How To Transfer Your Website and Maintain Search Ranking

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Growth chartThere are many reasons to decide to move a website. These range from moving to a new server because you’ve decided to switch hosting providers, to simply redirecting your existing files to a new domain name. Either way, when you move your website, your search engine rankings may be affected. Here’s some common website moving methods that will affect your search engine rankings if all you do is move your website, without letting the search engines know you did:

Reasons you might want to move your website

Moving to a new server

You may be moving to a new server because your current hosting company is experiencing too much downtime, or has crappy customer service, or maybe even because you need to upgrade from a shared hosting to a dedicated environment because of an increase in online traffic or bandwidth consumption.

Moving to a new domain name

You may be moving your website because you’ve found a spiffy new domain name that you like much better than your current one. Or maybe you finally got enough cash together to buy the name you’ve been eyeing for a while.

Whatever the reason for moving your website, it’s important that you move not only your live files, which are the ones hosted directly on your server – i.e. the ones you upload and edit every day (or, if you’re using a CMS such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, the values stored in a database that are affected directly when you login to edit a page), but also your pages indexed in search engines.

How do I know what pages are indexed in search engines?

To find out which of your pages are indexed in search engines, you can query the search engine. Each search engine uses a different method for this:

  • Google: type “” to get a listing of pages indexed. You can click on “show omitted results” on the last page to get them all.
  • Yahoo: the same, except you will be redirected to Yahoo’s Site Explorer.
  • MSN: the same, except you will be redirected to Bing.

Each search engine will return a list of indexed pages, along with a number of how many pages are indexed. You’ll want to go through these and redirect each one to your new website.

Setting and maintaining your 301 permanent redirects

If your new website is simply moving to a new server, and you are keeping your domain name, all you will need to do is keep both sites up for a few weeks to ensure the search engines are aware of the switch. If, however, you are using a new domain name, you will need to physically program 301 (permanent) redirects for all your pages. We recommend leaving the 301 redirects up indefinitely, as some pages take longer to redirect than others. To find out how to implement 301 redirects using various programming languages and server systems, visit our article on search friendly domain and file redirects.

About The Author:

Alex has been involved on the business side of the internet since the early 2000's. He holds both a Management Science degree from the University of California at San Diego as well as a Computer Science degree from NJIT.

We Rock Your Web had its roots back in 2004 as the tech blog for a web design and development company Alex founded that has grown and evolved into the parent company of We Rock Your Web.

While his foundation is rooted in web development, his expertise today lies in content and digital marketing, SEO, organic and paid search, analytics, and publishing. Alex is an avid tennis player, nature enthusiast, and hiker, and enjoys spending time with his wife, friends, and dogs.

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Ashutosh Jha

Hey Alex,

This was really an awesome piece. Many times we have to transfer the site to some other host and rankings become a major concern.

Thanks for sharing the detailed guide.

a web rocker

Great information – I can’t believe how we used to just shut down the old website and forget about it. To think about all the traffic we lost! Any chance you know approximately how long we need to keep the old website up? Is there a way to confirm when the pages have been re-indexed?

Alex Schenker

Try typing “” (replace with your old domain name) into Google. If you don’t see any links to your old pages, they have been re-indexed. You’ll probably also want to verify, using the same technique, that your new pages are indexed.


Many people are afraid to change their web hosting provider even if they are unhappy, because they are afraid of longer downtime of their website or loosing their search ranking. If you really care about search engine rankings, minimize your use of Flash, Silverlight, Java and JavaScript.


There’s a new option for moving a site to a new domain – using the move domain option in Google’s Webmaster Tools (doesn’t work for sub-domains at this time). You still want to use 301’s though. I used this method on my blog Optimo Web Tips and all seems well.


It’s unbelievable to me how many web design firms will snatch clients from other firms and not bother to help them maintain their search engine rankings. I realize it’s either more work than they’d like to do or they are unaware of the traffic they’re losing their client, but both reasons are unacceptable considering the years it can take for the client to rebuild their index of pages in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Mike Lammens

Maybe you can help! My “webmaster” and I put together a new WordPress based website to take the place of an old WordPress-based one. Complete redesign. However, I want to keep the old domain name because the new one we were using was meant to be a test site, and it has a really stupid name about chimps.

If I just do a re-direct, it seems the new domain about chimps shows up in the url, which is not what I want. I want the old basic url to show up!

Is there a way to migrate the new site over to the old domain name?

Thanks for any help!

Alex Schenker

Hi Mike,

Great question. From what I understand, here’s your situation:

You have your new WP design on a URL that has chimps in the name.
The old WP design is on an old, non-chimp URL.
If you do a re-direct from new to old now, you’re ending up with the new design on the new (chimp) URL.
What you want is to have the new design on the old (non-chimp) URL.

It will help to understand the difference between domain name registration and website hosting. When you register a domain name, it’s stored at a registrar. In order to host that domain name (have it be accessible on the Internet), you need to point it at a website hosting account/ server. As far as the hosting provider is concerned, each account is defined by a unique domain name.

If my reasoning above matches what you’re thinking, it sounds like you need to do this:

At your hosting provider, backup your old WP design account (which is associated with your old non-chimp domain name).
At your hosting provider (since your old website design is backed up), delete the account associated with your old non-chimp domain name.
Create a new account based on your old non-chimp domain name, and load up all the files from your new WP design.
At your domain name registrar, the old domain name (non-chimp) should already be pointing at the domain registrar (if it’s not, update the name servers so they do).

Voila, you should now be able to access your non-chimp old domain name and see your new WP site.