New Era of Domain Names: SEO Perspective

This article delves into the rise of generic Top-Level-Domains (gTLDs), the reluctance to change domains due to the potential SEO impact and a guide to transitioning to a new domain while minimising the SEO impact.

Do you remember when you only had the choice of .com, .net, or .org for domain names? It was a simpler time when your website domain either reflected your exact choice (like web.com), or it was a close alternative. A .com domain was seen as a status symbol indicating you were one of the first Internet participants and, therefore, deserved recognition. Initially, there were limitations on the length of domain names, but that soon changed, and long domain names became common - even considered beneficial for search engine's organic visibility. However, the increasing focus on 'user experience' started opening dialogues about whether lengthy domains truly provided a quality user experience for visitors. This eventually made way to the era of generic Top-Level-Domains (gTLDs).

The Emergence of gTLDs

Apart from the domain names with geographical significance, such as .co.uk, there are now hundreds of domain options that can represent your business area, profession, or interest field. Choices range from .doctor, .club to .accountant, and so many more. Wikipedia maintains a comprehensive list of all the domain extensions available, which seems to expand daily. With all these choices, it is more likely to find a domain name that conveys your exact intent. However, the hesitance in shifting from a long-held domain to a new one is still prominent. The main reason behind this hesitance is the impact on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO Considerations

SEO practices help a website gain visibility and ranking in search engines, and the age of a domain does factor into getting 'Google Juice'. Websites meticulously built and nurtured over the years are less likely to be altered because of the potential SEO implications. However, there is a way to get the best of both worlds, i.e., changing your website's domain name while minimizing the SEO impact.

Domain Name Change: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Pre-purchase Domain Checks

Before purchasing a new domain, whether it is a brand new or one of the more unique extensions, check if it has been previously registered and if there have been any Google sanctions. Certain services, such as Whois' or the Wayback Machine, can provide insights into a domain history. Google offers Manual Action reports and Adsense status checks to reveal any past action that may have been taken against the domain. Moreover, it is essential to check whether the name is a registered trademark to avoid future difficulties.

2. Ensure Back-ups

Relocating to a new domain would require server-shifting or a new account, at the very least. Always be prepared for technical mishaps and have a comprehensive backup of all your data. The process for backup would depend on your control panel or the cloud-based service you utilize.

3. Transfer Files

Depending on the Content Management System (CMS) you use, like Joomla, WordPress, or Drupal, plugins are available to facilitate this step. The end goal is to recreate your website's content under new URLs.

4. Redirect Old URLs

Programmers can automate pointing your old URLs to the new ones. Otherwise, you must redirect within your .htaccess file using '301 redirect manually. The '301 redirect' informs search engines that the URL move is permanent and transfers any SEO benefits to the new URL.

5. Create a 404 Redirect Page

Creating a 404 redirect page catches any mistakes you might make in the manual transition, preventing links from directing to non-existent pages - a situation detrimental to SEO.

6. Generate a New XML Sitemap

Don't forget to add an XML sitemap to your website, which drastically improves Google's ability to read your site. There are multiple plugins or online sitemap generators which you can use for this.

7. Google Site Submission

Finally, submit the new website to Google via the Google Webmaster interface. Remember, the faster Google recognizes the change, the lesser the impact on your SEO.

Final Thoughts

Remember, any benefit transfer to your new domain depends on multiple factors. For example, if your new website loads slower than the old one, the SEO benefits can be affected. Thus, it's essential to ensure your new domain is free of any significant flaws to gain maximum advantage of the transition.


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