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Redirecting Traffic from an Old Site to a New One

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Redirecting Traffic from an Old Site to a New One

There are many reasons to change from one website name to another. Maybe you couldn’t initially get the one you wanted or your name isn’t very marketable or maybe you just plain don’t like the old address. Whatever the reason, when moving an existing site from one URL to another, there are actually quite a few things you might not think about that you will need to take care of. One of the biggest is redirecting traffic trying to reach your old content to the appropriate location on your new site. There are two reasons you want to take care of this right away. The first is so that the site change will appear seamless to your existing readers. When visitors arrive at your old site via search engines, social networking sites, back links, or even a bookmark in their browser, the last thing you want to give them is a big glaring 404 error indicating page not found. That’s the fastest way to lose that reader forever…

The second reason to redirect traffic is to maintain as much of your existing search engine placement and credit for back links as you possibly can. If your old site existed for any length of time, you’ve inevitably built up links to your content from other sites on the web. In addition, your content has probably started to bubble itself into Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live results and, depending on how much work you’ve done, might even be ranking well for certain keywords. The bottom line is, you want to minimize the loss of visitors and search engine ranking as much as you possibly can.

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The best way to accomplish this is to redirect traffic from your previous URL manually using mod_rewrite (a convenient mod_rewrite cheat sheet) and your .htaccess file. Access to a .htaccess file is generally provided by most major shared hosting providers. The form of redirection you’re going to want is a 301 redirect.

A 301 redirect is a method of telling web browsers and search engines that a web page or site has been permanently moved to a new location. Usually a 301 redirect includes the address to which the resource has been moved. Web browsers will typically follow 301 redirects to the new location automatically, without the need for user action. A 301 redirect should be used whenever a website is moved to a new domain name (URL) so that search engines will quickly change their indices and, in theory, preserve the search engine rankings that the site had at the previous domain.

So, say you’ve gone ahead and moved your site entirely from one location to another, but maintained an identical structure for your articles. For example, if your old site was www.myoldsite.com and your new site is www.mynewsite.com, you might have addresses that used to look like this www.myoldsite.com/article1.html which now look like this www.mynewsite.com/article1.html. If that’s the case, then setting up a redirect is very simple. You can simply add the following to your .htaccess file and completely transfer all your traffic via a 301 redirect:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.myoldsite.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.mynewsite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

While this may look a bit complicated, what it is basically saying is that any visits to your site via your old domain name should have the old domain replaced by the new domain, but keep everything else in tact. So, http://www.myoldsite.com/contact-us would redirect to http://www.mynewsite.com/contact-us. The R=301 tells Google and other search engines that this modification is permanent, and that they should update all of their links and rankings to reflect the change. While there is no guarantee that Google (or anyone else for that matter) will give you full credit for your links and page ranks, you can expect that as they update their index, your old pages should be replaced by your new ones over time.

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Using a 301 redirect on your articles is not generally a speedy process of change. Google and other engines will very slowly update their records and can sometimes take upwards of a year or more before finally filtering out your old URLs. So, when implementing a 301 redirect on your site, be absolutely sure that this is a permanent redirect that your are planning to keep active for a very long time. One month won’t cut it, so make sure you’re there for the long haul. If your making the move for good, this method is simple and easy and will help you maintain as much of your previous traffic as possible.

If you need help with mod_rewrite, there are several great resources you can check out in addition to the cheat sheet I linked earlier. The mod_rewrite forumsdigital point, and the webmaster world forums are just a few.

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