Even back in the days of Web 1.0, sites were regularly moved from host to host, so it's common to see a "We Have Moved" page and a short message about updating bookmarks followed by an automatic redirect to the new address and host of the site. However, this all changed when Google, MSN (nowadays known as Bing), and other search engine sites came along (Yahoo wasn't a search engine back in the late nineties) and made SEO (search engine optimization) gain more importance.
How to Retain SEO Ranking When Moving
If you were merely moving your website, you wouldn't have any problems. However, the fact that you could lose your hard-earned SEO and SERP (search engine results page) ranking after you've done the deed can prove to be a dilemma of sorts. In order avoid losing SEO relevance you should prevent 404 (File Not Found) messages from appearing from your old site and its multitude of soon-to-be-outdated pages. You should also redirect your multitude of visitors to your new site whenever they try accessing your domain name. The less you inconvenience your loyal viewers and subscribers, the better your move will be.
Do Things Phase by Phase, Step by Step
In a nutshell, if you're planning to do a little rebranding and redesigning along with your move, then you should do so by moving your site first before launching your redesign. To do it the other way around is like putting the cart before the horse. In order to facilitate change properly, you need to retain a bit of the old and transition to the new instead of presenting your changes to your audience all at once. Internet surfers are a fickle bunch, so any redesign will be met with resistance. At any rate, you should:
- Find a New Host: There's a multitude of hosting services available to choose from, and hosts have become even more affordable than those in the past. This is the perfect opportunity to get a better host, at that.
- Back Up All Your Data: Naturally, since the redesign will have to come later, you'll need to back up all your files and archives to the new site before implementing a theme change or site overhaul.
- Switch Hosts and Test Everything: After you're ready to make the move, make sure that there are no bugs, vulnerabilities, and web crawl errors that will turn off your existing visitors and ruin the user experience of your moved site. Don't forget to submit a new sitemap of your site as well.
- Setup Redirect on the Old Domain: Get a 301 page-to-page redirect in order to make sure that all your old pages will redirect to your new site instead of producing a 404 error that's detrimental to the SEO health of your domain. You should also retain your old site name for at least 180 days (roughly six months).
- Check Internal and External Links: Check the internal and external links to your new site's web pages. You should make it a point to contact the webmasters of the sites who link to you and update them on your move (even though accessing older pages should result in a 301 redirect) so as to cover all bases.
- Do the Redesign: Thanks to the wonders of cascading style sheets (CSS), it's possible to do your redesign without affecting the archived content of your old site. If you want an overhaul of your navigation, do an offline version of it while you're moving your old site.
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