We are changing the name of our company and therefore must change our domain name to reflect our new brand. Our Website has been around for many years and has hundreds of links pointing to it. How can we minimize any loss of traffic or search engine rankings once we go live with the new domain?
Normally, this would not be a major problem with the search engines as you could simply park the new domain name at the same DNS and people could use either domain to get to your Website. However, there are some issues that you may want to try to avoid or minimize.
For instance, if you simply park your new domain, there's really no way to tell the search engines to start using that one instead of the old one. Most likely, the engines will simply keep indexing the old domain. That's not a problem in and of itself as people will still end up where you want them to be, but it can be a branding nightmare.
Eventually if you get more links pointing to the new domain than the old, your new one may start to be preferred by the engines, but this could take years, and it's not a given that it will actually work that way. You could also send emails to all your old linking partners requesting that they point their links to your new domain, but that could be a ton of work, and most likely only a certain percentage of them will bother to do it. Even trying to get a large directory such as Yahoo or DMOZ to change the URLs can be "iffy" at best.
Because of these minor headaches, I'd suggest that you set up a permanent 301-redirect at the server level from the old domain to the new. This is the preferred method of search engines, and it directly tells them (through the http headers) that the old domain has permanently moved to the new one. On Apache servers, these 301s can be easily set up through an .htaccess file. On Windows servers, it may be slightly more complicated, but your server/host should be able to help you do this correctly.
Be aware, however, that it most likely will take a good 2 or 3 months for the search engines to fully understand that all your files have moved. For a while you may find the old domain is still indexed, or some of both domains, or even neither of them. Don't panic when this happens. Just ride it out, and eventually all will be well. Google is especially good at understanding what to do with the 301s. Yahoo has traditionally been slower to come around, but may be doing a better job with it these days.
You might also want to read up on Google's Aging Delay as that can also put a crimp in thing.
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