The Chronicle of a Domain Name Change to a Blog

Steve Belt has a running chronicle of what he went through while changing the ULR Domain Name for his blog. If you are thinking about making this kind of change you should read Steve’s post on what you will probably encounter in the process.

I did it once to the lab a long time ago. There wasn’t much content at the time and it didn’t really matter. I consider the lab as an experiment it self so if someday it looks like ground zero for a total blog meltdown so be it.

I know the geeks will be hanging out on the Net today looking for something to read. When I’m not writing, that’s what I do. : )

Changing the domain/URL to the blog

Living in Phoenix BlogBelow is a fairly complete log that tracks the results of a domain change I made for an real estate existing blog. The blog was just 3 months old, and had achieved a page rank of 4 from Google, which I was relatively proud of. What I didn’t like, was the old name. Even though it was relatively short, most people expect a URL to start with “www”, so I decided to make the domain change.
Thursday, November 1, 2007, 3pm MST

I changed the domain configuration at Godaddy.com to point the new domain to my server, instead of being parked. The blog in question is hosted on my own Debian Linux server, via a T1 supplied by my telecom provided. I created a new entry in my apache configuration to point www.realphoenixliving.com to the WordPress directory for the blog and waited for the DNS changes to propogate. Approximately 1 hour later, I noticed I could ping and display the blog on the new URL, so propogation (at least for the DNS servers my telecom provider uses) was complete.

In WordPress, I went to Options, and changed the WordPress and Blog URLs. I refreshed my browser and needed to login again, but otherwise the blog continued to work as before, immediately after the change. At this point, I couldn’t have been more pleased with how well things were going.

In Google Webmaster tools, I deleted the old site and added the new site, re-submitting the sitemap.

I then started re-registering and/or changing all of the “fluff” that points to and tracks my blog:

  • Technorati – Forced me to submit the new URL as a new blog, as they don’t allow URL changes. I lost my authority of 27, starting over at 2. An authority of 27, wasn’t that much to lose, but this was indeed the biggest “loss” I suffered.
  • BlogRush – Submitted the new url as a new blog and deleted the old blog, but kept my “credits”. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be using BlogRush, as I can track very little traffic from this widget. At least it loads quickly enough.
  • Criteo – Submitted new url as a new blog. For a week, the auto roll had unrelated blogs, which is normal with starting up Criteo.
  • BlogTopSites – Changed the url. No loss of ranking.
  • BlogFlux – Changed the url. No loss of ranking.
  • MyBlogLog – Changed the url. No loss of ranking, comments, etc.
  • Feedburner – Changed the feed url. My personal subscription seemed unaffected.

Friday, November 2

  • I did some research about domain changes, and found the suggestion to do a 301 Redirect on the old URL to help search engines learn faster. In my apache configuration, I implemented a 301 redirect of the old URL, but did so incorrectly. The net result was that only the main URL was redirecting, no deeper links would redirect correctly.

Saturday, November 3

  • I fxied the 301 Redirect, once I realized the problem existed. The final slash, at the end of the Redirect command was missing. Here it is corrected:
  • ServerName blog.101bell.com
    Redirect permanent / http://www.realphoenixliving.com/

  • All plug-ins are finally de-activated and re-activated. Many need attention. WordPress does not have a way to delete a blog from the list of external blogs you manage. A support ticket sent in to WordPress confirmed that they do not have a way to delete the old stuff. NOTE: This task really should have been done on Thursday, November 1.
  • Due to the de-activation and re-activation of the WordPress Stats plug-in, along with the new URL name, all stats prior to Saturday are gone. WordPress support notes there is no way to merge the stats from what it considers 2 different blogs.
  • Sitemaps are now generated correctly with the correct URL path.
  • Google shows one page is indexed. If Google used that bad sitemap, from before the re-activation of the sitemap plug-in, it couldn’t have helped at all. The corrected sitemap was resubmitted to Google via Webmaster Tools.
  • When attempting to write my first post with a picture, I realized that thumbnails/pictures are not being managed correctly. This problem took a fair bit of time to track down, and was really the impetus behind re-activating all of the plug-ins. Finally, I found that the location of all uploaded pictures is stored in the WordPress database, in the table wp_posts under the column guid, which does not get changed by any Options changes. I found and ran a fairly simple bit of SQL to clean that up:
  • UPDATE wp_posts SET guid = REPLACE (
    guid,
    'http://blog.101bell.com',
    'http://www.realphoenixliving.com');

  • Submitted the new URL to StumbleUpon, which resulted in 60 stumbled hits. That was a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, November 4

  • Noticed that most internal links in existing posts needed their URLs changed from the old domain to the new one. At 8pm, I executed the above SQL on the column post_content, but messed it up, resulting in trashing every single post and page on my blog. My heart sank to 10 feet below my chair, as I contemplated what I’d done. If you are reading this, just for a moment, imagine deleting every page and post from your blog – but only for a moment – it’s too depressing to do so for longer than a moment. Investigating, I found my most recent backup was done on October 24th. I recovered all posts up to October 24th, and then used the cached results on Google and Yahoo to recover the rest of what I had trashed, aside from 2 unpublished posts (including my original log that was tracking this change). Things were mostly back to “normal” at 1am.
  • Prior to the attrocity, 21 pages were indexed on Google.

Monday, November 5

  • Down to 7 pages indexed on Google. It’s unclear if the short lived delete resulted in the loss of indexed pages.

Tuesday, November 6

  • Google Analytics is set up for the new URL. A new site key needed to be obtained, resulting in the loss of all stats prior to this setup.
  • Google reports that it crawled my site on Friday, November 2 in Webmaster Tools. Prior to Tuesday, webmaster tools on Google said it had not yet crawled the new URL.
  • 8 pages indexed on Google. Monday’s post is not indexed as of 12:30pm.
  • Automatic backups of my blog are finally working.

Wednesday, November 7

  • Not much change
  • 10 pages indexed in Google. All pages showing in Google for the new domain were written before the URL change.

Thursday, November 8

  • Google finally indexes posts written after the change.
  • 15 pages are indexed.
  • Google sends me an indexing alert 10 minutes after today’s post….wow!
  • 2nd post of the day did NOT index by the end of the day.

Friday, November 9

  • 25 pages are indexed in Google. All pages written since the URL change are now indexed. The most popular posts/pages from before the URL change are now re-indexed to the new URL, including the home page.
  • Google alert for the post written on Thursday afternoon arrived at 10:00am on Friday. Looks like Google is now visiting once per day at around 10am.
  • Google alert for the post written at 1pm arrived at 5pm. Google came by twice today.

Saturday, November 10

  • 21 pages are indexed in Google. Some older pages seem to flip flop daily between the 2 URLs.

Sunday – Tuesday, November 11-November 14

  • Not much change. Google indexes new posts within a few hours. The total number of pages indexed by Google hovers in the low 20’s.

Wednesday, November 15th

  • The change I’ve been waiting for. Google shows 96 pages indexed. Virtually every page on the site is now indexed under the new URL. It took just under 2 weeks to complete the conversion in Google’s eyes.
  • Yahoo, which was given less attention all along, has 46 pages indexed. At some point, which I didn’t write down, I did submit the new URL to Yahoo’s Site Explorer. It was probably on or around November 6th.

With the entire site indexed by Google under the new domain, I consider the change over to the new domain complete. Although I certainly had a number of mis-steps, that quite probably resulted in this taking longer than it should have, it still was done in less than 2 weeks, which was still pretty quick in my book.

Thanks Steve for keeping such good records. I hope you aren’t thinking of doing this again anytime soon.

Comments

  1. No one wants to lose their Google momentum. I am considering a similar procedure and glad to see others have made it relatively successfully. Very helpful information. Thanks.

  2. @Ron, glad to help.

    @Dave, this looks great.

    One comment to add: contact me if there’s a detail that I’ve glossed over. If nothing else, this should help you develop a checklist of things to watch out for. And above all: BACKUP YOUR STUFF.

  3. Great article, two questions:

    Why not just do a domain forward/masking of the new domain name to the old site and not change any workings of the site? Will Google still see the old one only?

    Also, where do you set up the notifications of the Google crawls? I searched through webmaster tools and did not see that feature.

  4. WOW…sounds pretty tragic. I was worried about all of this when I moved from WP.com to WP.org. Now if I am reading correctly this was all about adding the www. infront of your domain? Not a complete name change? I didn’t think that would make that big of a difference…I thought that was a DNS change or update.

    When I moved it seems the duplicate content has not hurt me (yet) My page rank remained the same and the indexed pages were already there. But I didn’t have the domain parked I had nameservers listed with wp.com.

    I am sure these are two different changes we are talking about.

  5. Hiya Scott!

    Each hosting company can handle forwards / masking a bit differently. It is important (yeah..I know that many of the search engines SAY they handle redirects OK now –grin) that you do a 301 permanent redirect.
    Some hosts do this correctly out of the box and some do not. Who\’s hosting you?

    @ Google visits–you can see them by looking in your analytics at who has visited you and when. I use Google Analytics on my blogs and some of my newer project sites…seems to work really well for this type of thing. Yeah…and it\’s free.

    Hope that helps and hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

    Eric

  6. BTW-Great post Dave and Steve…good help for folks doing this for the first time…kudos

    Eric

  7. A couple of clarifiers:

    The server in question is my own server, which I host in my office. It is a Debian Linux server, running Apache2.

    The reason I made the change, was that it was a little difficult communicating the URL over the phone. I was already using http://www.101bell.com as my “office website”, and just threw blog.101bell.com out there since it was quick and easy initially. With the success, I wanted to get the blog onto its own domain.

    The reason I chose to redirect the old domain to the new one (versus the other way around), was because I wanted the new more keyword friendly URL to be the primary URL. That approach would have worked fine, though, and been much easier to do.

    @Scott- I have a Google alert set up for “Steve Belt”. When Google alerts me of anything new with that keyword, I get an email. Due to this, I can tell fairly accurately when Google came by and indexed my most recent posts. The other thing I used a fair amount was a normal Google search on “site:wwww.realphoenixliving.com” to know how many URLs Google had indexed.

    @Eric- Thanks for the kudos. I’m hoping there are enough lessons learned here that other folks will avoid some of my bigger pitfalls.

  8. Steve-
    Good idea on the Google Alerts. I searched through analytics and webmaster tools for any reference to emails when Google crawls. I will set up an alert.

    Eric-
    GoDaddy is my registrar & Site Ground is my hosting site where I installed WP.

  9. That was a great step by step recap of moving a blog. Thanks for sharing! I have been debating moving one of my blogs from a /blog to the main domain, but have been worried about the amount of effort it will take. Plus wasn’t sure all of the items to take care of so it’s nice to see what is really involved.

  10. Great post The step by step analysis is well written and understandable for noobs like myself. Thanks

  11. Dave – I can’t say I have a need to change my site domain but if I did this would be a great description of how to do it properly and how to avoid some of the pitfalls by your trial and error.

  12. Bill,

    Do I hear a Buzz in the Lab?

  13. This is great for me because I freeze up thinking I might loose some of my visitors by making a grave mistake. Also thanks for the great plugins.

  14. Dwayne,

    I thought the same thing when I moved from wp.com to wp.org. Google never missed a beat. I struggled with the thought of the move for awhile…sometime you just have to say what the…???

  15. It took G about 3 weeks to fully spider my site when I moved it to my own host. All the links in my nav bar were down in less than a week. MSN is still working on spidering everything….

  16. So I just started my Blog and was really amazed at how fast Google Indexed the pages. But when you mention the alert that google gave you. What is that? and How do I get one?

    Now my biggest challenge is going to be to try a create a little page rank. I already have 50+ unique links, just waiting for a little page rank love:)

  17. Jonathan,

    Google alerts are great. You set them up here:

    http://www.google.com/alerts

    Example: I have an alert set up for “Tucson AZ Real Estate” any time a page with that term is indexed I get an email from Google with a link to the page.

    I know as soon as I or someone else has a page indexed with the phrase in it.

    They are easy to set up. I’ll be doing a post on them shortly.

    Eric on Search put me onto the Google Alerts with his post on reputation management. But I’ve found several other uses beside knowing when your name is indexed, including knowing when your pages/posts are indexed.

  18. Great idea to chronicle to exercise, very informative and gives us some more insight to the workings of the mystery men at Google.

  19. Madison Albright says:

    This is a greate idea. Google is by far an outstanding resource and utility for the world.

  20. Looks like business is going great. I have seen a new post in almost a month. I hope that sales are up and look forward to your next post. 🙂

  21. Joseph Ferrara.sellsius says:

    The easiest way to get Google to index your site is to sign up for Analytics.

    Thanks for the blow by blow account.

  22. I changed my website name 2 years ago. I planned the previous 6 months and thought I had every step outlined. I made the changes on Google analytics and many of the other changes. Everything seemed great for a couple months then all of a sudden my rankings slipped from 1st page to past the 15th page. It has taken me 2 years to get back to the 1st page. No more changes are in store for me.

  23. Chris, Out of curiosity, what was the old URL?

    One of the things that is the hardest to do anything about in a domain name change are the incoming links to the old site.

    You can use a 301 redirect to get them to the new site. But that doesn’t change them to incoming links to the new site. Notifying everyone that links to you and asking them to change to the new domain name is a huge task.

  24. I’m not sure I follow the benefit of Criteo…

    I went to the site http://www.realphoenixliving.com and did not see the Criteo widget displayed on the homepage. Are you simply registering with Criteo, but not installing the widget on your site? Or…is there a way to install the script, but change it’s appearance? I wasn’t quite sure what the benefit of Criteo is and how to use it.

  25. Hi Carl-

    I recently removed Criteo from my blog, due to performance impacts it was having on my blog. The AutoRoll from Criteo was supposed to figure out what kind of content your blog had, and automatically display other blogs with similar content.

    Dave has it displayed here in the lab, if you want to see what it looked like. You can see my post regarding what I found Criteo was doing here:

    http://www.realphoenixliving.com/2007/12/19/2-widgets-say-good-bye-from-the-phoenix-area-real-estate-blog/

  26. James Boyer says:

    Great post.

    I don’t think I will want to go through that anytime soon. lots of work their.

    keep up the great writing.

  27. Well I saved this info but I hope I never need to reference it!

  28. Did you alter the .htaccess file for your 301 redirects or did you use a plugin?

    After finding out that my .hatccess file was rewritten during upgrades I let a wordpress plugin handle the redirection.

  29. Steve Belt says:

    The 301 redirects were handled with my apache config file. I do use a .htaccess file to implement a rewrite rule, which gets rid of index.php from URLs (and it looks like Dave does as well for the Lab).

    I do agree a rewrite rule could have been used, but I don’t think that sends a 301 back to the caller, which I wanted to get the search engines to re-index the site under the new URL. It’s my understanding a 301 asks the calling browser (or web crawler) to make the call again with the new URL instead of the old URL, where a rewrite rule doesn’t ask the caller to do anything, instead it changes what you see on the address bar.

  30. TMI, TMI!!! for a Saturday morning. Although this is what I want to go through and really appreciate the guidance. I definitely will be back to follow the recipe. Thanks!

  31. Isn’t this as simple as properly creating your 301 re-directs?

  32. Andrew,

    Nothing is that simple. Even with a good 301 redirect in your htaccess file it won’t deal with the fact you don’t have any back links coming to your site. They are being redirected, true. But your new URL is getting nothing “No Google Juice” from the 301 redirect.

    The 301 redirect will help with the readers coming to your site or the search engine results being routed to the new URL. But there is so much more to the process.

    1. Best to pick your domain name and stick with it.
    2. If you are going to make a change do it early in the first month if you have to.

    Remember Steve did this without a map. This post should help those wanting to do it with less pain.

  33. I’ve change the URL for sites several times. Some with great success where it was recognized by search engines immediately. Other instances that I will call failure. Not because Google, Yahoo and MSN didn’t pick up my new pages. They all eventually did. But because the amount of time it took to happen and the resulting loss of traffic because of it.

    The funny thing is that Ask.com has never recognized any of my 301 redirects and I still have my old domains in their search!

  34. Oh yeah, I forgot to ask, has anyone else had the same experience with 301 redirects not being recognized by Ask.com?

  35. Justin,

    I recently learned from Eric Blackwell a very useful trick. When you make the kind of change like this and the one I just did combining two blogs into one. Delete your sitemap from your google webmaster tools and don’t resubmit it.

    Sometimes too much information is confusing. I waited a month and went from 280 pages indexed down to barely 100 after combining.

    I deleted the sitemap as Eric suggested and in 5 days the site went up to 455 pages indexed. Now after 7 days it stands at 1460 pages indexed.

    As for Ask.com and 301 redirects. “Who Cares” I think in three years I’ve had fewer than 6 results coming from Ask.com

    If anyone has experience with 301 redirects and Ask.com please weigh in here.