Over the last couple years, LSG has had the opportunity to work on a few domain migrations that have helped us gain some insights worth sharing. Namely, it’s allowed us to answer the following questions:
- What should you check before you start a migration?
- How do implement a successful domain migration?
- How long does it take to recover from a domain migration?
If you’re prepping for a domain migration or you recently did one, this is for you. We’ll cover some case studies of successful migrations we’ve conducted, how to do one, and give you a checklist of things to do before you pull the trigger to ensure everything goes smoothly.
1. Pre-Migration Checklist
You can use Google Sheets to help you set up and check your new URLs with the function:
=httpstatuscode(insert cell with new URL)
This will return 2xx-5xx status codes and let you know where you have issues with your migration. You should fix URL issues before taking any further action since they can make it more difficult for GoogleBot to find all of the URLs on both the old and new sites.
You can see in the example above it’s returned a 404 error because this URL doesn’t exist. For this to work, you need to copy and paste some code into Apps Script from Google sheets–the process is pretty quick and painless.
Some important codes to know:
200 – Successful response: The request succeeded.
301 – Moved Permanently: The URL of the requested resource has been changed permanently. The new URL is given in the response.
404 – Not Found: The server can not find the requested resource. In the browser, this means the URL is not recognized. The majority of “Not Found” errors can also be found using the following tools:
- Analyzing Google Search Console’s Crawl Errors Report
- Crawling the site with text browsers like Screaming Frog and Xenu
- Using the broken inbound link reports in backlink analysis tools like Majestic
Common Fixes Include:
- locating patterns that were resulting in 404 errors and implementing solutions.
- Where applicable, convert 404s to 200s and by using rel=canonical tags to canonicalize them to live, relevant pages.
- Get rid up the broken links from the UI.
- When there’s a high level of relevancy, 301 redirecting out-of-date URLs to live pages.
Domain Migrations to New Domains
Our experience has shown that migrations to new domains that have either never been indexed by Google or have few or no backlinks suffer the most when they are first published.
If this is the case for you, then also consider posting new content to the site once a week to help jumpstart the Google indexing process. Ideally, this would happen several weeks before the migration.
2. How To Do Domain Migration
After you’ve gone through your pre-migration checklist then these are the most significant steps you’ll need to take.
- Redirects – You’ll need to set up 301 redirects from your old URLs to the new URLs and implement your redirect rules.
- Crawl the new site – Crawl the new domain to determine if anything went wrong or if everything was redirected as expected.
- Inform Google – You’ll also need to tell Google that the website is moving from one domain to the other. This is done with the Change of Address Tool in GSC. When you use Search Console to submit a change of address request, Google is informed to prioritize crawling and indexing your new site over crawling your old site. Unfortunately, Bing removed its own Site Move function in Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Update your Google entities – (e.g. Knowledge Panels, Google Business Profiles, etc.)
- Performance Monitoring – Lastly, you should be watching your SEO KPIs daily until the site is “out of the woods”. Be sure to check Bing/Yahoo in Google Analytics in addition to your Google traffic to make sure everything is recovering as expected.
Typically we monitor critical KPIs pre & post-release such as:
- Brand vs. Non-Brand Queries
- Keyword Rankings
- Organic Traffic by Page Type & Keyword Topic
- Goal Completions
Don’t make this Common Mistake!
One big common mistake made during some domain migrations is to not transfer over previous redirects from the original site. This can cause a bit of a mess as well as a loss of traffic from the affected pages.
3. How Long It Takes To Recover From A Domain Migration
So, once you’ve migrated the domain from the old to the new you’ll want to recover your organic traffic asap. The rate at which your new site regains the organic traffic you received from the old domain will depend on how big your site is and how complex it is.
Additionally, the predictability of the recovery is affected by:
- Changing the architecture of the site
- Changing the content of your pages
Basically, if you aren’t making changes beyond the domain name this should generally be no big deal from an SEO perspective. However, changing the URL structure and content of the site can make things a bit trickier. Both in terms of proper execution during the migration and forecasting how long it will take to recover.
Let’s look at two case studies to show you what to expect with different types of sites after a migration. Although each site has unique issues, if there is nothing technically wrong with the migration, we typically see complete recovery within 4-8 weeks.
Domain Migration Case Study #1
- Industry: Automotive Parts & Tires
- What we did: Implemented the domain migration, updated 800+ Google Business Profiles & local citations
- Website Size: ~ 600,000 URLs
- Recovery Time: ~ 60 days
Clicks for Domain A & Domain B
LSG’s nifty client report dashboard shows the domain migration from Domain A to Domain B. It started on July 11, 2022, and reached the same level of clicks they were previously getting by August 1st.
Note: The lower graphs have a different scale so the performance following August 1st is about the same number of clicks domain A received before July 11th.
Next, we should look at Organic traffic. Remember, that when you are gauging the success of your migration through organic traffic you need to look at year-over-year traffic to rule out variation in the data due to seasonal surges or dips.
Organic Traffic for Domain A & Domain B
Looking a Google Analytics, you can see a year-over-year comparison of organic traffic for Domain A and B from June-September. You’ll notice organic traffic dips the most just after the redirects are implemented but it closes the gap by the 3rd week of September.
You can also see the monthly organic traffic estimate from Semrush over the past 2 years.
[Pre-migration] Domain A – September 2021 – Organic Traffic – Semrush.com
[Pre-migration] Domain A – June 2022 – Organic Traffic – Semrush.com
[Post-migration] Domain B – September 2022 – Organic Traffic – Semrush.com
Because this is a multi-location brand that sells products bound to consumer demand cycles for cars we can expect that June and July tend to experience a bit more traffic than August and September.While traffic for September 2022 is a bit under where it was in June, it’s over what it was in September 2021.
So, about 2 months out this brand’s YoY organic traffic growth was back to where it was pre-migration.
Be aware that Multi-locations can face different challenges when it comes to domain migration in terms of parsing out the data. For example, they should be checking out GBP activity and clicks post-migration. Sometimes their GBP listings can “steal” clicks from the site as Google is figuring out the new domain.
Domain Migration Case Study #2
- Industry: B2B SaaS Company
- What we did: LSG was responsible for all technical & content SEO aspects, SEO project management, and ran SEO campaigns concurrently
- Website Size: ~ 1.4 Million URLs
- Recovery Time: ~ 30 days
The domain migration for this B2B brand started in July 2021. This graph shows organic traffic growth from June 2021 to the present.
Looking at YoY organic traffic between June-September in 2021 & 2020 we can see the same pattern as the first case study. The biggest dip happens immediately after the redirects take place and then it begins to close the gap as Google figures out what’s going on.
In this case, the organic traffic recovered quite quickly—in about 30 days. It converged with the previous year’s level of traffic by August 1st, 2021, and then exceeded typical levels of traffic in 2021 by the end of August.
As you might expect, this B2B SaaS brand’s organic traffic is less impacted by seasonality when compared to the multi-location case study.
Our data from these two case studies, and others, suggest the typical range for organic traffic recovery after a domain migration is about 30-60 days. Keep in mind, this estimate can change depending on the size or complexity of the site migration which could include things like changing the site architecture or content. If you have questions about domain migrations feel free to reach out to us.
[Previously published on Local SEO Guide’s LinkedIn Newsletter – Page 1: SEO Research & Tips. Subscribe to keep up-to-date on our latest SEO research, hot takes, and trends in search.]