Switching your web address might sound easy, but the practicalities are not.
Our advice to any business registering a new domain name is to think very carefully about your choice. It’s a decision that will impact your branding and communications for years to come, as well as carrying an annual cost.
Don’t leave the TLD out of consideration
The fun part of choosing a domain is usually the bit that comes before the dot (e.g. the “sitehost” in “sitehost.nz”). It’s where your brand goes, and it’s what will make your address unique. But the TLD, which comes after the dot, deserves attention too.
Your TLD indicates something about your brand and it commits you to annual registration costs.
For starters, the TLD determines the domain’s cost - now and later. Different TLDs are run in different ways, which can affect how their prices change in the future. There are some less common TLDs which might stand out, like .kiwi, but they usually cost more and aren’t always worth it. When we looked into why .kiwi costs more than .nz we learned that this TLD was seen as a fad as far back as 2018.
So your TLD indicates something about your brand and it commits you to annual registration costs (which you can prepay for up to 10 years). If things suddenly get too expensive, or you find your web address looking less trustworthy than you hoped, it’s not quick or easy to make a change.
This may sound overblown but cast your mind forward a few years and think about the full process of changing your domain. Here’s a quick look at online and offline practicalities of changing domains.
First, the technical side
If your domain and hosting are both with us, then registering a new domain and connecting it to your website is a fairly straightforward change. If you have any subdomains, things get a little tricky but remain manageable.
You can set up redirects to take traffic from your old address to your new one (our Control Panel makes that easy to do. But this already opens the first can of worms because you’ll need to keep control of your old domain, which means continuing to pay for it.
After the move, you'll still want to be able to check your old mailboxes.
There’ll be other jobs, like getting your new address indexed by Google, that will take time. But because all of this is under your control, it’s not going to stop you.
Next comes email. You have different options, but to manage a permanent change of domain you will probably want to start fresh with brand new mailboxes. After setting them up, you can migrate old email messages across. Once that’s done your and your team can see all your email in one place, and that place has your new domain attached.
This will take some time and effort, but compared to what’s coming it’s definitely doable.
You’ll need to keep control of your old domain, which means continuing to pay for it.
Like you'll redirect website visitors from your old address, you’ll want to forward mail from your old address to new. This lets you keep checking your old address after you’ve moved. Once again there will need to be a time lag between switching your new domain on and switching the old one off.
Next, the branding and marketing implications
Once your new address is pointing to your website, and once your new email addresses are operational, you face the problem of finding and changing all the old references to your website. If the web and email are your main shop windows, this can be a much bigger job than you’d believe.
A new domain will work against a lot of the effort you’ve already put into your branding.
For most businesses web and email addresses are amongst the first contact details that get shared. If your domain changes, you suddenly need to think about all the places where you’ve publicised it. A quick lists of things to consider includes:
Signage and banners
Brochures and flyers
Social media and other online profiles
…and there’s bound to be more.
Is your website or email address written on your vehicles? That's another thing to change.
After a few years in business it’s easy to surprise yourself with the range of places your domain has spread to. This is good marketing and branding, until it’s out of date. A new domain will work against a lot of the effort you’ve already put into your branding.
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, hold on. Because we’ve still only covered the things that are within your control. What about all the places where other people have been talking about you?
The links you can’t fix
Think of all the links to your website that sit out there on the internet. Backlinks from satisfied customers, social media posts (yours and other people’s), reviews, ads, and content like media coverage, case studies or pieces you’ve reproduced for other sites. How many business listings or endorsements are out there? Every single link contains the domain that you started with. A lot of them can’t be edited, and a lot of them are out of your control.
Think about any contacts who pass your email address around, too. You don’t know how many contact lists and address books you’re already in.
Links to your site are not only a source of traffic, but also an important SEO signal. You need these links to keep working, which gives you two options:
Don’t change your web address.
Set up permanent redirects from your old URL to your new one.
So, let’s talk about redirects
You can only redirect from domains you still own
There’s a kicker with the easy-sounding option of redirecting traffic from your old address to a new one. Any domain that you want to control, you have to register and pay for. So as long as you want to redirect traffic from your old domain, you need to be paying for it.
How long do you want your old email addresses to keep working? How long will you need to send traffic from your old URL to your new one?
This goes for email addresses as well. When you change email address, you’re counting on all of your contacts to update the address that they have for you. You can monitor your old addresses, and even link them to your new mailboxes, as long as you control the domain. But if you want to actually stop paying for it, every new message that someone sends to your old address will disappear into the ether (or at best bounce back to the sender).
How long do you want your old email addresses to keep working? How long will you need to send traffic from your old URL to your new one? How long will people still be clicking old links to your site, or reading old signs or stationery? These questions land us in “piece of string” territory.
Just know that if you are trying to swap a $200 domain for a $30 one, you’re actually setting up a $230 situation for an indefinite period of time.
Old domains are released back into the wild
When you stop paying for a domain, it becomes available for anyone else to register. This is another reason to keep your old domain registered even after you’ve stopped using it.
Once a new owner has the domain they are free to set up wherever website and mailboxes they like. There’s a chance that imposters could take the opportunity to seize your old name, but the new owner doesn’t have to be malicious to cause problems. A competitor or other business with perfectly good reasons to use the domain can still be a big headache.
Imagine your old email addresses, like email@example.com, suddenly springing back into life under someone else’s control! Or another vendor’s site appearing where yours once was.
This is another reason why you’re probably going to have to spend time - years of time - paying for both old and new domains.
Changing domains is a long, slow process, so choose carefully