Over the past couple of years, LSG has had the opportunity to work on some domain migrations that have helped us gain some insight worth sharing. Namely, it allowed us to answer the following questions:
- What should you check before starting a migration?
- How to implement a successful domain migration?
- How long does it take to recover from a domain migration?
If you are preparing for a domain migration or have done one recently, this is for you. We’ll cover some successful migration case studies we’ve conducted, how to do one, and give you a list of things to do before you pull the trigger to make sure everything goes smoothly.
1. Pre-migration checklist
You can use Google Sheets to help you set up and check your new URLs with the feature:
=httpstatuscode(insert cell with new URL)
This will return 2xx-5xx status codes and let you know where you are having trouble with your migration. You should troubleshoot URLs before taking any further action as they can make it harder for GoogleBot to find all URLs on both the old and new site.
You can see in the example above that a 404 error was returned because this URL does not 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 was successful.
301 – Moved permanently: The URL of the requested resource has been permanently changed. The new URL is provided in the response.
404 – Not Found: The server cannot find the requested resource. In the browser, this means that the URL is not recognized. Most “Not Found” errors can also be found using the following tools:
- Google Search Console crawl error report analysis
- Site scanning with text browsers such as Screaming Frog and Xenu
- Using reports on broken inbound links in backlink analysis tools such as Majestic
Common fixes include:
- identify patterns resulting in 404 errors and implement solutions.
- Where applicable, convert 404 to 200 and using rel = canonical tags to canonicalize them to relevant and live pages.
- Delete broken links from UI.
- When there is a high level of relevance, 301 redirects expired URLs to active pages.
Domain migrations to new domains
Our experience has shown that migrations to new domains that have never been indexed by Google or that have few or no backlinks suffer more when they are first published.
If that’s the case for you, also consider posting new content to the site once a week to kickstart Google’s indexing process. Ideally, this would happen several weeks before the migration.
2. How to migrate the domain
After reviewing the pre-migration checklist, these are the most significant steps you will need to take.
- Redirects – You will need to set up 301 redirects from your old URLs to the new URLs and implement your redirect rules.
- Scan the new site – Scan the new domain on determine if something went wrong or if everything was redirected as expected.
- Tell Google – You will also need to notify Google that the website is moving from one domain to another. This is done with the Change of Address tool in GSC. When you use Search Console to submit an address change request, Google is notified to prioritize crawling and indexing your new site over crawling your old site. Unfortunately, Bing has removed its site navigation feature in Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Update your Google entities – (e.g. Knowledge Panel, Google company profiles, etc.)
- Performance monitoring – Finally, you should look at your SEO KPIs every day until the site is “out of the box”. Be sure to check Bing / Yahoo in Google Analytics in addition to your Google traffic to make sure everything is recovering as expected.
We typically track critical KPIs before and after release such as:
- Branded and non-branded queries
- Keyword rankings
- Organic traffic by page type and keyword topic
- Goal Completions
Don’t make this common mistake!
A common big mistake made during some domain migrations is not to transfer previous redirects from the original site. This can cause some confusion and a loss of traffic from the affected pages.
3. How long does it take to recover from a domain migration
So once you’ve migrated your domain from the old to the new, you’ll want to get your organic traffic back as soon as possible. How quickly your new site regains the organic traffic it received from the old domain will depend on the size of your site and its complexity.
Furthermore, the predictability of recovery is affected by:
- Site architecture modification
- Editing the content of your pages
Basically, if you’re not making any changes other than the domain name, this generally shouldn’t be a big deal from an SEO standpoint. However, changing the URL structure and site content can make things a little more complicated. Both in terms of successful execution during the migration and in terms of forecasting the time required for recovery.
Let’s look at two case studies to show you what to expect with different types of sites after a migration. While each site has unique problems, if there’s nothing technically wrong with the migration, we typically see full recovery within 4-8 weeks.
Migration case study of domain n. 1
- Industry: spare parts and tires for motor vehicles
- What we did: Implemented domain migration, updated over 800 Google business profiles and local citations
- Website size: ~ 600,000 URLs
- Recovery times: ~ 60 days
Clicks for Domain A and Domain B
LSG’s elegant customer reporting dashboard shows the migration of domain from domain A to domain B. It started on July 11, 2022 and achieved the same level of clicks they previously received by August 1.
Note: The lower charts have a different scale, so the performance after August 1 is about the same number of clicks that domain A received before July 11.
Next, we should look into organic traffic. Remember that when you are measuring the success of your migration through organic traffic, you need to consider traffic year over year to rule out variations in the data due to seasonal peaks or dips.
Organic traffic for domain A and domain B
By looking at Google Analytics, you can see a year-over-year comparison of organic traffic for domains A and B from June to September. You will notice that organic traffic drops the most immediately after the redirects are implemented, but close the gap by the 3rd week of September.
You can also see Semrush’s monthly organic traffic estimate for 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
As this is a multi-location brand that sells products related to consumer demand cycles for automobiles, we can expect June and July to have a bit more traffic than August and September. While the traffic for September 2022 is a little below where it was in June, it ended what it was in September 2021.
Then, after about 2 months, this brand’s year-over-year organic traffic growth is back to where it was before the migration.
Keep in mind that multi-locations can face different challenges when it comes to domain migration in terms of data analytics. For example, they should check GBP activity and clicks after migration. Sometimes their GBP listings can “steal” clicks from the site while Google is discovering the new domain.
Migration case study of domain n. 2
- Sector: B2B SaaS company
- What we did: LSG was responsible for all technical and content SEO aspects, managing SEO projects and simultaneously managing SEO campaigns
- Website size: ~ 1.4 million URLs
- Recovery times: ~ 30 days
Domain migration for this B2B brand started in July 2021. This graph shows the organic traffic growth from June 2021 to the present.
Looking at the YoY organic traffic between June and September in 2021 and 2020 we can see the same pattern as in the first case study. The biggest drop occurs immediately after the redirects have occurred and then begins to bridge the gap as Google understands what’s going on.
In this case, organic traffic bounced back pretty quickly, in about 30 days. It converges with the previous year’s traffic level by August 1, 2021, and then surpasses typical traffic levels in 2021 by the end of August.
As you might expect, this B2B SaaS brand’s organic traffic is less affected by seasonality than the multi-site case study.
Our data from these two case studies and others suggest that the typical interval for organic traffic recovery after a domain migration is around 30-60 days. Note that this estimate can vary depending on the size or complexity of the site migration, which could include things like changing the architecture or content of the site. If you have any questions about domain migrations, don’t hesitate to contact 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.]