to your website on directory listings, external blogs, social media sites, testimonials etc. These links are recognised by Google as ‘endorsements’ that your website is ‘liked’ by other websites, which in turn earns your site trust. The more links you have, the more trusted Google will deem you and therefore, consider ranking you higher in its results pages.
When you change domains, without applying the right redirects, all this information could be gone, and all the links will instead become ‘broken’ links. This could result in error pages appearing, and internal and inbound links breaking. Without being able to crawl and index every page of your website, Google will rank you lower its SERPs. Plus, visitors may become frustrated by encountering errors and decide to head to a competitor’s website instead.
Domain change solutions
Make sure the new domain name checks out
If you have bought an entirely new domain name then you can skip this step. However, if you have bought an older domain at an auction or from someone else, you need to check the domain history. Firstly, search for the domain on archive.org to get a history of what actual website pages were displayed on it. If you get results, you need to conduct a bit of exploratory search to check spam or low-quality content. The Backlink Checker tool on something like SE Rankings or Ahrefs, is a great tool for looking into the domains existing backlinks and the authority of the domain to ensure your new domain is a good one.
Migrate the site
When you are ready, you can migrate your site to the new domain. You will want to work with your hosting provider and web developer on this one and make sure you are completely ready and prepared because once it goes live, there are some SEO-specific tasks that you will need to complete (as per the below).
What steps can I take to preserve my website’s history, authority, and links, I hear you ask? A good place to start is to add 301 redirects from the old domain to the new one. Redirects help Google understand that your entire site content has moved to a different home and informs Google to update its index accordingly. This will help drive web traffic from the old domain over to the new one to help you maintain your ranking in SERPs.
Sometimes, 301 redirects can take a while to get recognised by search engines, so your website could drop in the rankings for a while and runs the risk of never fully recovering.
Tell Google about the domain change
The best way to chat to Google is The Google Search Console (or GSC), it is free and if you own a website, you should be using it already. Verify your new website with the GSC and you’ll also be able to monitor keyword performance of each page of your website and gain really useful technical SEO feedback.
Branded traffic will be affected
All traffic is great for your business, but branded traffic (the traffic that comes directly from your business’s website or blog) is the best kind of traffic to have for brand recognition, higher conversion rates, and increased ROI. Branded traffic refers to the traffic that comes to your business website because of people searching for you brand name. It could be because they have heard of you before and want to find out more, or because they have seen one of your ads and want to learn more about you.
If a company has a high search volume of branded traffic, a domain name change could cause confusion if people are not aware of the name change. If people are not aware of your name change, or simple forgotten despite being told, you run the risk of losing out on all that quality traffic. If your business cannot be found easily online, anyone searching for you will not waste time in heading back to the search results page and into the arms of a competitor.
Update all mentions of the old URL.
Google Business Profile, business profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. Then, reach out to anyone else that might link to your website – directory listings, suppliers, partners etc. and ask them to update any links pointing to your site.
So, what is your verdict?
Having the right company name is more important than being concerned about a temporary dip in search traffic, if you take the necessary steps to ensure that is it just a temporary dip. It is especially important to monitor your search traffic carefully both before and after the name change, so you can deal with any traffic issues before they become a problem for your business and stay ahead of the game every step of the way.