Why changing your business domain is like losing a tattoo
Ideally your business domain will be long-lasting but if you need to change, prepare for a costly, painful erasure.
While it’s quick and easy to register a new domain for your business, it can be a very difficult decision to undo. Our advice is to treat the search for a new business domain more like a new tattoo - something that’s going to stick with you for many years - than a t-shirt.
Things to keep in mind while you’re searching for a domain
Because changing domains is hard, it’s important to make a good choice up front. To help you get things right, some things to keep in mind are:
- Price. Different top-level domains (TLDs - the bit after dot) come at different prices. Last year we looked at why .kiwi costs more than .nz, for example.
- Where your target market is. If you’re serving a single country, then a localised TLD (like .nz or .au) makes sense. If you’re thinking global, then a .com might be better.
- The impression that you want to give. Something like .co.nz is pretty businessy, while .io is techy and .ninja is…probably a bit of a fad? You want something that will last as long as your business brand, which will hopefully be many profitable years.
Choosing a domain? Don't just grab this month's fashion.
The better the choice you make, the less likely you’re going to need the advice in the rest of this article. But no plan is ever perfect, so let’s look at what a change of domain entails.
Changing domains mean double-paying
If you switch domains - say, from oldexample.kiwi to newexample.nz - you’ll need a period of overlap between starting up the new domain (newexample.nz) and switching the old one off. All that time, you’re paying for both. This can be especially galling if your reason for changing was to move onto a lower-cost TLD.
As long as you want redirects and email forwarding to work, and as long as you want to stop anyone else building a website on your old domain, you need to keep paying for it.
Redirects send visitors from your old URL to your new one, and email forwarding bounces messages from your old address to your new one. Both depend on you controlling and paying for your outdated domain.
You’ll probably want to keep your old domain out of other people’s hands for a while, too. Once you give up control it becomes available for others to register. Domains are a brand asset - in a lot of ways, your domain is your name. What would happen if a competitor swooped in and grabbed it?
The technical shift is the easy part, believe it or not
There’s a bit of work involved in switching your website’s domain, but as we’ll see the technical shift isn’t going to be the biggest hurdle you face.
If you manage your domain and hosting in a single account, it can be reasonably straightforward to publish your website under a new address. (If you have any subdomains, don’t forget that they need to be handled independently of your main site.)
Replicate all your analytics and tracking in advance if you want to properly track your website performance across domains.
As you move off your old web address, you’ll want to leave behind permanent “301” redirects from old URLs to new ones. These tell browsers, search engines, and other systems that one address, like newexample.nz/about, has permanently replaced another, like oldexample.kiwi/about. There are different ways to create redirects. Depending on how technical you are, you might want to leave this job to a web developer or system admin.
When search engines see 301 redirects, they understand that your old site is gone and a new one has replaced it. The doesn’t necessarily mean that all the SEO authority you built up for your old site will carry across to the new site. There are ways to mitigate this issue but, again, it might be worth your while to engage an SEO expert to avoid damaging your search reputation. This is one area where you don’t want to have to make a fresh start!
In a similar vein, remember to replicate all your existing web analytics and tracking. If you want comparable data between web addresses, you need the exact same data collection and reporting in place from day one.
The pattern across all of these different jobs is that while technical issues are solvable, you will need to invest in those solutions. This will take time and, unless you do it all yourself, money.
Adopting new email addresses
There’s more than one way to handle a change of business email address, but if you intend to get rid of your old domain then the best idea is probably to create new mailboxes. This will be a cleaner solution than relying on forwarding rules and aliases to shuffle messages around.
For each old email account, set new rules that do three things with every incoming message: Forward it to the equivalent new address, auto-reply to the sender letting them know about the change of address, then delete the message from your old account.
You’ll never know how many people have your email address in their contacts list, but you want to get as many of them as possible updated before your old domain expires. Auto-responses are an important part of that.
Once your new mailboxes are set up, you can migrate existing messages from your old accounts. Email migration is important to get right if you don’t want to interrupt ongoing conversations, and for record retention. Like other technical tasks it’s something that you might want to get help with, which might mean paying for an expert’s time.
What do you log into with your old email address?
What services do you log into under your old email address? Don’t forget to update all of these. Some will be a quick change in your user profile, while others will be fiddlier. The last thing you want in the future is a situation where a “forgotten password” email gets sent to an address that you can’t access anymore!
You’ll need to resubscribe to any email lists that you want to stay on, too.
Prepare to lose backlinks
When we covered SEO earlier, we left out the biggest factor that’s out of your control - backlinks to your website. The internet is an unimaginably big place. How many reviews, articles, and posts mention your web address? How business directories are you listed in? How many endorsements, case studies, or media pieces?
As well as linking to a URL that you plan to decommission, all these things contribute to the authority that Google grants to the domain. 301 redirects can help for a while, but once the old domain is completely offline the links are completely dead.
The really big to-do list: Your branding and marketing
Next, look away from your phone or computer screen and think about everywhere else that people see your domain. All the places you’ve publicised your website or email in any of your existing branding and marketing. Changing all of this can be a very, very big job.
Has your business had any stationery printed? Got signage on any vehicles? Handed out any business cards or swag? Checked your product packaging? Provided staff uniforms? Written up any brochures, fliers, or ads? Got a storefront or office with your name on it? There’s a lot to think about.
Where have you already publicised your web address?
As with other things we’ve covered in these articles, these are things that can be solved with enough time and money.
Planning your operation
Like removing a tattoo, changing your business’s domain is not quick, nor easy, nor painless. If you are making your first moves online, choose carefully. If you need to pivot from one domain to another, make a thorough plan.
- Get a plan together for your website’s technical switch. Make sure it include subdomains, analytics and tracking, and 301 redirects.
- Map old email addresses to new ones. When new mailboxes are created, implement the three rules to forward, auto-respond, and then delete each message.
- Track down all the incoming website links that you can change (or get changed).
- List all the collateral, signage and branding that will need to be updated. Get quotes so you know what bills to expect.
- Communicate with your customers. Change is hard for them, too, and the more people who know what’s happening the better.
On the technical side, we’re always here for help and advice.