We were at brushwoodnursery.com for a number of years but have been at gardenvines.com for about a decade. For branding and other purposes, we have decided to go back to brushwoodnursery.com. We've just opened up our Shopify store with that domain. The old store (with inventory zeroed out) is still up and running. We enjoy a solid organic SERP on many of our products there.
I'd like suggestions for best practices on guding search engines and customers over to the new store. I am considering a .htaccess 301 redirect, for example. I have already made changes to our FB and Instagram presence but the SERPS are a big part of our traffic.
Shopify Partner here to help! This is an AMAZING question which I believe everyone should be educated on, so let me give everyone a run down of this issue.
Transferring your site to a new domain can be a tricky task, and one that will destroy your business if it is not done correctly; all of your hard work, all of your backlinks, all of your domain authority, social signals and web presence, can literally dissappear with the click of a button. This is why it's extremely important that search engines know that you are in fact still the same website and thus you should have all the authority and attention of your previous one.
In most cases, you should only change your domain name for branding reasons. Google loves brands, and will take it anyday over a domain which is stuffed with keywords. For example, if your site is "buyqualitytshirts.com" you should consider branding your company. It also helps Google understand who you are rather than what you do. Google already knows what you do - there's no need to "help" it with a keyword rich domain when it reads all the keywords in your site as it is.
Anyway - when you purchase a new domain (please be a good one!) it is critical that you setup what's called a 301 redirect. Now there are two types of 301 redirects and you should only use a "permanent 301" redirect in 99% of cases. Some registrars such as GoDaddy will easily do this for you with a feature called "domain forwarding." Never should you use "domain masking," which is a whole topic on its own, unless you know what it is and you know you need it. If you don't know what it is, don't worry about it, it's not for you.
Other registrars aren't so easy and you'll need to access the root directory and find your 'htaccess' file and put in a specific line of code, which tells all incoming traffic to redirect to a different site. Everyone has heard the old hoax story about how the "Itanimulli.com" (Illumanati spelled backwards) redirects to the NSA page. In reality, you could redirect literally ANY page to the NSA, and this is how it's done. Heck I could fool you into thinking you're about to visit Google by giving you this link - http://www.google.com - then finding out it DOESN'T go to Google. I'll take a hit on that anchor text...I digress..
You will need to change your Google Analytics code, make a new Google Webmasters account, change your social media, and hey - make a press release!
Now to the case of Brushwoodnursery.com!
I see you've already put in an htaccess 301 redirect on GardenVines.com and yes, you've done the right thing by doing this. I must warn you however that you're going to see a dramatic decrease of traffic - temporarily. You will still have the referral traffic coming from your 46,800 backlinks I see are indexed, but your organic rank and organic traffic will sharply decline since the SERPs will need time to recalculate your rankings, something that you know will take time.
The last time I did something like this, my website was only affected for about 2 months before I saw the traffic stabilize and start to climb back up. Right now, GardenVines.com has 42,000 traffic visitors from your keyword "clematis" of which you are a PR1 on the Google SERP, while your #1 on Brushwood is "brushwood nursery" with just 25 visitors, also a PR1 (twice).
You may lose some backlinks in the process. Some webmasters may see that links on their own site are misleading their visitors to another site (that you own) and may mistakingly remove your backlink. In your case, for the most part, you should be okay. For smaller businesses this can be detrimental to your rankings, so make sure you check your backlinks BEFORE you make the switch, then check them a few months AFTER to make sure they were all transitioned properly.
On a side note, Google has taken the "local business" approach much more seriously and just launched a new update to their search algorithm which ranks local businesses HIGHER in the SERP for keywords. Never before has building a brandable business been so important, espeically if you have a physical presence. Use this power to your advantage.
I hope you've found this useful. If you have any questions whatsoever, feel free to reach out to me.
Thank you! This is quite possibly the best response I've ever received on the Shopify forums for any of my questions. Two months should be ok. This is our quietest season. I chose it on purpose for a soft opening to make sure things were smooth before "our" season begins. We'll see some holiday traffic and we'll do some gift certificate promotion work but it's mostly family time now!
Really happy I succeeded with the product level redirect. New teritory for me. How long should I leave the.htaccess file in place? It's on a fairly pricey SSD VPS account. We're almost finished with the need for the site (some admin stuff to pull still) and I'd like to close that account. Can I load just a .htaccess file to my little shared hosting account and point the gardenvines domain to it?
You'll need to have access to the domain name indefinitely, but not necessarily your hosting account. Let's say you lose access to the domain and that domain forwarding gets lost - you've literally lost ALL your backlinks from GardenVines. What I recommend is simply forwarding the domain in your DNS settngs. GoDaddy can do this easily if you have them registered there. The 301 redirect in an htaccess file has the same outcome as domain forwarding via DNS settings. If you're using GoDaddy, just go to your domain management, click the arrow drop down, and select "domain forwarding." Make sure it's set to 301 permanent, and set to forwarding only (no masking).
Make sure you setup domain forwarding and test it to make 100% sure it's doing a permanent 301. Then and only then you can drop your hosting account and save your money.
Actually, there are 599 individual 301 redirects in the .htaccess file. They are based on the list from Google Merch Center linking. I found a handy tool online for building the file from a csv so it only took a few hours to generate and the code is done.
Yes, I'll keep gardenvines forever. Just not sure how long the redirect needs to be in place. I am think a year. What do you think of placing that file on my shared host? Does it make more sense what I'm asking now knowing the details of the file? Can it be done with just that file or do i need more at the host?
The redirect must be there indefinitely. Like I mentioned, if there's suddenly no longer a forwarding / 301 redirect, you will lose 47,000 backlinks with the click of a button. I'm showing you have a backlink profile of 46,900+ backlinks using Ahrefs. 27,000 of those backlinks are on the site awaytogarden.com in which you have a site-wide banner backlink going directly to gardenvine. If you remove the 301 redirect at any time - a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now - you will lose all 27,000 of those backlinks, as well as the other 20,000 linking to gardenvines.
What I've gathered, is that you want to 301 redirect 599 specific pages, directly to your Shopify counterparts, correct? Instead of doing a mass domain forwarding - which wouldn't be page specific. In this case you would indefinitely need a hosting account, though you can use cheap hosting since you only need access to the domain name and the htaccess file.
You could just mass forward the whole domain to the new one. The downside on the SEO would be that each individual page would lose its page authority, but it wouldn't affect your overall domain authority since all the redirects stay within your domain.
I think I want the individual pages to keep authority. So, just a .htaccess file in the chosen folder at the shared host?
That's right 😉 I've noticed sites like HawkHost and Namecheap offer pretty low hosting costs since you can host up to 3 sites under one account. If you're paying too much for your current hosting and feel adventurous enough to transfer, it's always an option.
I am wondering if you can help me with a problem I am having as I switch domains. I currently have michaellinmd.com and drlinskincare.com both pointing to the same shopify store. I am wondering if there is a way to have drlinskincare.com redirect to michaellinmd.com/pages/drlinskincare. I guess I will have to remove drlinskincare.com from my shopify domains? But then how do I redirect all the rest of the drlinskincare.com URLs (ie: drlinskincare.com/products)? Any help is appreciated!