Changing domain names - how long does it take to recover your traffic?
Updated: Nov 20
For about two years, it has been my idea to move all of our projects from their individual domain names like WebsiteToolTester, EmailToolTester, ChatTooltester etc. to just one strong domain name. And Tooltester.com sounded like the most obvious candidate.
Tooltester.com had already been registered in 2003 and never been used. It was around 2015 when we got an offer to buy it for $9,000. I politely declined back then, only to pay a lot more in 2021 🙈
Finally, in early September 2021 we made the first step: removing the "Website" from WebsiteTooltester.com, a domain name we had been using since 2010.
As you can see in this Trello checklist, the whole transition involves a lot of steps:
I had only ever done a much smaller domain name change once.
Was I nervous? Of course. But I thought there would only be a minimal disruption if we got the technical setup right. 10% less traffic for a month, something like that.
But before I show you the outcome of our move, I would like to look at two other recent rebrandings.
Big domain name changes: other examples
Let's try to find out how long it took for these two companies to recover their traffic.
Transferwise.com to Wise.com
Wise is a company I quite like as they save us lots of money for international transfers. They also underwent a major rebranding in early 2021, which made it an interesting example for us. Keeping in mind, of course, that they are an order of magnitude bigger than Tooltester.
For them, it looks like it took three months to get the old traffic levels back. I guess the dip after June could be explained by seasonal effects. But all in all, I would say, this looks like a textbook rebranding.
Of course, it must have been extremely helpful for Wise that the rebranding generated a lot of press in major publications and thus incoming links to the new domain name (which is super important in terms of signalling to Google).
LiveChatInc.com to LiveChat.com
LiveChat was lucky enough to obtain this compelling domain name. But how well did they execute on the domain name change?
This one looks a bit more complicated. The transition started around March 2020 (oh boy, I remember something else that started during that time too).
At first, everything looks normal: LiveChatInc going down, LiveChat going up. But then there's a sudden rebound of LiveChatInc for a couple of months (yeah, I know, something else also had a rebound during that time).
Around March 2021, the old domain name continues to fade out, but not completely. And even today, it still ranks for a variety of odd search terms. This seems to be because they are still using the old domain name for their application.
It might have been better to run the LiveChat application on a different domain name and implement a clean 301 redirect for the entire old domain with all its subdomains. But admittedly, I don't know the full story here.
Pushing the button: WebsiteToolTester becomes Tooltester.com
So how did we do?
On September 9, 2021, we finally switched domains and uploaded the redirects. From a technical perspective, the team did a fantastic job, I have to say. At no point did we have any 404 errors or downtime. We made it as easy as possible for Google to index our new domain.
And traffic? It remained the same for the first two days or so. Then in fell by more than 30% and remained very low for the next 5 weeks. After that, it made a sudden jump up by approximately 10%. However, over the course of the next week, our rankings lost those 10% again.
I was a bit unprepared for this, I must admit, as I (naively) expected all this to happen much quicker.
Now around 3 months after the domain change, I have the feeling that things are looking a lot brighter. As you can see in the graph above, Ahrefs now sees an even higher level of visibility for our new domain as before. But I have to say, looking at Google Analytics, it's a bit of a different story.
While we are still not fully where we were before, I would say that it's at 90% now. Also, in the meantime Google launched the "Reviews Update", which further complicates my analysis.
It was a pretty stressful time, during which we've carried out a decent number of content updates, as I had the impression that this sent the strongest signal to Google that we are still here.
This was fun! Let's do it again
By the end of November, we were ready to integrate ChatToolTester.com. This project had been a bit neglected and had lost a lot of its rankings. However, the Domain Rating of 55 was not too bad. That's why I was very curious to see how it's going to affect Tooltester's DR. At the time, it was 77.
To my surprise, Tooltester's DR didn't change at all. As far as I understand the page rank logic, each point gets exponentially more difficult to reach. So, for example, it's a lot easier to go from 40 to 60 than going from 77 to 78.
On the bright side, the old ChatToolTester rankings improved almost instantly. It certainly helps to have a (now) trusted domain.
After this experience, I would recommend thinking twice about changing your domain name. You should have a very good reason for it, as you will definitely lose traffic for 3+ months if you move to a domain name that has never been used before.
And don't wait too long acquiring that domain name as the price will most certainly go up!