Should you ever change your domain name?

by Martin Reed on 12 January 2008 in Articles

Changing an existing domain name

I was recently contacted by Smiley, a regular Community Spark reader, who asked me the following question:

I’ve bought www.friendlychatrooms.co.uk since I can’t get my hands on friendlychat.co.uk without the hyphen. Would it be more beneficial (search engine wise) to simply forward friendlychatrooms.co.uk to friendly-chat.co.uk or would it be more beneficial to change the site’s domain name to friendlychatrooms.co.uk and forward friendly-chat.co.uk to the new domain?

This raises a number of important issues which I will address in this article.

Your domain name is often your biggest asset

Your domain name is extremely important to the success of your website, and should be chosen carefully. If your domain name is hard to remember or irrelevant to your site, you will struggle to attract and retain visitors. Similarly, if a domain name is hard to spell or too long, you raise the risk of potential visitors not being able to find your site thanks to typos.

Once your website is established and seeing good numbers of repeat visitors, you can be confident that the name of your site has stuck in the minds of your users. When your traffic logs show people typing your site’s name into the search engines to reach you, you can be sure that your site is developing a strong brand.

Once you have reached this stage, is it wise to change things and risk losing your brand awareness and visibility in the search engines?

Issues to consider before changing your domain name

Why do you want to change your domain name?

This should always be the first question you ask yourself. If you just fancy a change of domain name then it is probably not a good idea to proceed. If you are losing traffic due to typos and other symptoms of a poorly chosen domain name, you may want to act sooner rather than later. Changing your domain name is a huge step and it is important you think it through very carefully indeed.

Determine your domain’s brand value

How many people refer to your site by name? Is your domain name part of your site’s name? For example – do people refer to your site as ‘red scarf hippies dot com’ or just as ‘red scarf hippies’? Do people refer to your site by a different nickname, such as ‘RSH’ (if sticking with this example)?

If people refer to your site by its full domain name, you are running the risk of losing visitors and your hard earned brand awareness by changing things now. If people refer to your site by its name, you may consider changing the domain name as long as it remains true to your site name. For example, you may choose to change Red-Scarf-Hippies.net to RedScarfHippies.com – however, you still need to weigh up the pros and cons of such a change.

On another note, could you imagine Coca-Cola changing their name? OK, so it is doubtful your website’s brand is as valuable as theirs, but you get the general idea – brands are valuable and changing your domain name could mean you restarting the process of brand building from scratch.

How much search engine traffic are you receiving?

Are you currently getting good search engine traffic? You need to consider the fact that your existing rankings are based on your existing domain name. If you change that, you risk losing any existing positions your site enjoys in the search engines. Is changing your domain name worth this risk? Type-in traffic shouldn’t be as much of a problem as you can simply redirect your old domain name to the new one.

Making the decision

Matt Cutts from Google gives the following advice in his blog:

All other things being equal, I would recommend to stay with the original domain if possible. But if you need to move, the recommended way to do it is to put a 301 (permanent) redirect on every page of your old domain to point to the corresponding page on the new domain.

Taming The Beast wrote an interesting article detailing the recommended steps for changing a domain name. I also found a useful thread on the Webmaster World forum.

My recommendation

I would follow the advice of Matt Cutts and always recommend sticking with the original domain. In Smiley’s case, it is clear he simply wants to get rid of the hyphen in his current domain name. I always recommend avoiding hyphenated domain names, but since he has already chosen and developed his site around the hyphenated URL he should stick with it.

If he really isn’t happy with having a hyphenated domain name though, he should make the change now before the current domain name builds up more brand equity. Should he choose to make the change, he should also ensure he does it the right way – and based on my own research, 301 redirects of every page seem to be the way to go.

Your advice

What is your advice in this situation? Have you changed your domain name? How old was your site when you made the change? How did it go? Do you regret making the change, or was it a success? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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{ 34 comments }

Smiley January 12, 2008 at 4:21 am

Hey,

Thanks for the article! I’ve been thinking about this a LOT. I got the hyphenated version before your article about hyphens in domain names.

I was thinking of moving because I kick myself thinking about how many people have gone to friendlychat.co.uk and thought the site had been closed — I’ve been told by numerous people this happened to them, so never returned until they learnt by word of mouth of the hyphen.

I’m gonna need to think carefully about the move.

Amish Made Furniture January 12, 2008 at 2:16 pm

There is the old saw – sometimes used very derogatively by hotshot consultants that goes “Don’t fix it if it aint broke”. In these situations, one is always wiser by hindsight but, common sense would say, stick to what has been working.

Online Furniture Store January 13, 2008 at 10:57 am

I would think that the only reason to change a name would be if there was an actual problem. If your present name is actually successful and has worked for you, why would you want to rock the boat.

Nicole Price January 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

I knew somebody who started working on a new domain, did so for over a year, then realized the age of the domain is working against him. He reverted back to a very old domain that was just lying unused with him. He did have to work from scratch, but he achieved success in another year. In his case the switch worked out well.

Smiley January 14, 2008 at 6:47 am

It was just the hyphen that had me thinking about changing. Search engine wise, I’m doing well. Actually, pretty darn well for a 5 month old site. most 5 month old sites are DEAD. I have 600 posts per day average, and although the chat has died down a bit since the software change, it’s gradually picking up again as regulars get used to it.

But.. like I’ve mentioned… I’ve been told by several people that they thought the site had closed. As they went to http://www.friendlychat.co.uk, forgetting the hyphen (www.friendly-chat.co.uk).

They only knew the site wasn’t closed when they was told by word of mouth they got the site wrong, or searched “friendly chat” in Google.

I’m iffy about changing, because, I’m doing so well with my chosen keywords. Changing domain names means starting from scratch in search engines to attract new people, but making the site easier to remember for people who have already visited.

I’m in a bit of a rut indeed. If only I’d read Martin’s article about not having hyphens in the domain name in the beginning, huh??

Bingo Online January 14, 2008 at 3:10 pm

The truth is that you should never change your domain name unless it is a blogspot one..

Domain names is like your identity – change it at least inform your loyal readers that the address has changed..

but it’s a really good trick to sell your established domain name for money while keeping the content for yourself..

meg January 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

I totally agree with sticking to the original domain name. Less complicated.

Martin Welch January 15, 2008 at 2:01 am

If he really gets rid with his domain name, maybe he could change it as long as he make the right steps on how to do it correctly. After changing, he should work hard in promoting his new domain. Choosing the right domain name is a big thing!

Andrew January 15, 2008 at 4:59 am

I actually have a pretty good story. I started my first web site and named it short like google. Then it turned into a cricket web site and the domain had nothing to do with cricket. Inevitably i changed domains, which made my site stronger. But i can’t see any other reasons for changing domain unless its absolutely necessary.

Domaining January 17, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Hi Folks, I hate to disagree, but here goes………..Yes, change that domain! You made an error, and bought and developed a hyphenated domain. That domain will always annoy you and send traffic to the name friendlychat.co.uk (not to mention friendlychat.com, but thats another story!) And the more you promote ‘friendly-chat’ the richer you will make the person who owns ‘friendlychat’, by driving a proportion of your visitors to that persons site! Ideally, you would want a domain name where you can get both the .co.uk and the .com, and redirect the .com to the .co.uk. However, if your heart is set on something that includes the term ‘friendlychat’ such as ‘friendlychatroom’ and the .com is not available then thats OK as well. The thing is that you have a popular site and so take the advice given here and do a 301 redirect. It is better to get things right as early in the life of your site as possible and if you take your time and give your members plenty of notice of your plans, I beleive the long term benefits of the name change will outweigh the short term disavantages. Good luck.

Smiley January 18, 2008 at 12:53 am

Thanks, Domaining. That was a helpful comment!

Eva White January 18, 2008 at 9:00 am

Hey smiley, even I would suggest you change your domain. “friendlychat.com” is more friendlier then friendly-chat.

Smiley January 18, 2008 at 9:44 am

I’ve had to go with friendlychatrooms.co.uk , since the others were taken. Currently doing the new domain now; Domaining convinced me to go ahead.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Smiley – You faced a tough decision and it was interesting to see the thought processes you were going through. It’s a real shame you couldn’t pick up the non-hyphenated version of your domain name, though.

If you had stuck with the hyphenated version I would have recommended you made your domain name clear on your website (previously your site’s title did not show the hyphen).

You have now chosen to go with a different (non-hyphenated) domain name and it is a good thing that you didn’t delay the decision for too long. Good luck.

Ramana – Such an important decision always depends on the aims and objectives of the individual website developer. Only they can make the right decision according to their own strategy.

Reena – If you feel you are losing visitors because of your choice of domain name, it can certainly encourage you to change it!

Nicole – Thanks for your contribution. There is no reason why a change of domain name can’t be successful, and you have highlighted this fact in your comment.

Bingo – I am not sure I would agree with your comment about selling your content; it’s the most valuable part of your website!

Meg – Sure, it can be less complicated to avoid change, but that’s not always the best policy to pursue!

Martin – You’re right; a change of domain name should be taken seriously and should be done correctly.

Andrew – I agree that a change of domain name should only be done if completely necessary. In this case, Smiley decided it was and I wish him the best of luck with the change. You also make a good point that websites often evolve over time – this should always be considered when initially choosing a domain name.

Domaining – Thank you for your well-thought out and informative contribution!

Eva – Thanks for your comment; I’m sure Smiley appreciates your opinion.

jonathon January 19, 2008 at 1:11 am

i like to just buy all the domain around my main site with hyphens and 301 them the my main site, stops others from parking them at sedo.

Thesis January 19, 2008 at 11:47 am

I don’t think you should change it – domain name is your asset like you say, it’s worth something

change it it’s like changing your name..

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 22, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Jonathon – It can be a good idea to purchase similar domain names to your own, or the hyphenated (or non-hyphenated versions) to prevent others from taking them and attempting to profit from your success and hard work.

Thesis – Thanks for your comment; as always, the decision on whether to change a domain name comes down to the circumstances and goals of the individual contemplating the change.

Smiley January 23, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Domaining convinced me to move really. I’m currently working on the new site, making everything a lot more clearer, and cleaner, more organized etc now I’ve learnt more. I’ve also looked up on how to do a proper 301, so I’m confident things will go OK.

Appreciate the article, and the comments.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 28, 2008 at 11:52 am

Smiley – How are you getting on with that? I see on your site that you still carry the Friendly Chat name?

Smiley February 1, 2008 at 1:05 am

Doing everything properly, I donít like how unorganized the site is at the moment, so completely re-doing it from bottom up. Almost done, should be 301?ing to the new site/domain sometime next week!

Been busy with real life, too, so barely even visited my own site this past couple of weeks. Had to leave my co-host in charge and a couple of trusted staff

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 1, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Smiley – Good luck, I look forward to seeing the new branding!

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 2:17 am

Thanks, Martin. Appreciate it a lot.

Been so busy lately with real life I had to put it on hold. Just got the other site up though, it’s mainly the “behind the scenes” stuff I wanted more organized. The staffing was so disorganized, finally getting it how I want it now. And now I don’t have the hyphen I’m mega happy, woohoo.

I’m on a Windows server, I cannot 301 each and every page though, ouch.

http://www.friendlychatrooms.co.uk got the other domain up finally, sorted it all out tonight.

E-mailed all the chat directories etc to update my link for me, looked into how to do a 301 on a Windows server. It says this..

An easier way to forward would be to use a script similar to the one below. Place it in the ftp space as the default we file and it will automatically redirect.

The lines of code below are a php script.

What the deuce is the default we file? Where the deuce do I put that code? lol

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 2:23 am

Wow the script didn’t show up

An easier way to forward would be to use a script similar to the one below. Place it in the ftp space as the default we file and it will automatically redirect.

The lines of code below are a php script.

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 2:24 am

Header ( ” HTTP / 1.1 301 Moved Permanently ” ) ;
Header ( ” Location: http:// http://www.enteryourdomaintoforwardtohere ” ) ;

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Ah. Sorted it.. needed to be index.php, d’oh! Still can’t do it for the other pages, but ah well I’ll have to suck it up. Let’s hope the unhyphenated version reaps me some benefits, huh?

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 7, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Smiley – Sorry I can’t really help you on the 301 front as I have never needed to do it myself. When you figure it out, drop a comment with your solution in case anyone else is having a problem. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Smiley February 7, 2008 at 11:44 pm

I figured it out. You can only 301 the main URL, though.

It’s a PHP script, upload index.php into FTP which tells any search engine spiders going to the URL that its moved permanently to the new URL.

I’d post the script but your blog won’t allow it, it kept disappearing (hence the multiple posts, sorry about that)

The other pages I’ve simply used a META forwarding system.

I’m happy now. friendlychatrooms is much easier to remember than friendly hyphen chat

Smiley February 13, 2008 at 1:44 am

Just thought I’d let you know.. I think it worked!

Google Search for friendly chat rooms

Google search for friendly chatrooms

(Done even better on Yahoo)

Yahoo search for friendly chat

Yahoo search for friendly chatrooms

Yahoo search for friendly chat rooms

Perhaps in a couple of years or say I may get found with just “chat rooms”, huh?

Just a few days after switching and already I have better positioning for the keywords I was after. Mainly because of the added “rooms” and also because of getting rid of the hyphen.

This goes to show, choosing your domain name carefully is VERY important.

Thanks for all your help & advice along the way.

Domaining February 13, 2008 at 9:27 pm

I am really pleased it has worked for you.

Smiley February 14, 2008 at 7:48 am

Thank you, Domaining — and thank you for your encouragement!

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 15, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Smiley – Looks like the decision paid off after all, eh? Congratulations.

Domaining – Thanks for offering your advice and encouragement.

Smiley May 4, 2008 at 9:22 pm

It paid off in the end, I’m getting more hits. People kept losing my old site because of the hyphen.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Smiley – I’m glad it all worked out for you in the end!

Rachael June 11, 2009 at 7:22 am

I think that it can be a bad idea to change your domain name, many people can’t always remember how to spell the domain but remember part of it and search for it in google. Unless you are changing your whole brand image or you have somehow black listed yourself in google then it can be a good idea, but if you have built up a good page rank and traffic for that site then don’t change as you will end up starting all over again to build up your reputation.

Rach x

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