Case study: Changing domain name and re branding a popular website


Changing domain name of a popular website is a really big challenge for any webmasters. In this post, I will discuss the domain name change for a popular blog and the reversal after couple of days.

This article was originally published at www.thoughtsfromgeeks.com on 23-Oct-2011

Changing the domain name and starting all over again with a new brand name is something that any webmaster would hate to do. However, in reality, many websites change their names for some or other reasons.

Here is some of the common reasons why domain name of websites are changed:

1. Re branding:

Some times owners of a website might think that their reputation is spoiled and want to get a fresh start with a new name. Re branding with a new name would come out of the bad name and start building reputation from clean slate.

2. Change of Ownership:

When a company is taken over by another company, they would change the domain name of the website or merge the website with their existing website so that they can bring all their operations under the new merged company name.

3. Increase the scope of the website:

Many website owners start the website with a theme and so they name the website with the theme they choose. But later, once they start becoming popular, they want to increase the scope of the content. In order to target a broader audience, they would change the domain name to a name that cover a broad subject. For example, a site started to provide could be named www.DiabetesHelpChannel.com, but later could be modified to provide health related information and rename the website to www.FreeHealthChannel.com.

4. Change personal blog to professional blog:

This is one of the most common reasons for change of domain name. Many people would start a personal blog in their name and later want to start blogging about various topics to monetize their online content. However, it will be difficult to get much acceptance a personal domain name, especially when it comes to business partnerships.

Case Study: Domain name change of a popular blog - AmitBhawani.com


In this case study, I am doing an in depth analysis of the domain name change of a popular blog.

AmitBhawani.com is a popular blog by Amit Bhawani. As you can see, the blog is in the personal name of the blogger. This is a very popular blog with over 1 million page views per month.

On 3 Oct 2011, the popular blog AmitBhawani.com was moved to a new domain - TechAdvices.com. This came as a surprise to many, including me, even though I was considering re-branding my own personal blog to a professional blog name.

I had a discussion with Amit regarding his sudden move to a new domain name abandoning his brand. He has a large number of followers, mainly bloggers. Hundreds of bloggers eagerly read his blog posts everyday and post comments which makes me jealousy of him! (I do own more popular websites but I do not have the large number of followers Amit has.) One of the reasons so many bloggers are attracted to him is, he published his huge AdSense earnings once and that make many bloggers stick to him looking for tips to become like him one day! I am amazed at the way Amit find time to respond to each and every comment posted on his blog, which creates more and more loyal readers for him.

Here is the relevant excerpts from my conversation with Amit:

Q. Why did you move away from your well known brand and started fresh with a new name "TechAdvices.com"?

A. There are two main reasons. One is, AmitBhawani.com is a personal name and I feel embarrassing to showcase it as a professional blog. When it comes to business discussions, a personal domain name may not get much recognition. Another reason is, a lot of people copied and reproduced my content which I have been ignoring. But after the Panda updates by Google, I noticed a decline in my traffic, because Google considered some of my content as reproduced content while the actual culprits walked away with the credits of having original content. So I thought I will start with a new domain name.


Amit went ahead and took the bold decision to move over to the new domain name TechAdvices.com. Changing the domain name involve huge efforts, especially when it comes to a popular website which have huge number of back links and heavy traffic.

Steps involved in changing the domain name


No matter how popular your website is, you have to take care of couple of things when you move your website to a new domain name. I asked Amit what were his action items when he moved his website to the new domain. Here is the excerpts:

Q. Can you tell me a brief summary of your action items when you changed your domain name?

Amit: Here is the list of things I did:

- Transferred the content to new domain
- Changed internal links to new domain one
- Entered the 301 redirect code in previous domains .htaccess file
- Change the scripts, email ids, images etc that refer to the old domain name.
- Finally, under Google webmaster tools, changed the domain name option to map the old domain to the new domain name.


Overall, it was a smooth process for Amit to move to the new domain name, even though it took a lot of effort to setup everything right, without losing any traffic.

How does the change in domain name affect the traffic?


One of the biggest concern while changing the domain name is, how will the existing traffic be affected. I knew 301 redirect will redirect all of the existing traffic to the new domain name, but I was still afraid it may not really work well and we will lose some traffic. Atleast the lack of external links to the new domain would have some impact, I thought. But the experience from Amit surprised me. Here is what I heard from him:

Q. How did the domain change affect your traffic?

A. Once I redirected the domain name, there was no loss in traffic because I setup 301 redirect for all pages. Also, I enabled domain change option in Google webmaster tools, following which the search engines are also notified about the change.

Q. Did you get the same traffic as AmitBhawani.com to your name TechAdvices.com?

A. Actually I got more traffic at TechAdvices.com because readers came in for checking out the new blog through the announcement and many even started bookmarking and sharing the content because it was more professional domain name. It created a buzz since renaming popular websites are not very common in the webmaster world.

Q. How many days it took for search engines to direct all traffic to new site?

A. It took around 3 days to complete the redirect in search engines, after I setup everything right including 301 redirect.

Q. Any other negative impact you had as part of domain name change?

A. No negative impact, except the personal blog fans/readers felt bad and didnt like the change because earlier they would directly read articles from the blog owner and now this could mean that its more like a corporate with many editors with no direct interaction with me. My loyal readers felt there is less personal touch to my blog.


An analysis of the impact on domain name change


According to Amit, his traffic was not negatively impacted after the domain change. In fact, the new site received better traffic due to the attention the domain name change received in the blogger community.

Let us look detail at various aspects of the domain name change.

Impact on Alexa Ranking after the domain move


Today, 24 Oct 2011, about 7 weeks after the domain change happened, Alexa shows a slightly lower rank (higher number) for the new site, but is negligible.

Alexa Rank for AmitBhawani.com: 20,845
Alexa Rank for Techadvices.com: 21,128

However, the Alexa Ranking for India shows significant difference:

Alexa Rank in India for AmitBhawani.com: 27,970
Alexa Rank in India for Techadvices.com: 1,212


Alexa Ranking of new domain TechAdvices.com, 7 weeks after the domain move


Alexa Ranking of old domain AmitBhawani.com, 7 weeks after the domain move

Alexa Ranking of AmitBhawani.com
Alexa ranking page view comparison of both domains, 7 weeks after the domain change

I fail to understand why the Alexa Rank in India showing very high rank for the new site while the world wide rank remains pretty much the same. If anyone else has any idea, please share with me by posting a response below.

How did the domain name change impact the Google PR, Indexing and search results?


According to Amit, his search engine traffic was not negatively impacted at all after the move. In fact, there was a surge in the traffic for few days due to the massive traffic he received from various sources as a result of his domain change announcement. After the dust settled, his traffic pattern returned to the normal stats.

The Google PR was impacted by the move and both sites ended up having a PR 0 after the change. Google set the PR of old domain to 0 since it is not live anymore and is moved to new domain. The new domain is yet to get any PR since Google takes several months to update the PR shown to the public. Google has it's own internal ranking for each website and each page, which is not really reflected in the publicly visible Page Rank until several months later. So, the PR 0 we see today for the TechAdvices.com is not really the up-to-date page rank Google has internally assigned to a page. According to Amit, he does not care what is the PR shown for his old and site sites since that has no impact on the search results and traffic.

In my opinion, even though PR does not affect the search results directly, the factors that affect the PR would affect the search engine traffic too. I will save this topic for a detailed post.



Pages indexed in Google

Take a look at the above image. It shows the PR changed to 0 for old domain after the move. Interestingly, the number of pages indexed has not gone down even after 7 weeks. In fact, it has been going up consistently after the move. (You can see the dip in indexed pages sometime in August, but it has nothing to do with domain change since it happened much before that).

This indicates that even though the 301 redirect was setup correctly and Google was informed about the change through the Webmaster tools, Google still has not dropped the pages from it's index. It concludes that it may take several weeks to completely drop all the pages out of Google index.


Search results from AmitBhawani.com


Search results from TechAdvices.com

Even though the pages from old domain are still in the index, Google was smart enough to show only the pages from the new domain in the search results for most of the keywords, unless you search within the old site.

This indicates a potential problem. During a short period of time (few weeks?), Google has both sites in the index and I am not sure how the "Panda" will react to the duplicate content it discover. I have some supporting evidence to show that the same content is indexed from both the sites at the same time. I did search for specific phrases from both the sites and Google showed them in both the sites in the search results. Unless Google is smart enough to consider the 301 redirect setup, Panda could kick in and impact the rating of the site

Points to consider while changing domain name


Moving the content to the new domain name is an obvious task here, but let us take a close look at the other items in the list.

Change internal links to new domain name

In all of the community websites I own, we have a rule that members who post content cannot use full urls for internal links. They should use only relative URLs. For example, if anyone is posting an article in this site, they are not allowed to use an internal link like this:


Read a case study of <a href='http://www.thoughtsfromgeeks.com/resources/2762-Changing-domain-name-A-case-study.aspx'>re branding a popular website under a new domain name</a>.


Instead, we require them use only relative URLs for internal linking:


Read a case study of <a href='/resources/2762-Changing-domain-name-A-case-study.aspx'>re branding a popular website under a new domain name</a>.


The primary purpose of this rule is to avoid the confusion involved in using the urls with and without "www.". Some people may be using the website with www. and others may be using without www. in the URL. If they click on an internal link which points to the url written in the other way, it will start a new session and the reader will lose his current session.

An indirect advantage to this rule is, just in case we change the domain name in future, we have one less problem to worry. All internal links will continue to work, as long as the relative URL structure is not changed.

Set up 301 redirect
A 301 redirect tells the world that the old url is changed and is moved to a new url. Typically, it requires mapping each old url to a corresponding new URL. That way, you will get back the search engine ranking and reputation you had for your old website. There are tons of information available on how to setup 301 redirect for your website when you move.

I was considering moving away from my personal website TonyJohn.com and the domain change by Amit inspired me to switch over to this professional blog (www.Techulator.com). However, I decided not to just rename the website and setup 301 redirect from old domain. Instead, I started fresh while retaining the old website, for various reasons that I will discuss later in this post.


External Links
You have no control on the external links to you site. Even though the 301 redirect will help you redirect your visitors to the new site, it is a good idea to contact the external websites and request them to change the links to your new website. You can do this at your leisure and there is no need to hurry since the 301 redirect will serve the purpose in the meanwhile.

Change your images
There may be several images in your website which are relevant for your old domain name, but does not make sense for the new domain name. Even though this may not affect your traffic, you may want to get them changed to match with your new domain. If your logo include your domain name, you may want to get it changed during the process of moving to the new domain.

You may have used watermarks in the images uploaded to your site. It may not be practically possible to go back and change the watermarks unless you have kept an original copy of all those images. Even if you decide not to change the existing watermarks, you will need to make the programming or script changes to use the new watermark with new domain name in the future images.

Retain your old domain name and email addresses

Don't give up your old domain names. You will need to have continued access to it for several years to setup the 301 redirect to the new site. Also, you will need your old email ids to continue to receive important emails from your old clients, business partners and legal sources. Also, you will need your old domain name to claim copy rights without much hassle for your original content on your old domain.

Your copy rights

Look for content copied from your original website to other websites in the internet. Before you switch over to the new site, you must file DMCA and get all copied content removed from search engines. You may have images and other documentation to prove that you own the original content, but they all may refer to the old domain name.Once you switch over to the new domain name, you may have difficulties in proving the ownership of your original content. Since your images and documents may have the old domain name, it may become hard to prove that the original content came from your own website, which is now moved to the new name.

Sign up new domain with external tools

Most websites use several external tools like Google AdSense for Ads, Analytics for tracking traffic, third party Ads and various other services. It is important to identify all such scripts ahead of time. Many of those tools will not work if you switch to another domain name. You should sign up with them again using the new domain name. To make it worse, some of those services may not allow your new domain name is live.

In my next post, I will discuss why did Amit roll back his domain name change and moved back to the old domain. Stay tuned...


Article by Tony John
Tony John is a professional blogger from India, who started his first Weblog in 1998 at Tripod.com. Tony switched to blogging as a passion blended business in the year 2000 and currently operates several popular web properties including IndiaStudyChannel.com, Techulator.com, dotnetspider.com and many more.

Follow Tony John or read 616 articles authored by Tony John

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Comments

Guest Author: Krystalyn21 Nov 2011

You are so awesome for hlepnig me solve this mystery.



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