How Google Webmaster Tools Can Help During A Domain MoveBy: Zach Walton - April 25, 2012
Nothing sucks more than having to move your Web site. Whether it’s because you don’t agree with the philosophy of your host or you can’t afford the fees associated with the current domain, there comes a time when it’s just time to move. Doesn’t make it any easier, but Google has some tips for making the transition smoother while retaining precious SEO and users.
The tips featured below are all about making sure search engines understand the new site structure if you happen to move, but it also has the benefit of making the Web site more user friendly. SEO and user friendliness go hand-in-hand.
One of the first things to do is make sure you’re redirecting all bots and users visiting your old cotent to the new content using 301 redirects. It’s also important to highlight the “relationship between the two locations, make sure that each old URL points to the new URL that hosts similar content.” If you can’t use 301 redirects, Google recommends using cross domain canonicals.
For SEO purposes, make sure you have the new old and location for your Web site verified in the same Google Webmaster Tools account. On a similar note, make sure the new location can be crawled by using the Fetch as Googlebot feature. Even though Google is discontinuing the robots.txt feature, old URLs may still implement it. Get rid of it so that the redirect can be found.
Just as you would in the real world, the virtual world requires a change of address submission form when moving to an entirely new domain. Google has a handy form available in their Webmaster Tools that lets them know about the move.
A move to a new site always runs the risk of your the user running into the 404 errors. That’s no good and it’s a major deterrent to people wanting to visit your site again. To combat this problem, Google provides a Diagnostics tool that looks for Crawl errors.
Checking and verifying your Sitemap might seem like common sense, but it’s still important. To that end, catalog the instances whenever a user hits a 404 error page. Find the offending URL and update your 301 redirect rules to deal with the problem.
Google Webmaster Tools offers a Links to your site tool that tells you which important sites link to your content. Inform these sites about your move so they can update their links accordingly.
Google Webmaster Tools are also there to help if your Web site is meant to target a specific geographic region. Check out the geotargeting preferences for your new site structure. It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t run two crawlable sites with largely similar content.
As a final suggestion, take it easy during the move. Don’t make a lot of big changes at once. This means no changes to “large scale content, URL structure or navigational updates.” Not only does it confuse the user trying to get to your site, but it throws search engines for a loop.
With the helpful tips, it shouldn’t be a problem when it comes time to move your Web site. You can still retain your valuable SEO and keep users happy.
Google’s Matt Cutts explained these concepts in a video made last August. Check it out: