As a website owner, choosing a domain name is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. However, the direction of your website may change over time. It’s possible that your domain name may no longer be a perfect fit for your WordPress site.

Thankfully, you’re not obligated to stick with the same domain name forever. While changing your web address isn’t a decision to take lightly, there are many legitimate reasons why you may need to migrate your WordPress website to a new one.

In this article, we’ll show you how to change your site’s domain name in four easy steps. To help ensure this process runs smoothly, we’ll also take steps to preserve all your hard-won backlinks and search engine rankings. Let’s get started!

Understanding Domain Names (And Why You Might Want to Change Yours)

A domain name is an address that people type into their browsers when they want to visit your website. This means that your domain name is strongly tied to your site’s identity.

Ideally, you’ll choose a domain name once, and stick with it forever. However, there are some scenarios where you may need to change your web address. You may decide to rebrand your website or company, and want to break away from your old domain. Or, you may also be expanding your business into new areas, and want your branding to reflect this diversification.

There’s also a chance that you may be happy with your domain name – but your target audience isn’t so keen. For example, people may complain that your domain name is hard to spell, or that it’s too similar to a competing brand you were unaware of at the time you launched your website. The customer is always right, so even if you’re happy with your domain name, you may want to consider a change if it promises to improve your site’s User Experience (UX).

While you should always choose your domain name carefully, there’s a chance that your dream domain wasn’t available at the time you launched your website. If your ideal address suddenly becomes available, you may decide to seize the opportunity.

How to Change Your WordPress Site’s Domain Name (In 4 Steps)

Moving your website isn’t a decision to take lightly. However, once you’ve made your decision you’ll want to ensure the transition goes off without a hitch. Here’s a straightforward, four-step plan to changing your website’s domain name.

Note that for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you’ve already registered your new domain and that it’s ready for your site.

Step 1: Back Up Your WordPress Website

Before you change your website’s domain name, we recommend creating a backup. This ensures you have something to restore if you encounter any issues with the migration.

You can create a backup using the UpdraftPlus plugin. After activating it, you’ll need to configure where you want to store your backups. If you don’t choose a remote storage option, your UpdraftPlus backups will remain on your web-server. This isn’t recommended, as if your web-server goes down you’ll lose both your website and all of your backups.

To choose a remote storage option, navigate to Settings > UpdraftPlus Backups. Then, select the Settings tab:

The UpdraftPlus backup plugin.

You can now choose a remote storage location, such as DropBox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. UpdraftPlus also offers its own UpdraftVault storage option. Depending on your storage location, you may need to perform some additional configuration:

The UpdraftPlus backup plugin user interface.

Next, choose the files that you want to include in your backups. When you’re happy with your configuration, click on Save Changes:

Configuring a WordPress backup before you change your domain name.

You can now generate a backup manually by navigating to Settings > UpdraftPlus Backups > Backup / Restore. Select Backup Now, and UpdraftPlus will create your backup.

Step 2: Change Your Domain Name in Your WordPress Settings

Now you’ll need to physically change your site’s address within the WordPress dashboard by navigating to Settings > General. Just be aware that as soon as you make this change, you’ll be unable to access your WordPress dashboard until you’ve completed the migration:

How to change your domain name in the WordPress dashboard.

You can now change the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) to your new address, and save your changes. If WordPress isn’t giving you the option to edit WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL), this means your domain name is hardcoded into your site’s wp-config.php file.

If these values are hardcoded, you’ll need to connect to your server using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client such as FileZilla. Then, navigate to wp-config.php and open it for editing. Find the line that reads, That's all, stop editing! Happy publishing, and add the following directly above it:

define( 'WP_HOME', 'https://example.com' );
define( 'WP_SITEURL', 'https://example.com' );

Make sure to replace www.example.com with your new domain. Your website will now be available at your new address.

Step 3: Preserve Your Backlinks With Redirects

At this point, you’ve successfully changed your domain. However, there may be a significant number of third-party links that point to your old address. To ensure you don’t lose out on any traffic, it’s vital you redirect these outdated links to your new domain. This can also help preserve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

You can implement a redirect by editing your site’s .htaccess file. This is a configuration file that tells your server how to handle various requests. After connecting to your site using your FTP client, open your .htaccess file and add the following:

#Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.COM/$1 [R=301,L]

Make sure to replace www.example.com with the URL that you want to use in your redirect. Alternatively, you can create redirects using the Redirection plugin. After activating it, navigate to Tools > Redirection > Add New.

In the Source URL field, enter your old link. Then, specify the new link in the Target URL field:

The WordPress Redirection plugin.

To make this redirect live, click on Add redirect. Now, anyone who tries to access this URL will be redirected to your new one automatically.

Step 4: Notify Google About Your Change of Address

Moving to a new domain can damage your SEO, as you lose all of the authority you built with your old address. To ensure you continue to rank for relevant search terms, it’s wise to inform Google about your recent change.

The search engine giant will then prioritize crawling and indexing your new domain over your old domain. This will help it migrate your search results to your new address. You can make this change using Google’s Change of Address tool in Search Console:

Google Search Console's change of address tool.

Once you’ve completed the necessary steps, Google will start processing your request. According to Google, this should take around 180 days. During this time, it may help to monitor your search queries. As more pages of your new site are indexed and start ranking, the URLs on the new domain should start receiving search impressions and clicks:

How to monitor your domain name change in the Google Search Console.

You may also want to monitor Search Console’s sitemaps for your new and old domain names. Initially, the sitemap containing the new URLs will have zero indexed pages. As Google processes your change request, the number of pages indexed for your new sitemap should increase:

Monitoring a domain name in the Google Search Console.

Even after Google completes the change request, it’s recommended that you continue to pay for your old domain name for at least a year. This will prevent third parties from purchasing your old domain and using it for malicious purposes while it’s still receiving a significant amount of traffic.

Conclusion

Changing your website’s domain name can be a daunting task. However, by taking the right precautions you can move to an entirely new web address without sacrificing your existing backlinks, traffic, and search engine rankings.

In this article, we shared a step-by-step plan for changing your website’s domain name:

  1. Back up your WordPress website using a plugin such as UpdraftPlus.
  2. Change your URLs in your WordPress settings.
  3. Preserve your backlinks with redirects, either by editing your .htaccess file or using the Redirection plugin.
  4. Notify Google about your change of address.

Do you have any questions about changing your WordPress website’s domain name? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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