How to set up a new web address after a domain change

To access a website, internet users must enter a unique domain into the browser. These internet addresses usually also give a clue as to what the website is about. For example, a domain might indicate a central theme or emphasise the name of the company or brand.

If you are no longer happy with your website address, you can change your domain name at any time. To do this, you just need to register a new domain and link it to your website. If you want the new domain to benefit from your old domain’s high search engine ranking, you also need to think about using search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques when redirecting the domain.

What is the difference between a domain change and a domain transfer?

A domain change refers to replacing a website’s internet address, which primarily affects the domain name.

When a domain transfer takes place, users change the internet provider, which means the entire website (including the address) is transferred to a new server. In this case, changing or registering a new domain is simply an additional option (you can usually apply directly to the new provider for a new domain). The article ‘How to switch domain providers’ describes how to transfer domains in more detail.

When should you change your domain name?

The reasons for getting a new web address are often quite trivial. It could be that the website operator simply doesn’t like their current web address (anymore), or perhaps the website has changed direction and the name is no longer relevant. In cases like these, the domain name simply doesn’t fit with the website’s content.

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While a domain change can provide the perfect answer in many cases, it may not always be the best solution. You should always check whether a domain change is the most sensible step to take. In some cases, simply making some adjustment to the website is more than enough, for example via subdomains (also known as third-level domains) or subdirectories. You can find more information on various domain types in our Digital Guide.

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How does a domain change work?

Unfortunately, you can’t simply change your domain with the internet provider or registrar that provided your web address. When a web address from ICANN—the highest authority in the domain assignment industry—is supplied to the database of a domain name system, it can’t be changed at the drop of a hat. A domain can only be transferred to a different owner or deleted. You must therefore purchase a new domain and then connect it to your website.

Domain registration

Before the actual domain change, you need to possess the rights to the web address that you’d like to use for your website. Once you’ve found and registered an appropriate domain name, you just have to link the new address to your website. However, some adjustments to the web server settings must be carried out in order to transfer the website to the new domain.

Web server configuration

With some content management systems (such as WordPress and TYPO3), you can change settings in the backend in order to link the website’s content with the new domain. For some CMSs, there are also special plugins that facilitate an easy transition from one web address to another. You can learn more about the options and plugins for changing a WordPress domain name in our article on the topic.

But even if a CMS or plugin removes some of the steps in the domain change process, you still need to carry out some internal adjustment processes manually. The details of each process vary wildly depending on the software used. However, there are some fundamental procedures that you should be aware of:

  • Web server configuration must be adjusted for the new domain.
  • If you wish to transfer your content encrypted, you also need a new SSL certificate. You can request one of these from your provider and install the public key on your web server.
  • If necessary, you can adapt your established rewrite rules. If you rename and redirect individual web pages with forwarding rules, you have to make changes to the .htaccess file as well.

How to transfer search engine rankings to a new domain

If you just carry out the domain change by configuring the web server as described above, you will encounter a problem. While it may be accessible under the new address, search engines will treat the website as completely new and give it a correspondingly low ranking in the search engine results pages.

But changing your domain name doesn’t necessarily mean losing everything you achieved with your previous web address. If your website was able to achieve a good position in the results, you should think about using SEO techniques when moving web addresses. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the ranking you’ve achieved with your old domain.

Here’s what you need to do to retain your Google ranking:

  1. To start, access Google Search Console. Here, you will be prompted to verify your new domain and enter your new website address. It’s important that you use the same account that you created for registering your old domain.
  2. If you still have the rights to the old domain, you should set up a 301 redirect to the new web address. This preserves backlinks and means that visitors will be automatically redirected to the new address if they visit the old one. In the Digital Guide, we explain how you can set up a domain redirect. You can also request that your old domain be deleted by your provider so you don’t have to pay the domain fee. However, it’s best to wait until the new address has been established. A minimum period of about six months is usually recommended.
  3. Now open Google Search Console again and specify the website’s XML sitemap, so that the Google web crawler can analyse your online presence. Then request a recrawl of the website so that Google Index picks up the new domain as fast as possible.
  4. Finally, it’s important to keep track of the ranking of your domain and website over several weeks. Google advises users who have especially large websites to extend this period to about six months. Analysis tools such as the Google Search Console can assist with the monitoring process.
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Aside from the measures above, the domain name is rather insignificant from an SEO perspective. That’s why one of your top priorities should be to make sure that your web address is as concise as possible and matches the target group. Ideally, the domain should be easy to remember and represent the website’s content as much as possible.

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What other points should I keep in mind when changing my domain?

Changing your domain name also has an impact on the following areas:

  • If you want a new domain name and you use a specially designed program such as a web analysis tool or a CMS extension, you should bear in mind that these should also be set up using the new internet address. The same goes for users whose website uses an ad server.
  • Internal links should be fully integrated into the domain structure (and not just forwarded via redirect.)
  • Write to all the websites that host backlinks to your website and inform them of the new URL for the linked posts.
  • Remember to change your email addresses. Update all information and any mention of your email contact and internet address (for example, in your email signature, on social media platforms and on business cards).

If you decide to change your domain name, you first need to concentrate on adjusting your website’s server, otherwise your website won’t be accessible via the new address. In many cases, your search engine ranking will also be transferred to your new address during a domain name change. If your old domain’s search engine optimisation techniques were beneficial and rated positively by Google, your good ranking can be transferred to the new domain in the long term.

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