How to Move a Site to a New Domain (Without a SEO Penalty)

move-site-new-domainIn this post, you'll learn how to easily move a complete site to a new domain.

And without losing any traffic or getting a SEO penalty.

After moving back to Canada in April, we needed to change our domain name. We couldn't rightly use the name BloggerAbroad, if we weren't abroad anymore. So earlier today I moved the complete WordPress site from bloggerabroad.com to bryanhaines.com.

Here's how I did it:

How To Move a Site to a New Domain

There are many ways to move a site. You could export the database and then reimport it into a WordPress installation on your new domain. The problem with this is that it won't maintain any of your customizations – including  sidebars, headers, footers or themes. Only your posts, pages and comments will be saved. You could have to rebuild the whole site! Obviously, this is a last resort.

There is a better way. And it only took about 30 minutes. (It took me longer to write this post, than it did for me to migrate the site.)

I've been using BlogVault for years to keep our sites backed up. Last year, I used this app to auto restore my daughters site. It had been hacked and in a matter of minutes I was able to restore the site to its original state, before the hack.

In addition to the site backup function, BlogVault also does site migration (included with your subscription).

migrate wordpress siteWhat you'll need to migrate your site using BlogVault:

  1. subscription with BlogVault (a single site service is all you need)
  2. a new domain (learn about choosing a great name)
  3. your hosting ftp details (ftp server address, username and password)
  4. a basic install of WordPress (no theme or plugins) on your new domain

With these details, you're ready to get started.

After logging into your BlogVault account, choose “Migrate-Site” option from the menu. You might need to select “More Options” to see this.

On the next screen (pictured below) you'll need to enter your ftp credentials.

move a site to a new domain

move wordpress site to new domainIf you have entered the details correctly, you will see a list of files/folders. (If you are struggling with this, just contact your web host). What you are seeing is a file list from your server.

You are looking for this folder: public_html/

Inside of this folder, you'll find another folder named after your domain. In my case, the folder was named bryanhaines.com Simply select your folder and click “continue”.

Now BlogVault will move your complete WordPress site to your new domain.

More than just move files, the application also updates the complete file structure – renaming all internal links to match your new domain. I didn't have to fix any broken links from the migration! This one feature saved me countless hours of sifting the pages and rebuilding the cross links in the site.

Now you can check out your new site – everything should be identical.

A few things to remember:

  • Your login credentials will be the same as before. You can forget your username/password from when you setup the initial WordPress install on your new domain. That information was overwritten when you migrated the site.
  • You need to update your social networks, Google Webmaster Tools, and email signatures with your new url.
  • You will likely need to change your logo and site metadata to reflect your new site name / url.

But now what do you do? You have two identical sites!

How to Avoid SEO Penalties

Now that you have a functioning cloned site, you need to put a few things in place to maintain your SEO ranking and help visitors see your new site.

Maintain SEO Ranking after Moving to a New Domain

  1. Create a 301 permanent redirect
  2. Notify Google Webmaster Tools of your change of address

To create a 301 redirect, you'll need to modify your .htaccess file. Don't worry, this is very easy.

To do this, you'll need FTP client software. I prefer FileZilla (it's free and powerful). This is software that you'll download and run from your computer. You will use this software to access your server files and make a very small adjustment in one file.

To log in to your server using FileZilla, you'll need the same details as you used above (ftp credentials) to migrate your site. Once you connect, you will navigate to public_html/. Inside of this folder you will find your old domain folder. Inside of this folder you need to find a file called .htaccess. This will be in the root of your domain folder.

To make your modification, just right click on the file name and choose “View/Edit”. Then you need to add one line of code/text.

The file will open in a text editor (likely Notepad). Under the line: RewriteEngine On copy/paste the following line of text: Redirect 301 / http://bryanhaines.com/ (be sure to insert your domain name in place of mine). See image below:

After entering this information (and not changing anything else) you'll choose “Save” and your modified .htaccess file will be uploaded to your server. To test, just visit any url from your old domain. It should automatically redirect to the same page on your new domain.

301 redirect move site

Advising Google of your Change of Address

This last step is very important – especially if you are getting any traffic from search engines. You need to tell Google that you moved your site to a new domain. Here's how to do it:

Inside of Google Webmaster Tools, you will visit the site details for your old url. Click on the gear and choose “change of site address” tool. This will bring up the following menu:

google change of address

On this screen, you'll choose the new site from the list. Google will also test that your 301 redirects are working properly and that both sites are properly verified (confirming that you are the owner of both domains). Once you click submit, you can just sit back and relax.

Congratulations! You have successfully moved your site to a new domain – and avoided any SEO penalties. Learn more about SEO keyword research.

move-site-new-domain

Other Site Migration Considerations

Now that your site is up and running, there are a few fine details to consider. Not all are required, but they should considered:

  • Google Analytics code
  • social media accounts
  • New logo
  • SEO metadata
  • adjust links and references to your new domain from your other sites
  • change Google Adsense code
  • disable any scheduled posts on your old domain

And lastly, be sure to test, test, test your new site. It's important to double check site structure and cross-links. Mistakes can happen – it's best to catch them early.

Your Turn

Have a tip or challenge with your WordPress site migration? Please share it below!

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Hi, I'm the Author!

Bryan Haines is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is co-founder of WiseGuides.ca (Nova Scotia travel blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for Canadian travel brands). Bryan is also an avid photographer. Check out ClickLikeThis, a GoPro tutorial blog he runs with his wife, Dena.

4 comments… add one
  • Helen Earley Mar 29, 2016, 10:44 am

    Really helpful information, thank you! I have been toying with the idea of merging some of the content from my blog at eastcoastmum.ca with my new domain helenearley.com (a soon-to-be-published portfolio site), for the sole reason that one of my posts on eastcoastmum seems to have hit the keyword jackpot and brings me a lot of traffic. The reason I want to shut down eastcoastmum is because I realise I will not always be a Mummy Blogger (but I will always be Helen Earley). For the moment I am keeping them separate, in part because I am just so frightened of being penalized. Blog Vault looks like a great product. Is it pricey? Thanks again for the information. Helen

    • Bryan Haines May 12, 2016, 8:26 am

      I think it’s a great idea to merge sites and focus on building domain authority for just one.

      Blog vault is just $9/month ($89/yr) for one site. Although it’s a great tool to use all the time, you could just buy it for the month to migrate your content.

      Sorry for my slow response – I somehow missed your comment.

  • Bristol Taxi Jul 27, 2015, 9:27 am

    Thank you for sharing this news. Will help to avoid penalty. thanks again.

  • Basharath Jun 29, 2015, 1:18 pm

    Hello sir ,
    This is a very good trick. Generally moving a site to new domain will definitely be problematic in SEO aspects. But this is great. Thank you for sharing this trick with us…

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