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How to destroy your organic search rankings

This week we launched our long awaited new MDwebpro website. For the past year we had been redirecting mdwebpro.com to seo.ds6.net because ds6.net was a stronger domain and therefore we would gain faster results for our targeted search traffic.

You can see the stats below for our beloved seo.ds6.net domain with a Page Authority of 52 and Domain Authority of 44 compared to the innocent and new domain mdwebpro.com with no links and the smallest of Page Authority and Domain Authority.

SEOmoz Stats for seo.ds6.netSEOmoz stats for mdwebpro.com

A change like this is a fairly significant decision for any site and I’m writing this article to help anyone else who is contemplating changing their site’s domain.

Over the past year we had built the organic search engine traffic for seo.ds6.net quite well.  We had many top rankings for very targeted phrases and a couple top 3 rankings for some very broad and competitive terms.  But we felt the domain seo.ds6.net only led to confusion for our visitors.  I think it is a funny looking domain and the only reason we have ds6.net in the first place is because it was short and in 2000 when we registered it ds1, ds2, …, ds5 were already taken. :)

What to consider when changing a domain

When changing a site’s domain there are some important issues to consider:
Domain Length

Long domains are difficult to write down, they can look funny on your marketing collateral, and they take away important marketing space in the search results page for organic and paid listings.  You can see an example of this in the Adwords mockups below.

The add with space remaining in the URL to further ensure the visitor they are heading to the right place, will out perform the bottom ad every time.

Keywords in Domain

There needs to be an important balance between domain length and including keywords in your domain.  A site with the domain plasticsurgeryny.com is going to have a leg up in the battle for the search phrase “plastic surgery ny”  This relationship between domain name and search phrase is very natural and leads to good search results in most instances.  If you are searching for “Nike” the site nike.com is a natural fit for your search query.  The only reason plasticsurgeryny.com doesn’t rank in Google right now is because there is no site behind the domain.  With the domain mdwebpro.com we opted for a shorter domain instead of one stuffed with keywords.

Domain History

Over the past three years we have seen a big change in the way Google handles new domains.  Today a recently registered domain with a great content strategy and actively building inbound links can easily out perform an aged domain.  It almost seems like today Google gives a new site a honeymoon period as they try to figure out where the site fits best in the search results.

But besides the age of the domain one large concern is any previous sites that resided on that domain. Anytime you are thinking of switching to a new domain you will want to check and see if there are any existing links from bad neighborhoods pointing to that domain.  Even though a domain is new to you, it might have a bad history with the search engines.

Existing Links to the Old Domain

I can’t emphasize this point enough as amazingly it is still neglected not only when sites move to new domains but when new sites are created on existing domains. Think of your domain and every URL on that domain as individual phone numbers which you have spent years promoting in print media.  Then one day you change your phone number so all those years worth of old phone numbers floating around out there are now useless.  This is exactly what happens when an old domain is not properly redirected to a new domain.  And not just the root domain itself (i.e. seo.ds6.net redirected to mdwebpro.com) but every old URL on the former domain needs to be mapped to an appropriate URL on the new domain (i.e seo.ds6.net/Get-My-Reviews redirects to mdwebpro.com/Get-My-Reviews) this is the only way to ensure the traffic from all your referring sites and search engine rankings continue to find your new content.

Side effects to changing a domain

Ok, so we knew this would happen but it doesn’t make the data any more fun to look at :).  I woke up this morning to see the latest ranking report from our MDwebpro Insights tools for mdwebpro.com and we have lost rankings positions for 559 of our 802 keywords.

Organic Rankings mdwebpro.com

And here is a listing from our Insights tool showing some of the ranking drops.  As you can see the results were not subtle.

The good news is each of those phrases and 100s of others are already showing up in the search results in Google.  As you can see from the numbers above, while the rankings dropped, we do still have rankings in the top 50.  Now while this data is scary, our traffic from organic search has not fallen off.  The reason for that can be seen in the Google search results below.

You can see that Google has started to rank the mdwebpro.com site but still has results for the seo.ds6.net site.  Fortunately for us since we setup our redirects correctly, both listings are sending traffic to our new site mdwebpro.com

In the end, we have no idea how Google will rank the new site but we believe rankings will improve because we followed each of our best practices from above and we will continue adding quality content to attract more traffic.

Have you switched domains recently? Or are you planning a new site for 2012?  Let us know in the comments below what experiences you had or what concerns you have for the new site.  Oh and Happy New Year!

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About Marc
Marc Ohmann is president of Digital Solutions, Inc in Minneapolis. Digital Solutions is the company behind the MDWebPro blog and tool set. Marc was a computer science and engineering student at the University of Minnesota in 1999 when he started Digital Solutions. Marc, now a husband and father of 3, greatly enjoys the clients and creativity he is involved in each day through Digital Solutions. Follow Marc on Twitter @marcohmann and @MDWebPro and also on Google Plus

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