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Anytime a client considers changing their site architecture or is planning a website redesign or decides to move their Website, I work with them to ensure that they do not experience an adverse effect on their rankings in the search results. Anytime you plan on moving your site, you should have a plan. The best case scenario is that the move should be transparent, at least to the search engines so that your site does not tank in the rankings.
When moving your site, you want to avoid the end result of 404 Errors popping up after the move. Not only with this have an impact on the user experience, but it could have a negative effect on your organic search rankings. A cool tool to check for broken links on your site is XENU which can be downloaded here. The best thing that you can do when preparing to move your site is to plan your move. The good folks over at Google Webmaster Tools put together some helpful tips, which we'll recap here.
We should point out that these tips are for moving a site to a new domain and not for moving to a different IP address. The Webmaster Tools team has covered that previously as well with these five tips:
Moving a Site to a New IP Address
Change the TTL (Time To Live) value of your DNS configuration to something short, like five minutes (300 seconds). This will tell web browsers to re-check the IP address for your site every five minutes.
Copy your content to the new hosting environment, and make sure it is live on the new IP address.
Change your DNS settings so your hostname points to the new IP address.
Check your logs to see when Googlebot starts crawling your site on the new IP address. To make sure it's really Googlebot who's visiting, you can verify Googlebot by following these instructions. You can then log into Webmaster Tools and monitor any crawl errors. Once Googlebot is happily crawling on the new IP address, you should be all set as far as Google is concerned.
To make sure everyone got the message of your move, you may want to keep an eye out for visits to your old IP address before shutting it down.
How to Move a Website to a New Domain According to Google
Test the move first - Begin with one directory or sub-domain first.
Use a 301 Permanent Redirect to redirect old pages to the new site.
Monitor Google's Index - Check to see that the pages on your new site are appearing in Google's search results. When you're satisfied that the move is working correctly, you can move your entire site. As the Google folks mention, "Don't do a blanket redirect directing all traffic from your old site to your new home page. This will avoid 404 errors, but it's not a good user experience. A page-to-page redirect (where each page on the old site gets redirected to the corresponding page on the new site) is more work, but gives your users a consistent and transparent experience." The Google Team goes on to suggest "If there won't be a 1:1 match between pages on your old and new site, try to make sure that every page on your old site is at least redirected to a new page with similar content."
Use a Staged Approach - If your site is moving as part of a redesign, you'll want to use a phased or staged approach. Begin with moving your site as the first stage. The second stage is to roll-out with the redesign. This can help troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
Pay Attention to Links - anytime you move a website you'll want to pat attention to both your external and internal link inventories. Ideally, you should contact the webmaster of each site that links to yours and ask them to update the links to point to the page on your new domain. If this isn't practical, make sure that all pages with incoming links are redirected to your new site. Again once everything is moved over, you'll want to use a link checking tool (such as XENU that we mentioned above) to check for any broken links (404 errors).
Keep You Old Site Up - Redundancy is a good thing. After moving your site, it is a good idea to keep your old site up for six months according to Google.
Update Webmaster Tools Data - Add your new site to your Webmaster Tools account, and verify your ownership of it. Then create and submit a Sitemap listing the URLs on your new site. This tells Google that your content is now available on your new site, and that we should go and crawl it.
Monitor Both Site via Webmaster Tools - The Google Webmaster Team suggests that keep both your new and old site verified in Webmaster Tools, and review crawl errors regularly to make sure that the 301s from the old site are working properly, and that the new site isn't showing unwanted 404 errors.
Anytime you decide to move or redesign your website, you run the risk of incurring a drop in search rankings. Careful planning and testing is critical in enduring a smooth and transparent transition.