Change domain – are you mad?

Why did we change the domain of the Browser Media website? Is that not SEO suicide? A brief insight into why we hit the nuclear button.

You are reading: Change domain – are you mad?

Our regular readers will have noticed that we gave the Browser Media website a spring clean over the Christmas period.

The previous site had actually been live for several years, so we felt that it was time to give it some love and attention. Not only did we apply a new lick of paint but we hit the nuclear button of changing our domain name to the .agency variant.

Anyone who knows me and has spoken to me about SEO over the years will be justified in their likely surprise at this move, so I thought that a post explaining the move would be worthwhile.

Why might you be surprised? In general, I am always wary of rocking the SEO boat. Wherever possible, I believe that it is better to avoid massive changes as the risk of significant disruption to your visibility across the search engines is very real. I have seen far too many catastrophes following a site refresh, when no consideration was given to SEO during that process and I have traditionally always encouraged site owners to avoid changing URLs, and certainly domains, unless absolutely necessary.

So why have I gone against my own advice? There are four key reasons:

1) Global footprint

Whilst Browser Media is very much a UK agency, a significant proportion of our business is overseas. In the US, in particular, we have experienced considerable growth in recent years and I have increasingly felt that having a .co.uk domain could potentially be a problem for growing our international client base.

Whilst I suspect that a .com domain would be even stronger in the US market, that domain has never been available to us and I am hopeful that the .agency domain may stand out a little more and avoid the potential exclusion that a .co.uk domain may create in the global market.

2) An opportunity to test

Anyone with an active interest in SEO will always have an appetite for testing new approaches and learning through experience. Exploring the impact of different tactics is what makes us tick. This can, however, be a problem when managing client sites as I am not prepared to damage their business as a result of a passing SEO whim.

Whilst I have no appetite for commercial suicide, I am happy to accept a higher risk profile for our own site. Pretty much all our business comes from word of mouth and we don’t generate huge levels of new business from organic search, so the actual risk of losing key rankings across the search engines was acceptable to me.

The decision to move to the .agency domain, therefore, gave us an opportunity to evaluate the impact across several areas:

-‘new’ TLDs

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of top-level domains (TLDs) that are available. Many of the new TLDs are brand related, but there are also hundreds of generic extensions. To date, I have not been convinced one way or the other by any test in terms of the SEO impact.

Our move to .agency will, therefore, serve as a live case study for us to analyse the impact of the .agency domain. Watch this space…

-the ability of search engines to handle change

If I had to name the one aspect of SEO that has changed most over the past decade, I would probably say that it is the ability for search engines to understand change. In days of old, any change could cause real problems for the search engines, which is why my historic advice has always been to minimise such changed.

I am in no doubt that the bigger search engines are now exponentially better at coping with change. Yes, you still have to hold their hand through change but I am no longer terrified of (gently) rocking the SEO boat, as long as you take care to follow the necessary processes. I am confident in our ability to follow such processes and therefore wanted to explore how much impact a domain change would have, as my expectations were positive.

It is too early to really evaluate the impact, but I can confidently say that the early signs are positive. We were very careful about implementing 301 redirects at page level and we used Search Console to notify Google of the domain migration, but the .agency site has quickly replaced the .co.uk domain and, whilst I am not a massive fan of rankings as a measure of success, the new .agency site is currently doing slightly better than the old .co.uk site. Some of our ‘bigger’ phrases swapped over within a week and had stabilised within 10 days.  Again, watch this space and I will share a full analysis in a few months…

-the effect of .agency links

Another theory I want to test surrounds keyword rich domains. This clearly used to work, but it is a practice that has been publicly denounced and the mighty Google has effectively said that loading a domain with keywords will not help that domain rank for the keywords used.

Similarly, too many keyword rich text links can definitely do more harm than good these days, although I have seen more than enough evidence to convince me that keyword rich links still work.

The test, therefore, is to see whether our rankings improve for ‘agency’ related phrases as any url links will include the word agency in the link. We can’t be accused of manipulating the text links as they will be urls. Theoretically, the search engines should recognise that it is our domain, rather than a keyword rich link, but I will be interested to see if there is any impact in this area.

Another longer-term test I am afraid, as we will need to build up more links that use .agency rather than .co.uk, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

3) Reinforcing what we are

Not only did we move to the .agency domain, we added .agency to the logo. The hope here, is to make the domain more memorable but also to help reinforce the fact that we are an agency.

If people are looking for an agency, we would love to speak to them and I want people to know, immediately, that Browser Media is an agency. If a quirky domain name stands out in the search engine results pages, I will be happy. If a user sees the domain name and instantly recognises us as an agency, I will be happy. If a user comes to our site expecting to see an agency site, I will be happy.

4) Moving to https

The new site is published on https. There was no real need for us to move to https as our site is not transactional and we do not ask for any sensitive data from our users. Https is, however, the way the world is going and it seemed like the right thing to do. I am not expecting any amazing SEO boost from this move, whatever anyone will tell you, but I can tick that box and sleep easily at night knowing that we are doing things properly from a data security perspective.

Crucially, this meant that we were already changing our domain as http and https are, strictly speaking, different domains. On that basis, we thought that we may as well hit the big red button and benefit from all the above.

 

So there you have it, an explanation of why we made the move.

I will keep you posted as we learn more about the impact, but would love to hear your thoughts on the new branding and domain. Don’t be shy – join in the conversation in the comments below.

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