Q and A: Should I 301 redirect my penalized domain to a new site?

QuestionHi Kalena

If my site example.com gets penalized and de-indexed from Google (some competitor spammed my site hard), can I 301 that site to my new site with the exact same content? Would my new site get penalized too?

And what happens if my new site gets penalized from spam again… can I 301 it to another domain using the same content? I wonder if i can 301 the past two domains to my new site, passing on the link juice.

What do you think?

Sam

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Hi Sam

GREAT question and one that I thought I knew the answer to, but it prompted me to do a little more research to make sure.

My instincts told me that if you could simply recover from a penalized domain by implementing 301 redirects to a new domain, then there would be more incentive for spammers to create and burn keyword-stuffed sites as a tactic to gain short term traffic and long term links. This is not a situation I could imagine Google being comfortable with.

But at the same time, if penalized domains pass their penalties on via 301 redirects, what is stopping a competitor from 301 redirecting their penalized site to your non-penalized site as a nasty negative SEO tactic?

So, after digging into the topic, here’s what I found out:

1) We know that 301 redirects are Google’s preferred method of directing traffic between pages and sites, and for transferring link juice from an old domain to a new one. However, any page redirected from one domain to another via 301 is going to lose some PageRank.  So it follows that implementing a 301 redirect on a penalized site WILL pass on some of the link and PageRank value of the redirected site to the new site. Therefore, you should NOT implement a 301 redirect on a penalized site, because any link or PageRank-related penalties will be passed on to the new site as well.

2) If you 301 redirect more than one penalized domain to a new domain, you are probably going to pass on double the negative PageRank and link juice to your clean domain, so don’t do that either, unless you want double the drama.

3) If you are thinking of simply scraping the entire content of your penalized domain and republishing it on a new domain, think again. There is new evidence that Google can track the content that earned you the penalty in the first place and penalize it in the new location, even if you don’t use 301s or tell Google about the move via the site migration tool in Webmaster Tools.

4) If you’re concerned that a competitor might have used negative SEO tactics against you by 301 redirecting their penalized site to your non-penalized site, don’t be. Google is apparently quite good at ferreting out this particular negative SEO technique. If you’re still worried, you can use the Disavow Links tool in Webmaster Tools to instruct Google to ignore any links from the penalized site.

Hope this helps!

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Q and A: Will Google penalize me for redirecting my old site to my new site with duplicate content?

QuestionHello Kalena

I have a current subdomain webpage that is ranking on page 12 on the Google SERP’s. I just bought a new domain name and created a new website with pretty much duplicate content so I could use that as my prime domain. What I did was re-direct my subdomain to the new prime URL.

My new site has been indexed, but not yet ranked by Google. I intend to delete the sub-domain page as soon as the new page starts appearing in the SERP’s. My question is, because of the duplicate content, is Google going to ban me for this?

Thanks,
Paul

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Hi Paul

Ah yes, the old hosted sub-domain ranking conundrum.

For the benefit of readers who might not understand your situation, here’s a brief explanation. Paul’s current website is free-hosted on a sub-domain provided by his hosting company. For example, instead of having his site at www.PaulsPlace.com, it’s currently at PaulsPlace.hostingplace.com. This means that any links pointing to his site contribute to the hosting site’s link popularity and not his own. It also means that he is helping his hosting company to rank better in search engines, rather than his own brand and content.

To avoid this, Paul has done the right thing and purchased his own domain name, transferring all his site content over to the new domain and then putting an automatic sign-post up on his current sub-domain site that redirects people to his new domain when they hit his old site or click on a link to his old site within search engine results.

Paul, provided you used a 301 redirect on your sub-domain, there shouldn’t be any problem at all with duplicate content. In fact, this is the recommended process to use, according to Google. Just don’t forget to remove the redirect (and dump your old site) once you see your pages start to appear in the search results. You can hurry this along by creating a XML sitemap for the new site and uploading it to Google via Webmaster Tools.

Hope this helps.

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Q and A: How Do I Prepare for a Large Site Migration?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for a medium sized hospitality chain (in the marketing dept) and our leading chain of hotels is about to undergo a brand change. I’ve just found out that management has approved a full domain name change for each of these hotels and scheduled it with our IT department to happen next month. My General Manager bought the domain name without consulting IT or marketing.

I’m freaking out a little because I’ve been given the task of making sure the change goes smoothly and doesn’t impact our Google rankings or traffic, which I’ve spent years building up. There are 3 different regional hotel properties that will be affected and the content will be transferred over to a single domain! What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make the transition go smoothly?

Regards
Belinda

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Hi Belinda

Oh boy, I don’t envy you. Yes, you are right to be freaking out – at least a little. Site migrations are a royal pain in the you know where and can result in masses of lost traffic and lost search engine rankings.

By the sound of things, your site migration will be complicated by the fact that there are multiple domains shifting to a single domain. Now before you start hyperventilating, there are some things you can do in preperation:

1) Read this terrific presentation about site migration by Aidan Beanland of Yahoo and then read it again. Create a plan for your own migration situation.

2) Go spend some time with the IT department. Hopefully you get on well with them because you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them over the next few months. Provide them with a copy of Aidan’s guide so they know what to expect. You’ll need to find out their strategy for the roll-out, including pre-switch benchmarking, 301 redirect integration and testing, specific dates for content transfer, the big switch and final DNS propagation.

3) Consider shifting the content of each individual hotel into distinct region-based sub-domains on the new site e.g. Dallas.HotelBrand.com, Austin.HotelBrand, Houston.HotelBrand rather than trying to combine all content into a single site. This way, you can optimize the sub-domains as distinctive sites and retain the location-related Google rankings you have spent so long building up. If you can prove large traffic losses will occur if you don’t do this (and they will!), it should be easy to get IT and management onside.

4) Take an active role in the pre-migration benchmarking process, particularly in relation to site analytics, most popular content and search engine rankings. Ensure your company keep ownership of the old domains and keep all sites live until the new domain has fully propagated.

5) Be prepared with other online/offline marketing activities to promote the hotels in case of sudden traffic loss.

6) Make sure your manager and stakeholders know what is within/beyond your control! Make it very clear what can go wrong during the move and protect yourself by warning them ahead of time of the potential negative outcomes.

Good Luck!

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SMX Sydney 2012 – Aidan Beanland – SEO Essentials for Web Migration

This is a summary of Aidan Beanland’s presentation at Search Marketing Expo / Online Marketer Conference held in Sydney 1-2 May 2012. Aidan Beanland at SMX Sydney 2012

Aidan Beanland is the SEO & Audience Optimisation Manager for Yahoo!7 in Australia. Aidan directs SEO operations for Australia and New Zealand and advises on international strategy for the Yahoo! network.

Aidan explains there are 3 phases to a successful web migration:

Phase 1 – Research / Strategy

What’s changing? Your migration situation could be any of the following:

  • Moving from one domain to another
  • Switching to a new Content Management System (CMS), creating new URLs
  • Significant changes to site content
  • Update to site’s Information Architecture
  • A new geographic audience
  • Merging one or more sites together
  • Changing your web host

…or a combination of these.

Aidan suggests asking the following questions prior to migration:

  • Why are you doing this? Content? CMS? Design? Acquisition? CEO says so? Be clear about your objectives.
  • Does this NEED to happen? Really?
  • What can be migrated separately? Know the roadmap and any dependencies.
  • Will this cause new SEO challenges? AJAX, Flash, poor information architecture?
  • What enhancements can be included?
  • Are you aware of the risks? Really?
  • Who’s idea was it? Make sure responsibility is clear.

Phase 2 – Planning / Benchmarking

Before migration, Aidan recommends taking benchmark stats so that you can check these again after migration. During the month before migration, record these stats:

  • Click Through Rates, average search positions, external/internal links, content keywords via Google webmaster tools
  • Top search referral keywords, conversions from SEO by keyword phrase/URL
  • Engagement metrics (bounce rate, session length, PVs/visit, etc)
  • Top referring URLs
  • Geographic locations of visitors
  • Search engine referrals (note seasonal variations)

SEO Migration Task List

Determine your ‘money pages':
• The most search engine referrals
• Highest link equity (page authority, root links, link diversity)
• Best conversions

Split search engine referrals keyword phrases into three buckets:
1. Brand terms
2. Competitive ‘head’ terms
3. Long tail terms

Rank check your top 50/100 referring search queries and take note. Record your most common internal search queries.

Planning Task List

  • Check new domain and/or host IP has no *ghosts*.
  • Ensure new domain WHOIS entry is correct (same as current if possible)
  • Put the new domain live with a holding page linking to the current site
  • Ensure current and new domains are verified in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Replace absolute with relative links
  • Evaluate new site wireframes/mock-ups and incorporate SEO requirements
  • Retain (and improve) internal link structure if possible
  • Crawl old site to generate a URL list
  • Inform registered users that a new site is coming

301 Redirect Task List

  • List most important current URLs and corresponding new URLs
  • Set up 1-1 redirects for all key SEO (and other traffic source) pages
  • For less important pages create redirect rules, e.g. Capture descriptive words from old URL to return a search listing on those words
  • 301 redirect old sitemap.xml files to their new location

New Site Final Task List

  • Put the staging site behind IP restriction AND/OR Password protect
  • robots.txt disallow
  • Crawl the new site (using Xenu or similar). Looks for the usual culprits:
    – 404s
    – Incorrect redirects (don’t forget images and files like PDFs!)
    – Dupe/missing page titles & descriptions
    – High click depth
    – Large/slow pages
    – Non-canonical URLs/content
    – Use old site URLs as a crawl list to check redirects are working
  • Set up a 301 redirect s/sheet so tech team has a clear map of instructions
  • Stress test! Can it handle the load?
  • Set up Google Alerts for something unique to your new pages so you know as soon as your new pages are in the index

Phase 3 – Migration

10 First Steps:
1. Remove robots.txt and/or password/IP restriction
2. Lower your DNS TTL (time to live) to ~5 mins/300s then update DNS setting
to new host IP
3. Verify new site in Google Webmaster Tools
4. Use Google’s ‘Change of Address’ tool
5. Re-crawl to check for errors
6. Submit new XML sitemap(s)
7. Check indexation (site: ) and sitemaps in GWT
8. Keep both sites live until ALL users are now going to new site
9. Inform your users and your industry – PR opportunity?
10. Update external links

Next steps:

Redirect old pages to new pages in stages, suggests Aidan. Splitting the migration process into manageable chunks allows for rollbacks and better cause/effect troubleshooting.

An example:
1. Migrate to new host – wait ~1 week
2. Redirect site to a new domain – wait until traffic stabilises
3. Migrate content (one section/directory of the site at a time) – wait several
weeks

Phase 4 – Monitoring

Some things to keep tracking after the migration:

  • Use the old site URL list as a crawl list to check redirects are still working
  • Check sitemap indexation & crawl errors/volume in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Remember to check rankings for other search engine gTLDs if your business relates to other countries
  • Check referrers to your 404 page. Use this to fix broken links (on and off-site)
  • Check internal search queries – have they changed from the old version? Use this to enhance navigation
  • Canonicalisation? Are all pages consistently with or without out www.? https://?
  • Keep ownership of the old domain! Indefinitely! Maintain redirects
  • Monitor key business goals
  • Tidy up broken links – return a 404 or 301 to logical equivalent
  • Regain site links if they got removed
  • Update & add external links – contact webmasters, may be chance to improve them or add more. Prioritise by value (SEO and navigational)
  • Backfill any organic traffic slump with PPC traffic
  • Ask your loyal users for feedback on their experience of the new site
  • Update your local listing entries (e.g. Google Places), if necessary
  • Flush out old links. Point links to these from an indexed but low value page to force recognition of the 301 redirect.
  • If things go really wrong – roll back!

Site Migration Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t do it! (or at least don’t switch everything at once)
  • Don’t get excited when referrals increase immediately after launch – this can happen when old + new URLs are indexed and appear together in SERP, or when Google ‘tests’ new domains for CTR and engagement.
  • Don’t blanket redirect all old pages to your new home page
  • Don’t let your old domain lapse
  • Do hold your ground and be patient. You’ve explained the risks and time-frame to the business (right?).
  • Do update your most valuable links – Don’t rely on the 301 passing on link juice in full or quickly
  • Do be prepared for a roller coaster ride! Traffic can fluctuate, some things don’t work as expected, sometimes a post-switch site can perform more strongly than you’d hoped.

Good luck!

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Q and A: How important is domain canonicalization to SEO?

QuestionHi Kalena

I use a company that “specializes” in mortgage sites and hosting. Since I am in the process of applying everything I am learning, I saw fit to have my site graded by one of the many online tools available.

The tool showed that my site is coming up for both the www and non www versions of my domain. When I enquired with my host about doing a 301 for my domain to one version, they said

“There is nothing we or you can reset on the Xsites as this is beyond anything we have control over. We do not support any of this nor have the capability for any one else to have it”.

How much is it going to hurt me in SEO if I don’t get this fixed like the site grader suggested?

Alex

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Hi Alex

What you’re referring to here is domain canonicalization.

Search engines can sometimes index both www and non www versions of your domain, creating duplicate content headaches for you and also link popularity dilution. Therefore, it’s best for SEO purposes if you can stick with one version of your domain and make sure all links point to that version. The www version is my recommendation because most sites will link to you using that version anyway.

Judging by the response you got from your hosts, it sounds like they’re not familiar with the issue of domain canonicalization, which is concerning. If your site host won’t allow you to use a 301 to create a conditional redirect to your preferred version, you probably need to get a new host!

Alternatively, you can use the Canonical Link Element. You can also specify your preferred URL version in Google Webmaster Tools.

My blog post Does the canonicalization of my URL impact my search engine rankings? might also be of interest.

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