When you decide to create a website and build your online presence, choosing a domain name is the first step and a pivotal one, as the name sticks with you forever. However, trends in industries are always changing, businesses are growing, and you can end up with a name you regret (just ask my friend Geoff).
In this article, we’ll show you how to change your domain name, when you should do it, and what potential risks you’re facing if you go down this road.
Things to Do Before Changing Your Domain Name
Changing a domain name is an action most businesses shy away from taking. It represents a brand that your clients recognize and associate with your products or services. If you decide to change it, you risk losing the domain name value you built and your SEO ranking.
However, rebranding is a powerful marketing tool, and if you have reasons for it, you shouldn’t be afraid to take that step. As a company, you need to keep up with the times and follow all the latest industry and domain name trends.
Directly changing a domain name is impossible; once you register a name in the DNS, you can’t alter it. The process revolves around getting a new domain name and migrating your website to it. Before you start the process, you need to:
- Choose a new domain name,
- Register or buy it.
Choose a New Domain Name
There are several reasons why you’d want to change your domain name, which we’ll discuss thoroughly later. But, let’s say you’ve received customer complaints that your website is hard to spell. Or, a more popular domain type, such as .com, .co, or .us, has become available.
Whatever your reasoning is, it’s important to choose the new name before you begin the process. You should pick a name that’s catchy, easy to pronounce and memorize, doesn’t use hyphens or special characters, and reflects your brand values adequately. That can be a tough ask.
If you’re struggling to come up with a name that hits all the boxes, you can use our AI-powered domain name generator to get 1,000+ name ideas instantly. All you need to do is pick your industry, enter keywords, and watch the magic happen. Our generator will check if the domain name is available automatically.
Register or Buy the Name
If you already have a specific domain name in mind, you need to check if it’s available. You can use our lookup tool for free:
Note that you can choose an alternative top-level domain (TLD) that’s available and more affordable, but that may not always be the best course of action. According to Google’s John Mueller, you should avoid cheap and free TLDs because they attract spammers, and an untrustworthy TLD will affect your SEO rankings.
If the domain name is open, the process is simpler. Check out our video guide on how to register a domain name hassle-free:
4 Steps to Change Your Domain Name
Now that you’ve decided on a domain name you want to switch to, it’s time to make the transition. Changing your domain name is relatively easy but may involve some technical steps, depending on how you plan to do it. If you’re not comfortable with taking them yourself, you should consider hiring a developer.
The process varies depending on several factors, including what content management system (CMS) you use, who your web hosting provider is, and what apps you decide to do it with. We’ll focus on WordPress as our CMS of choice as it’s the most popular one, but the approach is the same for others; the steps only vary slightly.
To change your domain name, you need to:
- Back up your current website data,
- Move website content to the new domain,
- Create a redirect,
- Inform search engines.
Step 1: Back Up Your Current Website Data
Backing up your website data is an important step as it allows you to revert to the original website should you make a mistake during the process. If you have a premium hosting plan, your provider most likely backs up your website automatically, and you can just visit the cPanel and download the backup to your local storage. If you use WordPress, there are various free and paid plugins (such as UpdraftPlus) available that will back your website up in no time.
If you want to do it manually, you need to:
- Log in to your cPanel,
- Click on File Manager,
- Locate the public_html folder and expand it (click the + symbol),
- Right-click your website’s folder and choose Compress,
- Download the zip file to your computer.
Step 2: Move Website Content to the New Domain
Once you’ve created the backup, you can simply upload it to your new cPanel. You can do so manually via cPanel’s File Manager or using an FTP app, such as FileZilla. After that, you need to open phpMyAdmin and import your database.
This will make both of your websites active and identical. Bear in mind that you need to update your branding, i.e., change your logo and the About Us page and replace all instances of your previous domain name.
Step 3: Create a Redirect
Now that the website is up and running on both domain names, it’s time to redirect users from the previous domain name to the new one. It’s best you don’t kill off the first domain name immediately, as you can still benefit from backlinks and SEO rankings you’ve built.
To create a redirect, you need to visit your old domain’s cPanel (or another admin section your hosting service provides). Depending on the system, the location of redirect settings will differ, but they are usually under the Domain Settings section.
When you’re there, select 301 redirect, and add a new redirect. Enter your new domain name and save the changes.
You can also create a redirect manually by locating your .htaccess file via FTP. When you find it, open it for editing and add the following code:
#Options +FollowSymLinks RewriteEngine on RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.COM/$1 [R=301,L]
Step 4: Inform Search Engines
Finally, it’s time to let Google (and other engines) know you’ve changed domains. You can do so by using Google Search Console’s Change of Address Tool. The tool is intuitive and provides on-screen instructions as you complete the process.
Google takes some time to understand the change of domain names and unite site signals. The engine can take anywhere between a month and six months to complete the process.
You should also think of ways to inform your customers as well. If you have a newsletter, make sure to let your clients know you’re moving to a different website and gain direct traffic that way.
Reasons to Change Your Domain Name
So, why should you even go through all this hassle? Changing a domain name is not something you should do just for the sake of it as there are potential risks surrounding the process. Make sure you have a valid reason for the change before you commit to it.
Some of the most common reasons businesses cite for domain name change are as follows:
- Rebranding efforts after changing their brand name,
- The initial domain name is difficult to spell,
- Changing domain extension (for example, a technology company may opt for a .io domain type),
- Changes in the industry (sometimes, the domain name can become irrelevant, or businesses may outgrow it when they start offering different types of products and services),
- The preferred domain name becomes available.
Risks of Changing Your Domain Name
Every change in business has potential consequences, and changing your domain name is no different. Before you decide to do it, you should consider all the risks and how they can harm your business. Check out the table below to learn more about potential detrimental effects:
|Risks of Changing a Domain Name||Explanation|
|Loss of brand awareness||If you have an established domain name, many customers will visit your website by directly typing in your address. A redirect will lead them to your new website, but not all users will notice the change. Make sure you inform them of the difference before you close your old domain name.|
|Loss of SEO rankings and traffic||When you change your domain name, search engines will crawl and reindex your website. Despite the redirect in place, your traffic may suffer as you’ll lose out on several ranking factors, such as domain age and authority.|
|Drop in backlinks value||Building backlinks is a powerful SEO strategy, and your domain name change will affect their value. Backlinks to redirected pages are less valuable in SEO rankings.|
|Wasting resources||If you’ve invested a lot of time and money into backlinking and building your SEO ranking, noticing a drop in your traffic will be detrimental to your efforts. You should also consider if the purchase of a registered domain name is worth the expense.|
Changing a domain name does contain a few technical steps, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds, especially if you use various plugins and clients that can help you along the way. Still, you should consider hiring a developer to make sure everything goes according to plan.
A domain name change can be a powerful branding tool, but it comes with its risk. You can lose your SEO rankings, as well as your brand’s visibility and awareness. Make sure it’s the right step forward for your business before you decide to commit to the change. If you need help choosing a domain name that’s more powerful and better represents your business than your current one, use our domain name generator for free.