SEO Tip: Recovering Backlinks When Changing Domains

Changing your domain name has serious search engine side effects. Namely, the sacrifice in search rankings and traffic that follow a move, as search engines drop your old pages from their indices and crawl and index your new site pages. This process can take several months, therefore you must have a very good reason to change your domain.

Seattle ski and snowboard shop evogear faced an “identity crisis.” Its online customer base knew it as evogear, while the Seatown locals’ pet name evo had better swagger. So the company decided to drop the “gear” – knowing full well the consequences.

Domain change best practices

SEO-savvy evo followed all the domain change best practices, including submitting site maps through webmaster tools and setting up 301 (permanent) redirects from every single evogear.com URL to its evo.com counterpart. (SEOmoz has a nice summary best practices in its SEO Guide: How to Properly Move Domains).

evo also did something not mentioned in the SEOmoz guide. evo reached out to a number of webmasters that had linked to evogear.com (including Get Elastic), informed them of the domain change and kindly requested an update to the link(s) to point to evo.com. Time consuming as it may be, this tactic helped search engines sort out the link graph faster, and opened the door for new linking opportunities (this post is an example).

Another reason to seek out direct links, even with 301 redirects, is a bit of “link juice” is lost through the redirect. All inbound links contribute to your Page Rank (some more than others), but a bit less juice multiplied over hundreds or thousands of links can be significant.

The road to recovery

evo flipped the switch on page-to-page 301 redirects on August 17, 2010. Through daily tracking using the site:search operator in Google, evo believes the re-indexation process took roughly 5 weeks. Rankings did sink about a week after implementing the redirects, which impacted organic visits. For about 3 months, organic traffic had decreased 30% from the previous year.

August was the right time to make a move, because ranking and search engine traffic made a recovery mid-November – just in time for Black Friday, and evo is back to beating last year’s numbers. Swales credits the link building effort for shortening the “time to heal.”

How do you find backlinks to your site?

There are numerous backlink checkers available. evo used Google Webmaster Tools and SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer. Swales especially likes the SEOMoz tool because it assigns a ‘page authority’ which allowed evo to prioritize which link partners to contact first.

The takeaway

Changing domains has a major impact on SEO, and you should make the decision very carefully. If you can suffer short term for long term benefit, expect the entire process to take a minimum of 6 months, even up to a year. A bit of extra manpower (or womanpower) to retain direct backlinks can shorten this time, and help retain as much link credit as possible.

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10 Responses to “SEO Tip: Recovering Backlinks When Changing Domains”

  1. It’s worth pointing out that altering the links might not be the best solution in all cases. Links pass more value with age and if you alter them then Google counts them as brand new links.

    We’ve seen instances where altering lots of links resulted in the new domain being hit with a filter for acquiring new links very quickly when the old links were switched over.

    In most cases we recommend not changing any of the links and just relying on the 301 redirect, which should pass 100% of the weight provided nothing else on the site is changing.

  2. The thought of changing domain names is scary. This article should settle some nerves :)

  3. Hi Linda

    Other reasons for re-negotiating links include:

    1) A direct link is faster and more reliable than an indirect link
    2) Ultimately you may be able to save money and admin overhead by letting some or all of your old domains expire (thinking years from now, not any time soon)

    Another good way to find backlinks to your site, and to sort them into priority order, is to look at your Analytics and sort by Visits Descending.

  4. Bill says:

    Another suggestion is to be sure you are updating your directory links (ie Yahoo, DMOZ, BOTW, etc).

  5. so, Analytics may be helpful..Very useful information, thanks..

  6. Ne says:

    I find this post very interesting and I totally agree with these points. Also I would suggest blog writing and promotion.

  7. Reklama says:

    hm, does 301 takes through all the seo juice to a new domain? if it is, it’s wonderful. really thanks for the post

  8. Leo says:

    The reaching out to webmasters is indeed a good idea. If you have thousands of links though it may not be practical, so selecting the strongest links and sorting them in two lists 1.SEO strength point of view; and 2.amount of traffic driven, should allow to reduce it. Using tools like sEOmoz open site explorer or even yahoo’s site explorer can help identify those links (well I just re-read your post and you mention this… duh).

    The issue with changing domain name is that not only does a site loses some of its linkjuice, but I believe that some of the domain authority linked to its age is also lost (can’t really prove it, though).

  9. James says:

    It’s highly advisible you get those online tools that allow you to scrape for backlinks. A working knowledge of Excel wouldn’t hurt either, so you can effectively sort through information. I agree with Leo, there may be some link to having authority with the age of your domain age so changing domain names is usually not a good idea.

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