Insights Into How Google Handles Site Moves

Once you learn a little bit about how search engines work, moving a web site from one location to another begins to sound like a frightening thing. The basic solutions that people talk about in the market are pretty straightforward. However a recent post by Riona MacNamara on the Google Webmaster Central blog, titled: Best practices when moving your site brings out some additional extra tidbits.

As laid out by Riona, the basics remain the same. You want to perform a site wide redirect of the old site to the new site on a page by page basis. If you are changing site structure then you need to try and match up the content as closely as possible for the redirecting pages on the old site to the new site. But here are a few interesting tidbits:

  1. “pesky 404 (File Not Found”) errors can harm the user experience and impact your site’s performance in the search results”. You can read this statement in a few different ways. My read is that if you implement your redirects in a way that end up in a significant number of 404s that this could affect the site rankings, because of a loss of the related link juice on the site.
  2. Riona also suggested that if you are planning to move the site and redesign it at the same time, that you should consider doing a straight domain move first, and do the site redesign at a somewhat later date. The purpose of this suggestion is to reduce the number of variables you are changing all at once in the process. It’s good advice.
  3. “To prevent confusion, it’s best to make sure you retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days.” Thia was perhaps the most interesting comment of all. This suggests that if the old site does go away after 180 days, that’s OK, and you do not need to retain the redirects longer than that. Note that the post earlier acknowledged that you might not be able to get all you old links pointing to the new site, and would need to rely on redirects.We have known for some time that Google keeps a time based record of things like links to a site (so it knows when the links were created). It’s possible that Riona is alluding to here is that after 180 days Google will assume the redirects are permanent, even if the old site and goes away with it’s redirects, and will continue to count them to your site.

    Reading between the lines a bit further, the implication is that this would still be true even if the old domain is taken over by someone else and new content is put up on it. If this speculation is true, it’s an interesting insight into Google at work.


  1. Richard Hearne says

    #2 might be more related to Google trying to pick up webmasters who pick up dropped domains and then redirect them into another site in the hope that they can divert the links?

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