Moving domains – an expert experiments

Back in April Google guru Matt Cutts decided to move his blog from his domain to another that he owns,, changing host and ip address at the same time. All things that can have an impact on how your website performs both for visitors and for search engines.

Now he’s moved it back, and plans to blog a little bit about the experience. It will, no doubt, be recommended reading, because it’s a very common experience – particularly for people starting out with a website.

Commonly it happens like this. You do up a website, or get it done for you by a friend. It’s no great shakes, but it works and you start getting visitors. You develop a following over a period – say a year – and decide it’s time to expand. You do some research and realise that your url structure is an s.e.o. setback, possible security risk, and a pain in the ass for your visitors. So you pay a professional web-design company to update your site, adding design features and switching to search engine friendly links. Maybe at the same time you decide that you want to change the domain name of the site as well.

It takes time and patience, but eventually your brand spanking new site is launched, and you’re delighted. After a while, though, you notice that you’ve lost some page rank, and that your visitor numbers are down.

What may well have happened is that your design company haven’t followed the best practice of redirecting all your old url’s to the new with an .htaccess 301 permanent redirect command. An easy way to check this is to go browse to one of your old url’s – if the redirect has been done correctly your new url should appear in the browser address window.

If you’re not redirecting your old urls to the new, search engines will probably see two near identical versions of the page at two different urls – at which point they’ll judge one of the pages to be duplicate content.

Just as important, if someone browses through an old link to your site, instead of being taken to your snazzy new site, they’ll end up back at the old site (if they’re lucky. We’ve heard more than one story of old files being deleted from the server once a new structure has been launched – meaning visitors get a .404 error).

It’ll be interesting to read Cutts’ experience, also of moving hosts and ip addresses. There’s still a lot of debate about how much your hosting location and ip address affect search results. Having a specific tld (top level domain – .com,, .it, .ie etc) or hosting location does seem to affect the performance of a site in a particular country specific searches – something that has caused a lot of controversy for example in Australia, where hosting costs have in the past been prohibitively expensive. Many webmasters have complained that availing of cheaper hosting in the states seems to adversely affect their rankings in the google australia index.

The bottom line if you’re a non-technical person with a website, paying someone to update its design, move host, or change anything fundamental regarding the site’s architecture, is to be aware that serious problems can easily occur just at the moment you’re trying to make the site so much better. In a perfect world the web designer will already be on top of things, but in the real world the onus is on you to ask questions and make sure that best practices are being followed.

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