A few months ago, we redirected this blog from WordPressGarage.com to WPGarage.com in order to respect the request by the folks at Automattic that people not use the word WordPress in their domain name. We wrote up a guide on how to do this type of 301 redirect, and at that point it seemed that things had gone mostly smoothly. However, I now know that things did not go so smoothly, and here are some things that you should pay attention to if you also choose to 301 redirect your site to a new domain:
Google Analytics stopped tracking our traffic. It said it was receiving data, but the stats showed zero visitors – an internet flatline. At first I thought that the redirect had caused all traffic to this site to cease, but I knew that could not be the case since our posts were still appearing in the SERPs, which is where most of our traffic comes from. Plus, we were still getting comments, which meant that some people were visiting. My search to figure out why this was happening led me to find a bunch of other issues (listed below), but eventually I just removed the Google Analytics WordPress plugin we were using, and pasted the analytics code into the footer. That solved the problem, and the stats started showing traffic again.
On another note, it seems that you need to log into Google Analytics and update the profile to the new address. I did that, but it didn’t fix the above problem. Anyways, here says it doesn’t matter what domain name in your Google Analytics settings the tracking code is on.
Lesson: pay close attention to your analytics stats after you redirect your site to a new domain. That way, if you see a problem you can start working immediately to solve it. It took me six days to solve our problem, which meant six days of no logged statistics. I would have hated to have done that to a client!
Google Webmaster Tools
If you’ve got Google Webmaster Tools monitoring your site, you need to change some settings there in order for it to start tracking the new domain properly.
Google has complete instructions on what to do if you are moving a site to a new domain. One of the things they mention there, which we didn’t do before we did the redirect, is to update your settings in Google Webmaster Tools. If you’ve been tracking your site in Google Webmaster Tools, you need to register a change of address. To do so you, need to re-verify the old site, which includes verifying both the www and non-www versions of the site. Google says that the reason for this is that “Typically, both versions point to the same physical location, but this is not always the case.” I had only added the non-www version to Google Webmaster tools, so I had to add a new site for www.wordpressgarage.com. This was a problem since I’d redirected everything and couldn’t put the meta tag that is required in the header of the old site. So I had to remove the 301 redirect from WordPressGarage.com’s .htaccess, add the header tag, and Verify. Once that was done, I could do the change of address.
Redirect Properly with or without www
While I was trying to figure out why our analytics weren’t working, I noticed that we had set up the 301 redirect as follows: http://wordpressgarage.com > http://wpgarage.com > http://wpgarage.com. In other words, we had written in the .htaccess file that visitors to wordpressgarage.com should be redirected to www.wpgarage.com, but here on wpgarage.com we have it set up that all visitors are redirected to the non-www version of the domain name. Basically, visitors were redirected twice. Not elegant, that’s for sure.
I recently realized that this site lost its Google PageRank in the redirection process. We used to have a PR of 4, and now it’s 0. Zero!! I would like to know why that is the case, since all of a site’s value is supposed to be passed on to the new domain if a 301 redirect is used. But in consolation, I haven’t seen a reduction in traffic. In fact, traffic has gone up since we did the redirect.
So there you go: some more things you should pay attention to when doing a 301 redirect of a site to a new domain name. All of the above makes me realize how dependent we are on Google for managing our site properly. What can we do – they create the best (free) tools, so we use them, and we also depend on them for traffic.