Whether you know it or not, your website has a domain - simply put, it’s the address browsers use to access your site, with suffixes like .com or .co.uk serving almost like a postcode. Every website has one, and a brandable domain name can spell success for your business, as they are usually memorable, easy to read and say, and help to inform internet users of what your business is about.

However, not all brand names are forever, and if you’re planning to rebrand or rename your company, you’ll most likely want to change your domain to match. Though this isn’t necessarily the easiest transition, it’s also not impossible. Indeed, many famous sites have changed their domain names, with the notable likes of twitter.com and ask.com making the switch from, respectively, twttr.com and askjeeves.com. But what does actually it mean to change a domain name and how can you execute this as seamlessly as possible?

Is a domain name change the same as a domain transfer?

One important thing to note is that a domain name change is completely different from a domain transfer, which is the process of moving the whole website (including the address) to a new web host. Even though everything else changes during a domain transfer, the domain name will generally stay the same. With a domain name change, the site’s server is the component that remains unaltered, as the existing website receives a new web address.

Should you change your domain name?

Though changing domain name shouldn’t have too great an impact on your site when carried out correctly, it isn’t a decision you should take lightly. The main risk is losing traffic, which can happen for a number of reasons. For example, acquiring a new domain name means that search engines like Google will need to completely reindex your site, and crawl your domain all over again. Crawling in this instance refers to when a search engine analyses all the content and coding on a web page to index each page of your site, making them eligible to show up in search engine results pages (SERPs).

However, forcing Google to go through this process from scratch may adversely impact your rankings in the meantime, putting a significant dent in your web traffic and your overall search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts. You should also avoid choosing an unused domain which has previously been associated with black hat SEO practices. If its previous owner used practices which went against search engine guidelines, Google could still punish the domain for them, which will impact your website even though it was not directly responsible. Finally, a domain change might simply undo the brand awareness you’ve built up among your customers, which could prove detrimental to the number of potential visitors to your site.

In spite of the possible risks, it makes sense to change your domain name in the following circumstances:

You dislike your current domain name

If you don’t like your domain for whatever reason, it could be time to change tack. For instance, it might now be irrelevant, fail to accurately describe your company, or be at odds with the contents of your website.

You changed your business name

If you have a new business name, or have switched industries, changing your domain is a no-brainer. However, bear in mind that the corresponding domain name may not be available, which is why you should only change your business name once you’ve secured a domain to match. Here at Novanym, you can choose from over a thousand business names, all of which come with an exact match .com domain.

You want a different extension

Another logical reason to change your domain name is to secure a different domain extension, such as .co.uk or .org. These suffixes play a huge part in your site’s perception — lesser-known extensions like .info or .onl may put people off, or cause users to question your site’s authority. Switching to a more mainstream option like .com will be far more advantageous.

How do you conduct a successful domain name change?

As well as the actual process of changing your site’s domain name, there are other foundational steps you need to take to protect your website from the risks of the switch:

Buy a new domain

Unfortunately, you can’t simply rename your existing domain and you’ll need to find and secure the rights to a new one and then connect it to your current website.

Create a back-up of your current site

Before you make any changes to your site, be sure to back it up in case anything goes wrong when you eventually do change domain name. This creates a copy of all your website’s data that can be relied upon in the event of any technical problems.

Check for domain penalties

If your new domain has previously been used by somebody else, there’s a chance that it may have attracted low-quality backlinks during that time. Google could consider these as spammy, and penalise your rankings in response, which will reduce the amount of traffic to your site. It’s essential that you use Google Search Console to see if this is the case, and send a request to disavow questionable backlinks if so.

Change the domain name

You’re now all set to move to a different domain name. How you do so depends on your site’s host, though most will simply let you change it in the site settings. Please note that the change to your domain probably won’t come into effect right away.

What are the next steps?

Now the consolidation work begins to ensure your SEO rankings won’t be affected by the switch.

Verify the new domain

Use Google Search Console to verify your new domain with the Change Of Address tool. This will tell Google to index your new domain instead of your old one, as well as transferring the ranking signals—essentially the things underlying your site’s SEO value—from your old links. You should also create a new XML sitemap, which can help Google crawl your site and find all of the pages on it.

Set up 301 redirects

The next step is to set up 301 redirects to the new web address, which ensures that Google and users will automatically be redirected to the new site if they try to access your old domain.

Keep your old domain(s)

Even though it won’t be used by visitors on purpose, we’d still recommend paying to retain the rights to your old domain. It is useful to keep traffic redirecting away from it, and can also ensure that the domain will stay out of the hands of your competitors.

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