Rebranding and domain change checklist
Buying a domain name is the first step towards launching a website. The next step is to start building up an online presence and get that domain name to start working for you.
We've compiled this useful list to get your domain up and running.
1. Determine if you need hosting or not
For starters, not everyone who owns a domain name needs hosting. It all depends on your needs. If you decide to go with a hosting provider, the first step is to choose one that is reliable and secure.
For small sites, shared hosting plans are often suitable. High-traffic, high-volume sites, however, usually need dedicated hosting plans. If you don't have a developer, consider using a site-builder service such as Wix or LeadPages. These services generally provide everything you need to get a site up and running in a short amount of time.
Services such as Wordpress or Shopify generally provide hosting. You simply change your domain's DNS settings at your current registrar.
2. Create a domain-specific email address
Having a custom email address is one of the biggest benefits to owning a domain name for a number of reasons.
Custom email addresses provide trust and credibility; when you have an email address that isn't associated with your web domain, people are less likely to email you. You can also create a variety of addresses based on your needs.
With domain-specific email, it's also possible to create a wildcard (*) email address. The wildcard email address is a catch-all address: any email sent to your domain automatically forwards to the wildcard address — whether there is an account associated with the email address or not. Look to your email provider for instructions on setting up your wildcard address.
There are many email providers that can help you set up yourname@yourdomain including Gmail, Outlook, Zoho Mail and more.
3. Secure your social media handles
According to Pew Research, the vast majority of adults now get their news from social media. Americans are using social media in the context of work (whether to take a mental break on the job or to seek out employment).
Additionally, more and more consumers are turning to social media for product discovery when making purchasing decisions. The biggest value to building up your brand on social media — besides the obvious importance of having the capability to reach large, diverse audiences — is the organic SEO benefits you receive.
Search engines use signals from social media to rank websites. The higher the average number of shares, comments, and likes a brand has, the higher their website rank is. Higher website rankings equate to more traffic and visitors to your site.
Getting social media handles that match up with your website will help to establish your brand online. If the branded version of the username is already taken, try adding a qualifier to the end of it. For example, if your first choice is taken, try adding "Blog", "Shop", "DOT-COM" or something similar to the end of your handle. Getting an exact match to your brand name isn't the most important thing, but try and get it as close as possible.
Additionally, having the same handle on every platform makes it easier for people to find you and makes the marketing of your handle much simpler too. Secure your social media handles as soon as possible, even if you're not ready to use them.
Facebook boasts 1.4 billion users worldwide, and every second there are 20,000 people visiting the site. Users spend 21 minutes per day, on average, on the site. In fact, Facebook receives over 2 billion search requests per day, putting it ahead of Bing.
Besides having your own page, Facebook provides a multitude of services if you choose to advertise. You can target consumers as broadly or as narrowly as you like, based upon the user's interests, hobbies, career, location, etc.
To check if your handle is available on Facebook, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.facebook.com/yourdomain
If you are changing your username, make sure you have admin access on the page in order to change your page's name and username.
- On the left side of the page, click the ‘About' button
- Next to the ‘Name' and ‘Username' buttons, there should be a button that says ‘Edit'. Click on it.
- Make sure you edit both ‘Name' and ‘Username' (make sure to double-check the guidelines for page names!)
Even if your brand does not primarily rely on visual aesthetics, Instagram is a powerful promotional tool and is a great way to make your site relatable. Instagram's audience tops over 800 million active users. Many Instagram users visit the site on a daily basis, with 60% reporting that they do so several times per day.
To check if your name is available on Instagram, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.instagram.com/yourdomain
LinkedIn is the biggest business social media site, with more than 660 million users worldwide. This means that the audience you are targeting is made up of professionals who engage on the platform on a business level.
It is estimated that more than 7 out of 10 buyers are influenced by social media when deciding to purchase a product or service. The majority of buyers recently surveyed listed LinkedIn as the most influential channel during their research process.
To check if your domain is available on LinkedIn, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.linkedin.com/company/yourdomain
If you are changing your name, determine how substantial the change will be. According to LinkedIn's guidelines, a minimal name change "generally involves changes to less than five contiguous characters, or changes where the substantive portion of the company name isn't changing." You will be able to edit your existing page if you are making only a couple changes to your business name. But if you are making significant changes or completely rebranding your name, it is recommended that you create a new Company Page.
As long as the new page represents the same company and meets the other requirements LinkedIn mandates for business pages, you can put in a request to move your followers to your new page. LinkedIn will check your website and social media channels to confirm your rebrand.
Note: your existing employees will have to manually change their employer on their profiles, as LinkedIn will not transfer your employees to the new page.
Read LinkedIn's full instructions and requirements here.
This visual discovery engine receives over 2 billion searches per month. Pinterest often acts as an information resource for many users preparing to make a purchase. Plus, Pinterest is great at helping you target the right audience.
To check if your name is available on Pinterest, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.pinterest.com/yourdomain
If you're changing your username and URL on Pinterest, the process is straightforward. Just go to your ‘profile settings' and change your username and URL.
Using Twitter gives domain owners a cost-effective method of engaging with their consumer base. Twitter helps you reach a large number of people quickly through tweets and retweets, effectively multiplying your audience when used correctly.
Twitter has over 330 million active users worldwide, and is one of the top platforms for discovery. More than 25% of all US Internet users access Twitter at least once a month.
To check if your name is available on Twitter, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.twitter.com/yourdomain
To change your username on Twitter:
- Using the drop-down menu from your profile icon, go to Settings and privacy.
- Click on ‘Account' and update the username to the new name. If the name is taken, it will ask you to create a different username.
- Click on ‘Save Changes' to save the new username.
Find more information from Twitter here.
While creating your own videos can be time-consuming, a YouTube channel can greatly improve SEO. According to research, videos can help get 157% more organic traffic from search engines, 105% increase in time spent on the site, and 2x overall conversions compared to non-video content strategy.
To check if your name is available on YouTube, enter the domain name in the URL field of your browser: Go to www.youtube.com/c/yourdomain
If you already have a YouTube handle, changing the name of your channel is very easy. Follow the instructions here.
You can change your channel's custom URL if you have more than 100 subscribers, which may be a good idea for your rebranding campaign. All you need to do is first remove the current URL you are using and then claim a new one. You are able to remove a custom URL up to 3 times per year.
4. Optimize your site for search engines
The right SEO strategy can direct free, organic traffic to your site.
It is going to take a little while for Google to index your website, and your new domain will need some time to build up strength. As a result, organic search traffic may take some time to develop. However, you can minimize and recover from the hit your traffic may take as well as continue your growth more quickly by following these few steps.
The process according to Google is 4 simple steps:
- Thoroughly prepare and test the new site.
- Create a URL map to the respective new format from the current URLs.
- Configure the server to redirect to the new URLs from the old ones.
- Monitor web traffic on both old and new URLs.
One of the most helpful tasks to help Google re-crawl and re-index your web pages is to submit a sitemap.
- Make a sitemap of the old website.
- Submit this sitemap to Google and Bing. This will notify the search engines of the indexing change.
- After you've submitted the old sitemap, create a sitemap of the new website and submit it to the search engines. To help the crawlers discover these redirects, you will have to submit both sitemaps that have the old and new URLS to Google.
Use 301 redirects for all URLs
In order to pass along the most SEO value possible, use 301 redirects when you delete webpages or change their URLs. 301 redirects preserve as much of your URL structure as possible. Keep the redirects for as long as you can, and more link juice will transfer over depending on how relevant the page is.
Make sure all of the old URLs have a 301 permanent redirect. However, there are some exceptions, as you can, and should, use a 404 in certain contexts. Here are a few pointers for strategizing your redirect mapping:
- Do not use 302s — a 302 redirect is for temporary redirecting. You will need 301 permanent redirects for migrating a website permanently.
- Do not delete any webpages — rather than deleting a webpage, redirect to a different page that resembles it or try to change the content on it.
- Create a custom 404 page — redirecting helps not only search engines but users as well. Some pages that have received a Google penalty or toxic link juice should be left as a 404 to ensure no toxic link juice is passed on. Create a custom 404 page so that when people visit the occasion URLs left as 404s, or when a link breaks, they can still find your new site from the customized page.
5. Rebranding your domain
If you are changing your domain from one URL to another, the best advice we can offer is to not take down your old site. Never let the old site go offline — the only exception being when you switch to the new website.
Webpages that say "coming soon" or "under construction" for extended periods of time will discourage visitors. This may lead to a decline in traffic before the new site goes live, and search engines will stop ranking your webpages.
Ultimately it will take more time and be more challenging to return to your previous position as a website after the launch. Instead, follow the steps below to ensure a successful transition.
Update internal and external links
- Change internal links on the new website to the new URLs from the old URLs. For the most part, redirects serve external sources. However, cleaning up your website as much as possible is still very helpful. Make sure you update:
- social media links
- paid ads (Ad Grants and other ads)
- any other links that can be edited including email signatures, etc...
- Ask external sites to update incoming links
- Using whichever SEO tool you use to track your backlinks, such as Google Search Console or Google Analytics' referral traffic report, find the most important links and ask the page authors or site owners to update the links with the new URL.
- Clean up 404 pages. Use this as an opportunity to clean up your 404s so that you don't carry them with you to the new website. Clean up broken links, contact the referring site and/or find a place to redirect webpages.
Remove all no-index instructions
If you set up no-index tags and/or robot.txt to block Google from crawling, remove them before you submit your change of address to Google. Otherwise, your site won't be indexed and will not receive any organic search traffic.
Update Google and Bing
Monitor traffic after the launch
Measure the site performance of the old website before launching the new one. This way, you have a point of reference to compare traffic data to in the future. To monitor as accurately as possible, set up both Google Analytics and Google Search Console for the old and new websites. On the launch day, add an annotation in Google Analytics.
- Monitor the Google index status (GSC)
Check in periodically to see how Google is indexing the information. Google should be indexing your entire site. Keep in mind that it may take some time for your site to be indexed.
- Keep an eye out for crawl errors (GSC)
Monitor crawl errors carefully once the site is launched. Keep track of any 404 issues. When you go back to fix them, start with your most important pages.
- Monitor your traffic (GSC and GA)
Traffic is an important metric to evaluate the strength of your website's SEO. Some metrics you may want to look out for:
- Traffic: entrances, pageviews, sessions
- Engagement: Bounce rate, exit rate, pages/session
Other useful tools besides Google Analytics and Search Console to help identify any issues:
- Google Tag Assistant is a chrome extension that will verify that your tags and pixels are all correctly installed
- Page Analytics is another chrome extension used to monitor on-page analytics
- MozBar can check metadata (incl. robots) and page load-speed for you
Google Analytics domain change guide
This post on domain changes and Google Analytics by the Torpedo group gives a comprehensive breakdown on this topic.
You can change the name and default URL in the admin settings of Analytics if your developer team has prepared the backend and has ensured that the pixels will remain in place:
- Click on change the Account Name In the Admin panel under Account > Account Settings
- Click on ‘Property Settings' and change the Property Name and Default URL for every individual property.
- Go to View Settings and select change the View Name (if necessary) and the website URL for each view.
- If applicable, update the referral exclusion list.
After following all of these steps, you should be good to go. Of course, you still need to inform your staff, your audience and other stakeholders. This will most certainly require more campaigns and potentially an email to your users as well.
If you would like to find more information and helpful sources, consult these links below:
- Google on how to move your site
- How to change domains without losing traffic:
- 301 redirects