Changing domains while maintaining solid SEO involves keeping a keen eye on the technical details to keep your rankings from taking a dive. We created this guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of changing your domain (without taking a rankings hit).

Your blog content is soaring in search results with relevant keywords and high search traffic. Yet, if you change your domain name for a rebrand or merger, Google could tank your rankings. What gives?

Changing domain SEO is an entire subcategory of technical search engine optimization (SEO) that often slips under a marketer’s radar. The consequences can be costly, but you can avoid that pricey pitfall with the right expertise.

Charlotte Soto, lead strategist at HawkSEM, is passionate about bridging SEO and paid media to skyrocket sales and revenue.

In this guide, she dives deep into the technical intricacies of SEO and shares her pro insights on changing domains, including when it’s necessary, how it affects SEO, and ways to protect your rankings.

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When you change your domain, you essentially reset your site’s SEO history, putting you back at square one. (Image: Adobe Stock)

How does changing domains affect SEO?

Google’s crawlers don’t just respect and rank quality content and relevant keywords — they reward you for years of consistent performance. However, when you change your domain, you essentially reset your site’s SEO history, putting you back at square one.

As a result, ebbs and flows in your SEO metrics are a normal part of the game, says Soto:

“When undergoing a domain name change, fluctuation in your SEO performance is inevitable, especially when factored in with larger changes such as a site redesign, etc.,” reiterates Soto.

She points to when an established technology client of HawkSEM recovered from a dip in rankings six months after a major domain change and site redesign. What made this rebound possible?

“Our content, on-page initiatives, and ability to act fast with loss of keyword positioning quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) prominent for conversion,” explains Soto.

How to protect SEO rankings when changing domains

As Soto says, an initial dip in SEO performance is unavoidable.

The bright side? There are a few things you can do to help preserve your SEO value with Google, maintain your online presence, and protect prime positions on the search engine result page (SERP).

1. Confirm your new domain name

Let’s say you’ve recently changed your company name. The next step is to update your domain accordingly. But it’s essential to pick your new domain wisely. Make sure it aligns with your brand values and offerings. It’s also smart to keep it short and memorable.

Your new domain name will have two components:

  • Second-level domain: The main name before the .com; for example, HawkSEM in
  • Top-level domain: Everything after the period (including .com); could also be .net, .org, .ca, etc.

Top-level domains reflect either your country or business type and should accurately represent your brand to minimize SEO impact.

For example, a charity like LetsStopAids would use a top-level domain like .org to better indicate to Google that they are a charitable organization. Similarly, global companies might use .com for their American audiences, and a separate website ending in .ca for Canadian audiences.

Pro tip: Unsure which top-level domain makes the most sense? Our SEO experts are here to help you make the best choice.

2. List and record your backlinks

Backlinks direct website visitors from other company web pages to your own. These links function like a nod to your authority, and demonstrate that peers in your industry recognize your credibility enough to recommend you to their own audiences.

Audiences will notice — and so will Google. Backlinks are a great way to build site authority and thus, rankings.

But switch your domain and poof! There go your backlinks. So, what do you do?

You could reach out to these websites and share the new URLs with them. The downside? You’re starting your SEO performance from scratch since you’ll abandon the years of authority that your old domain name’s backlinks established.

Still, Soto recommends this hands-on approach for websites with high domain authority (a score that indicates how likely you are to rank well in search results):

“You may want to reach out personally for a link swap update to capitalize on the full power of the link exchange (after full launch),” Soto explains.

If your domain authority is average, you’ll need to carry out a redirect strategy.

3. Migrate your old site to your new domain

This step depends on which content management system (CMS) and hosting provider you use. For many of our clients, it’s WordPress. This web host has built-in SEO tools to help you navigate web design adjustments, including changing domains.

The easiest way to migrate to your new site is with a plugin, like the Duplicator WordPress Migration Plugin. While not inherently a change-of-address tool, Duplicator streamlines the technical steps of transferring your WordPress site to a new domain.

For clients on different platforms, the process might be a smidge more tedious.

Luckily, our PPC and SEO specialists have successfully migrated hundreds of websites and are on deck to do the same for you.

But wait — what about your long-time customers who faithfully type in your old domain name to get to your homepage? They might not be aware of your virtual change of address.

The fix: Set up redirects to divert them to your fresh new digital pad (aka your new domain).

4. Set up 301 redirects

Email marketing software Mailchimp shares that 79% of potential customers are unlikely to revisit your site after a poor user experience. This includes issues like confusing navigation, slow load speed, and the worst offender: 404 errors.

These errors lead to new web pages with zero context on where to go. In other words, it’s a dead end.

This is a common result of domain migration since it means you’ll have to change all of your URLs. But still, your audience might visit your old domain from memory. 301 redirects help you address this, by automatically directing visitors to the correct, current domain. This is vital to avoid 404 error pages, which can hurt your SEO performance.

According to Soto, a redirect strategy is imperative to avoid 404 errors for both internal links and backlinks:

“If a redirect strategy is in place, the new website URL structure can benefit from some link equity, even if it does not amount to a full 1:1 transfer,” says Soto.

Once you have your 301 redirects set up, you’ll never have to update them so long as you retain that new domain.

But there are instances where the switch to the new domain is only temporary. In these cases, you would set up a 302 redirect instead, which allows you to set an expiration date.

5. Re-index your new website

Just like with your old URLs, it’s crucial to submit your new URL structure to the Google Search Console to ensure search engine crawlers rank your new domain properly. Soto says this is a common yet costly oversight:

“Throughout my career, I have seen clients accidentally leave the site as non-index upon setting their new design live for search (as their dev environment was previously non-indexed),” says Soto.

The consequences? Lost lucrative search terms and organic traffic! And no one wants that.

That’s where the prowess of a seasoned technical SEO expert comes in clutch to help with the long list of tasks associated with changing a domain:

“It takes experience [and] expertise to know which areas to watch out for that only a subject matter expert will possess,” highlights Soto.

6. Monitor results post-change

All set? Ideally, your new domain is live and your search engine rankings are intact. The only way to be sure is to keep tabs on your performance.

For Soto, the most fulsome way to do that is with HawkSEM’s proprietary tech, ConversionIQ. This platform shows a unified dashboard of performance data from all marketing channels and tells experts like Soto to pinpoint where the revenue is coming from (or draining away).

Here’s what Soto looks for to ensure a successful site migration:

  1. Detect errors in ad platform data: Check platform analytics from your Google Analytics account (GA4), Google Search Console, and Google Ads.
  2. Configure new SSL certifications: This ensures browsers don’t block site visits due to presumed threats like data breaches.
  3. Confirm accurate KPI tracking: Ensure conversion tracking is enabled in all platforms to protect revenue potential and data integrity for stakeholders and annual reporting.
  4. Conduct a Google Tag Manager (GTM) preview test: This ensures all tags and triggers work properly.
  5. Include internal checks for extra insurance: HawkSEM’s internal analytics tracking team reviews data as a second set of eyes to avoid any hiccups in conversion/goals.
  6. Perform live Google searches: Use boolean operators (words like “or,” “not,” and “to” expand or narrow your search) to ensure all is indexed properly, and redirects are working.
  7. Launch site crawls to detect technical issues: Compare pre- and post-launch site results to check that all metadata has carried over and for technical improvements and downturn indicators.

We know; it’s a lot to digest. That’s why you should only change your domain when you have solid reasons for doing so.

Reasons to change your domain name

As you can see, changing domain SEO is a heavy-duty process of technical SEO tasks. With the right help, those tasks become manageable. But it’s important to understand what’s at stake. So, what justifies all the work that lies ahead?

  1. Rebranding
  2. Merger or acquisition
  3. Reputation management
  4. Legal issues

1. Rebranding

Say you have a computer ecommerce store that operates under a name like “U.S. Computers.” After years of selling only computers, you decide to expand your offerings to sell tablets, phones, and other electronics.

Your product range grows, but your business name no longer represents them fully.

Soto says changing domains highlights to consumers that you’re more than just “XYZ” (in this case, computers):

“Think of ‘Dunkin Donuts’ switching to ‘Dunkin,’” Soto explains. “The move was strategic to showcase to consumers that Dunkin’ is actually more than donuts.”

Domains might necessitate a change with shifts in your business or industry, including technological advancements and new innovations.

Credit card, laptop or black woman on online shopping for flowers or plants with digital money. Payment, girl or happy entrepreneur buying floral products for agro small business on ecommerce website.

Changing domain SEO is a heavy-duty process of technical SEO tasks. With the right help, those tasks become manageable. (Image: Adobe Stock)

2. Merger or acquisition

If a company merges with or acquires another, the brand name doesn’t always change.

For example, Disney acquired Pixar in 2006 but kept its original Disney name. However, some companies account for the acquired or merged company in their new name as a nod to brand loyalty.

That was the case for Nest, a company that sold smart home products like thermostats and doorbell cameras. But once Google bought them out, the website name quickly changed to “Google Store.

And for any confused customers used to Next’s old website, the homepage clearly states on top:

“ is now part of Google Store.”

3. Reputation management

Could public feedback drive you to change your company name? Definitely, especially as old phrases and language conventions misalign with modern audiences.

For example, you might have grown up with the famous pancake mix, Aunt Jemima. The company recently rebranded to Pearl Milling Company after the public’s feedback that the name and branding were a racial stereotype.

Another example is the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which changed its name to LiveStrong after evidence surfaced of Lance Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs in his cycling career.

In cases like these, Soto says improving a domain name can have benefits down the line and expand market share long-term:

“Most of the time when these initiatives are done, they are more for the consumer [and] long-term benefit of the brand than a sole SEO play,” Soto explains.

4. Legal issues

Say your brand name has been a popular local hit in your area and out of the blue, another brand says you stole their name. Conversely, say you’ve been in the game for decades, and a new brand crops up with a name too close for comfort.

This all boils down to trademark research and liability from using similar brand names. If this happens, you’ll have to quickly change your name to avoid a fine or legal action.

For example, the South Korean fried chicken restaurant “Louis Vuiton Dak” looks a little too similar to the fashion brand, Louis Vuitton. The restaurateurs thought they covered their bases by removing one of the t’s in Vuitton and adding Dak — a play on the Korean word for whole chicken, tongdak.

That didn’t fly for Louis Vuitton and they successfully sued them for trademark infringement.

The takeaway

The thought of Google knocking you off the SERP for a simple name change can be scary, to say the least. All the hard work you’ve put into keyword research, content creation, and link building could go to waste if you rush through a redesign or domain migration.

Nonetheless, changing domains is often necessary to preserve and evolve the identity of your brand.

And as for all the technical SEO tasks that come with it? It’s tricky to keep up with all the old pages, new pages, and everything in between. You might have a new domain name, but SEO is our domain.

Our team of digital marketing gurus have decades of experience learning and adapting to the nuances of Google’s algorithms and crawlers.

You just renewed your brand — let’s renew your rankings, too.

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon is an entrepreneur and writer from sunny SoCal. She leads Lyon Content, a tight-knit team of bold creatives, and crafts engaging written content that helps brands sparkle and scale.