Forward Masking a Domain is NOT Your Friend: 3 Steps for SEO-Safe Domain Migration

By amanda Disilvestro on August 17, 2016

Sometimes after you have already established a website and online presence, you come across a reason that you want to transfer content to a new domain. Whether it be that you’re changing the name of your company, want to use a different domain extension, or something else, there are plenty of reasons you may want to migrate one domain to another. In many cases, people also want to keep their original domain as well—after all, all of the SEO efforts have a ton of value, and why wouldn’t you want to keep all of your hard work in tact?

At this point you may have already come across articles on “domain masking” (that platforms like allow you to do) and how this is not best SEO practice. If you haven’t, this article serves to warn you that domain masking will undoubtedly have a negative impact on your websites overall online presence. Here are the details:

Why You Should NOT Mask Your Domain

The biggest issue with domain-masking is that by constructing a second domain that is more-or-less the same as the original, you are creating “duplicate content” and search engines do not play kindly with that. Google sees two domains with different names and the same content, and makes a choice as to which site they prefer. It will really only serve one site in terms of rankings and search-ability for users. The problem is that it is often not the site that the site-owner prefers (as you don’t get to choose which of the two will be preferred for SEO purposes). The other possible problem is that Google will index both sites, but then you have two websites with duplicate content—and you don’t want that either.

As you can probably guess, this is kind of a messy situation, as there are obviously cases where you don’t want to keep your original domain, but you do want to keep the same or similar content. Let’s look at three reasons you might want to migrate your domain next:

When You Might Want to Migrate Your Domain

There are a few scenarios where you will want to migrate your website to a new domain. Here are three examples:

  • Let’s say the first domain you picked is no longer relevant to your brand’s image, or maybe it was never relevant to begin with—then this is a scenario where you might want to migrate your domain.
  • Country-Specific ccTLD. If your business relocated or opened a new international office, you will want the ability to migrate your domain to that you can use the country-specific ccTLD of the country where your business is located.
  • Authority & .com TLD. If you are moving from a .biz to a .com, for example, you are going to want the ability to migrate your domain name.

In many cases a domain migration can actually have a positive impact on SEO. Here are three steps to make sure that you have a safe domain migration.

SEO Safe Step #1: Preparing to Migrate

Migrating your domain really takes proper planning over almost everything else. You are going to want to configure all site settings (like links and crawl stats)—basically anything on the back-end of your SEO efforts. It is also 100% necessary to generate a sitemap and construct an organized layout of all of your pages, including images and videos that your site hosts. In terms of crawling, you want to make sure you verify any blocked content, as well as pages that re-direct to 404 error pages.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Indexing—record all of the information on your index pages
  • Ranking—record the ranking achievement of each page, as well as any/all relevant keyword data
  • Traffic—record all of your organic traffic information such as conversions, bounce rates, and visits.
  • Links—record all internal/external links coming to your pages, and especially the anchor text, authority, and source.

Knowing this information before you do any kind of implementation will help immensely. Further, monitoring and doing analytics post-migration will also be a lot clearer with this background preparation.

SEO Safe Step #2: Implementation

Actually implementing the SEO-safe migration is a little more complex. Aleyda Solis made an amazing infographic that also outlines these steps. Below is a screenshot from that infographic, which speaks to the steps and aspects involved in implementing an SEO safe migration:

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 7.36.10 PM

While this is a highly involved process (as you can see), each step is really critical to be sure that you take extra care in handling the migration. It is not enough to just do a 301 redirect, but as Solis notes, the sitemap you generated before the move becomes extremely helpful in notifying search engines of your old/new site. You are going to want to also make sure to update your new domain on ALL platforms that your old domain was associated with: business profiles, social media, etc.

SEO Safe Step #3: Monitoring Post-Migration

After you migrate your domain you are going to want to pay attention to any kind of issues that could possibly happen, such as errors in crawling, your Index Status Report (for both your old and new sites). Monitor your rankings closely as well as traffic and conversions on your new site. Taking note of all of this on your old site will allow you to compare and contrast pre-post migration. In many cases SEO might actually improve pretty immediately (depending on the reason for your domain migration), in others, it might take some time to improve your rank position or organic traffic. You may also need to consider new keywords and linking that may be a change of practice from your old website.

The Takeaway

Takeaway #1 from this article should be that forward domain masking is not your friend—do not do it if you do not want to hurt your SEO. In some situations domain migration can be a good option, and will actually bode will for a company’s SEO; however, it is important that you figure out whether or not you actually fit the mold. A good way of checking is by working closely with a marketing agency, The Miami SEO Company.

Lastly, as this article suggests, you want to make sure you prepare, implement, and monitor the domain migration accordingly. It can be a highly involved process, but taking extra care in paying attention to detail can make it an SEO safe process.

Are you considering migrating your domain? Have we scared you away from masking your domain? Let us know in the comments section below! We would love to hear from you.

About The Author

amanda Disilvestro /