Changing domain names–learning the hard way

On April 11th I blogged about how after 2 1/2 years of blogging on www.infobaseventures.com/blog/ I finally changed domain names and made the switch to www.paulallen.net.

We thought we switched domains in a smart way to preserve our search engine traffic.

I congratulated my team on helping me use permanent 301 redirects so that Google would find my new site and I wouldn’t lose any traffic or pagerank.

Okay, so a week ago I started getting nervous again that we had made a big mistake. Here is why: I did a Google search for

site:paulallen.net

where I hoped to find that my number of pages in the Google index would still be around the 4,000 that I had before at infobaseventures.com.

To my dismay, I found only 175 pages indexed by Google on my new web site and my old site is down to 581 pages. So I’ve lost more than 3,000 pages from the Google index.

No wonder my Alexa ranking one week average for paulallen.net is about 67,000, a huge drop from the Alexa ranking of around 20,000 that I was seeing at Infobaseventures.com.

So I’ve lost a huge amount of traffic to my site because we used 301 redirects instead of 302 redirects.

I wish I had seen the article at highrankings.com that explains the right way to switch domain names before we made the switch.

I think it is too late for us at this point, but for you it may not be too late.

I would love comments from readers who have first-hand experience using 302 redirects temporarily and then switching to 301 re-directs later. Did you suffer any negative consequences like I did from your domain name switch?

24 Comments

  1. In all honesty I have never had a serious problem changing domain names with a 301 redirect – a small age delay, but never the 6-12 months that highrankings is suggesting.

    The other engines do a great job with 301’s so if somebody is going to go the 302 route I suggest they feed that to the googlebot and 301’s to slurp (yahoo) and msn.

  2. At a Utah PHP Users meeting a couple of months ago, we learned about a PHP script that could tell when requests came for the old domain, automatically crawl the referring site for an email address, and then send an email asking them to update their link. Maybe you’ll boost your ranking faster by asking everyone to change their links.

  3. Paul, though you might have lost some page rank because of the age filter (this would explain a drop in traffic), this shouldn’t have affected your number of pages in the index. I think something else is going on at Google. I’ll tell you why…

    My blog, which had over 600 pages in the index, now has 68.

    FamilyLearn, which had over 3000 pages in the index, now has 224.

    We haven’t done any moving of webpages. This is just weird. I hope to learn why it has happened.

  4. Janell

    I haven’t switched a domain name before, but I would like to comment that I wouldn’t worry too much about Alexa. Of course, if your traffic logs also show you down, then you can be sad…. But in case you were curious, here’s a forum posting, also from High Rankings, that talks about the usefulness Alexa:

    http://www.highrankings.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=18755&hl=

    And about the pages being indexed – I’ve heard there’s been a lot of fluctuation in what Google is showing for indexed pages since the Big Daddy rollout. So that could just be normal. But just in case, have you set up a Google sitemap for the new site? That might help.

  5. “The search engine friendly way to redirect URLs is to use what is know as a 301 redirect (you can see how Google and Yahoo! specifically endorse this kind of redirection).”

    http://books.google.com/webmasters/3.html
    http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/indexing/indexing-08.html

    “From a search engine perspective, 301 redirects are the only acceptable way to redirect URLs. ”

    “While Google handles 302 redirects very well, passing link popularity from the additional domain to the main one, other search engines don’t do this well, diluting link popularity by splitting it between the two domains, and negatively affecting rankings. Therefore, it is better not to use this method, and implement a 301 redirect instead.”

    Read more at: http://www.theinternetdigest.net/archive/301-redirects-seo.html

  6. Maybe Google would index more of your pages if you submitted a sitemap.

    I could help with this if you like.

  7. Scottie’s article is interesting, but I don’t think your loss of pages is due to 301s.

    BD rollout finished around Mar 28. Since then, many webmasters have been reporting lost pages (My site went from 2000 down to 7 pages). The news that hit WMW this Wednesday suggests Google is close to running out of space on their servers to index new pages, while the number of pages on the web continues to grow every minute.

    I think it was just bad timing that you decided to do a domain name change during Google’s switchover to Big Daddy. Under normal circumstances, 301s probably would not have been much of a problem.

  8. [...] If you decide that a different domain name for your site would be more effective, you may pay a penalty with the search engines when you change. Even if you provide the proper redirects and try to notify the search engines and keep all your content the same.You can read how one blog has had some problems after changing domain names here.www.paulallen.net [...]

  9. i not only switched from blogger to wordpress with it’s own url, but also changed from a sitemeter counter to performancring. we’ve been having problems getting real stats from performancering, so i can’t comment on exact numbers. from comment traffic, i would say traffic dropped for a month or so, but is now growing again.

  10. The other day I decided to see if Google provided a clear answer to this predicament, and I found something pretty relevant:

    http://books.google.com/webmasters/3.html

    “If your old URLs redirect to your new site using HTTP 301 (permanent) redirects, our crawler will discover the new URLs.”

    …HOWEVER…

    “To preserve your rank and help our crawler find your new URL, you’ll want to inform others who link to you of your change of address.”

    As of today, Google.com says:

    about 1,290 sites are still linking to infobaseventures.com/blog
    about 434 sites are still mentioning *infobaseventures.com/blog*
    about 422 sites are still mentioning “infobaseventures.com/blog”

    I have never heard of anyone going to the trouble of emailing site owners and ask them to update their urls.

    I also asked Aaron Wall, author of SEOBook.com, and he said, “Once the 301 kicks in make sure you leave it in place. also you dont have to contact everyone. I also have used 301s and had the pages barely change in rankings.”

    Currently your new domain ranks #3 for ‘paul allen’, which is up from #5 that you mentioned earlier.

    It is strange that PaulAllen.net is a PR 0 site and infobaseventures.com/blog is still a PR 6, but Google.com also said submitting an XML sitemap would help, and now we’ve done that.

    Remember, Google also made the Big Daddy update to their search technology in January which made waves (sites lots thousands of pages) but not sure if that would have much to do with this or not since it was a few months ago.

    One thing is for sure, GoogleBot moves at its own pace; Let’s give it some more time before we come to any conclusions.

  11. [...] About a month ago, I made a switch from Blogger to WordPress, and imported my php blog and tech blog into Jimmy’z Blog. In the process I set up 301 permanent moves to my /blog/ address, which worked pretty slick. About a month later, I’ve noticed that my pages are Disappearing From Google. After I had made the switch, I read Paul Allen’s post on Changing domain names

  12. It turns out we actually switched domains correctly and that the missing pages were dropped because our server was returning 404 Not Found!

    It was primarily a matter of not importing Radio UserLand to WordPress 2.0 properly.

    * Category names were sanitized (eg. gadgetWatch becomes gadget-watch)
    * A lot of RadioUserland posts were moved to ‘uncategorized’
    * Some RadioUserland posts were duplicated

    We didn’t have access to the actual Radio UserLand files, only the rss.xml files which for some reason were not published at the same time as their .html counterparts.

    So it wasn’t as simple as a WordPress RSS Import; a custom import tool had to be built that would scrape Paul’s published .html files for the posts and scrape Radio UserLand’s server for the comments. Then we upgraded the old WordPress 1.5 blog to 2.0 and merged the two–which required a lot of massaging of the MySQL data. And finally, we set up 301 Permanent Redirects for backward-compatibility with Radio UserLand and WordPress 1.5.

    After monitoring the 404’s I can safely say all the links have been restored today.

    Sorry about that initial confusion, Paul.

  13. Connect magazine got me excited to begin reading your blog. I believe I started on May 4th actually.

    Do you write in it anymore? (Sorry to bug ya) :)

  14. Thanks for going through the heartache for me. I just changed my blog over just like you did. Thanks to you I was able to use the 301 redirect and so far so good. One thing I wish you’d posted was that you can use the .htaccess file with the following line:
    Redirect 301 /originaladdress/ http://www.newaddress.com

    I also had to do it from the root of my server to get all of the pages to forward and not just the root of the folder. Thanks for taking the fall for us.

  15. cort

    yeah, where have ya been. this is the longest drought I’ve seen you have since I started reading your blog.

  16. [...] From there, however, the steps they took are controversial. While many support using permanent redirects (301) from the start to tell the search engines that your old domain is no longer used, some advocate using temporary redirects (302) first and transitioning to a 301 redirect only after you’ve done some link building for your new domain. Google chose the former, while others prefer the latter. [...]

  17. Hey Paul,

    Looks like your Google PageRank is back at 6 and you’re currently #4 in the Google SERPs for ‘Paul Allen’, which is also now pointing to PaulAllen.net instead of infobaseventures.com/blog.

    Guess it was the ‘Google Sandbox’.

    But that wasn’t much more than a couple months, was it?

    Anyway, your blog is looking great so I hope you enjoy it. I’ve had people asking me about making them one based on it :) It is a good design.

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