Rant website domain migration from an SEO perspective

Moving content from old domain to new.

Every time I think about transferring a domain, I get this sick feeling in my tummy. The risks are high and there is no solid information on the topic, Google says one thing in a Vlog then a week later they mention something else that very subtly contradicts the previous statement.
Popular SEO blogs all repeat the same thing, they mention 301 redirects, webmaster and migration tools and continue to rattle off the same information as everyone else.
Try getting advice on forums, you find yourself receiving varied opinions with link suggestions back to the same popular SEO blogs you already read and studied so thoroughly. Everyone is quick to tell you to read google policies. If you are unlucky you’ll get a few characters telling you to employ the services of a professional SEO company. If you are really unlucky, after typing out a lengthy explanation you’ll get a response they basics explains how stupid you are.

I found myself in this very situation, in my case it’s with two personal domains. I was determined to tackle this head on and get it done the right way. After spending 2 or 3 days researching the topic and asking around, posting on forums, reading blogs, watching Matt Cutts, taking notes and experimenting I concluded that:

The reason why this is such a messy subject is because the reason for transferal varies.

In some cases you will find a company re branding

This happens quite often and from a developer’s or search engine optimizer’s perspective, it’s the easiest to execute. You know the company is re-branding.
A new domain is registered, you come in, study the structure of the website and accordingly execute the transfer.
You job is done once you slap a few lines of code in the htaccess file, transfer the web files to the new domain, setup webmaster tools, Google analytics and so on. It’s a straight forward routine.

Re-structuring – Moving part of a website to a new domain

This is less common, a little more complicated but also straightforward to implement.
Lets say there’s a company called PixelShoes, they manufacture their own super cool shoes, boots, sandles and sneakers.
They also market and distribute their products via their website. Give it a year or lets call it two years considering the poor economy, After two years PixelShoes has grown to a point where they can no longer handle the sales and manufacture, as such they decide to outsource marketing and sales to an agent.
The task at hand would be to transfer all the content related to sales to different domain.

The strategy would be to allocate and identify all the content you needed to transfer. Once identified and mapped, you would route that content only to a different domain. In most cases this would be pretty easy. If the website is using a CMS, the product pages would most likely have a URL structure like this pixelshoes.com/products/black-leather-shoe.

Using the URL, we could determine the content and decide to redirect the page to the new domain. This could be done via the CMS or on the server directly using mod-rewrite.

Trademark violations or Brand Buying is another reason for changing or moving domains.

I actually have firsthand experience with this. A large firm had shown interest in a friends website, not for the content but for the catchy name. The owner agreed to sell the domain if she was given a year to successfully transfer all her content and inform all of her loyal followers.

After 3 weeks of concluding we transferred the content which was pretty simple and with the remainder of the time, we waited for users to become acquainted with the new website address.
These are the common reasons for migrating a website and transferring old content from the current domain to a new domain, Information and advise on how to properly execute the above transfers are readily available on the internet.

Alot of circumstances are different to the above, I find myself in a situation like this. There is no text book rule and procedure for me to follow.

All the above examples are website owners that want to keep the ranking of their old websites but transfer it to a completely new domain.

On the flip side of the coin you could have a website that’s been penalized.
You may want to create a new domain and start with a clean slate. Redirecting your old website to the new domain would not help your case at all. The penalty will definitely follow you.

Then again, you could register a new domain and transfer the content from your penalized website to the new domain but its a gamble.
There are no clear guidelines and there are too many variables to make a conclusive and educated decision.
In one video by John Mueller he answers the specific question “what if I create a new domain and transfer the content without a redirect”,
John Mueller tries to discourage the user by saying that Google algorithm can detect the duplicate content, which makes total sense but the mind boggling part of the answer is when he says “Google can algorithmically detect links to your old website and transfer them to the new website”
Personally I feel the last statement is total crap, I say so because then everyone would be cloning websites and waiting for Google to correct back links passed to the original content to your cloned version. If this was common practice, it would open up a bag of worms.
In my opinion, I think Jeff Muller made that statement because he had to provide an answer to the user and after all, the advice he gave is pretty good.
My second problem with his answer and part of the reason why I say that “transferring content from a penalized website without redirect is a grey area” is because he mentioned links.
There are no many blogs and articles that specifically mention that you cant lose ranking because of poor back linking, if you could then two competing website owners would be creating poor back links to each other.
In the real world, you really cant control who links back to you. But then again, elsewhere Google advises you to disavow back links, so again, this is unknown territory that a many have visited but didnt live to tell their tale or were too embarrased with the result. Or maybe it worked for them and they were so happy rejoicing their victory that they forgot to come back and enlighten us losers.

So far Ive mentioned different reasons for migrating domains, the last one I discussed was a website that had been penalized.

Still, none of the above is relevant to the problem I am experiencing and the reason why I am considering a webiste migration.

My particular case is one that I couldn’t find any advise on, and Ive looked. Maybe by search engine skills aren’t that great but I found no information to shed any light on the matter.

I have been experimenting with 2 domains.

For the sake of this article, let call them badranking.com and goodranking.com

Badranking.com has terrible search ranking. Its almost non-existed.
The domain has heaps of sentimental value and I have it for almost 10 years. Its not something I want to give up.
Badranking.com is related to motoring industry with 10 articles at the most. These articles were added within the last 20 days. and it was part of a major website and SEO upgrade.

Over a period of 8 years or so, the domain Badranking.com had very poor content and it was just outright terrible.
Even though the domain rarely shows up in any search results, there is no penalty.

A search for the domain name would return results to confirm this. There are no manual penalties in webmaster tools and no crawl errors or any errors of any kind shown in Webmaster tools. The few minor html errors that are there are related to the old website and have been corrected. The website was just old, crappy and infested with tables and PHP errors for a very long time, this stuck with the domain and its proving very difficult to get rid of this stink.

I have been working on badranking.com daily for a period of 20 days. I can see some improvement even though it’s very little of nothing.
All the popular Search engines and spiders including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Opensitexplorer, Moz, etc have started scrolling the site more frequently but results are nowhere in the search ranking. The only time the website surfaces in the SERPS is if I do an exact title match search, the result would land at the bottom of page 2, besides this, there is nothing else!

The domain also has zero organic traffic. The traffic that the website receives is purely from 2 back links that I added on 2 client’s websites.

Goodranking.com is a ridiculous sounding name, its not a brand name that I am keen on building.
The website has been running for a little over a year and the ranking is okay’ish.

It has a few page one results and a fairly stable amount of organic traffic.
Goodranking.net is related to technology with 5 thin articles but still it has a decent flow of traffic.

On Monday I did an experiment, I uploaded all the content from badranking.com to goodranking.com for a period 24 hours max.
The very next day, like magic, the content was indexed and visible in Google search. Those pages that were scrolled landed on page 3, not a very good result but at least it was there!

With badranking.com, I waited for a 3 weeks and there was absolutely nothing to show for!

Now im thinking of permanently moving all the content from badranking.com to goodranking.com and making that the primary only functioning domain.

I will be doing this without a 301 re-direct as there’s no benefit in having users redirected. There are no loyal users whatsoever and there is no link juice at all. I also don’t want goodranking.com to be effected by the diseases of badranking.com

This migration would then be followed by deleting all the content from badranking.com and turning it into a wordpress blog or similar where I would blog occasionaly and wait however long it takes for the domain to resurface and get rid of the stink attached to itself.
What makes me weary is that both the domains have been scrolled and indexed to some degree and the content would be an exact match.
Ive also noticed that Googleusercontent has scrolled badranking.com which means they have a cached version of the content to compare against.

I am taking a little comfort in the fact that badranking.com has only had the content on the website for 20 days so maybe it’s not yet set in stone.
In the meantime I have disabled new content on badranking.com that was added less than 24hours ago.
I will be sleeping over this for one more might and I will monitor and document the progress or failure of my efforts.

Other options I am considering:

  • remove pages and cache of old domain manually through search console.
  • Using a splash page
  • Add a no-index and no-follow tag to all the content of the old website

Quick update23 April 2017

I transferred all the the content to the desired domain.

I deleted all the content from the old website.

I created 4 unique pages on the old website slightly related to the content that originally was there. The length of the pages are between 300 and 600 words.

I am not doing any redirects at all. The pages that wont be found will simply 404.

I have noticed that the desired domain, although it ranks a better, it gets scrolled less frequently to the undesired domain name, i’m still deciding whether this is bad thing or not.

I forgot to mention, the desired domain was previously a wordpress site. Ive converted it to a custom build cms. Just before I came here to post this update I re-added 2 articles that was previously on the wordpress version of the domain. I chose this 2 because it was being scrolled by Google and It is content I can re-use/improve on. There are 5 other articles that I didnt copy over, they are not important and I dont ind losing them.

My next steps are:

  • Create 4 or 5 pages related to the terms and policies of the website
  • Add 5 more pages for growth (aa),
  • Add one page/post where the content is nested in a table (a2)
  • Set up a twitter account, this has nothing to do with SEO, its just something Im thinking of using to notify users of major improvements with regards to the service being rendered

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