Changing domain names isn’t just a matter of getting people to type in a new URL for your website. The second the switch takes place, all of the links that used to lead to your website are lost. And while putting a 301 redirect in place can make the change transparent to most users, it’s only the first step in telling the search engines that the move is official.
That’s why, when changing domain names, it’s important to start a link recovery campaign. Link recovery is the process of informing other webmasters who link to you (also called link sharers) that your site has moved and asking them to update their links accordingly. Generally speaking, the more links that get updated in this way, the more likely it is that your site will enjoy the same search engine rankings that it did before the move.
Link Recovery Preparations
Starting a link recovery campaign requires some initial research and preparation.
- Identify your site’s inbound links. A good way to start is by plugging “link:” followed by your old domain name into Google, Yahoo, and MSN, which will return the URLs of your most important link sharers. If you’re a blogger, plugging your old domain name into Technorati or similar blog indexing services will likewise return your most important links around the blogosphere.
- Prioritize your link recovery efforts. Older sites may have hundreds or even thousands of inbound links, so it’s important to know which to target first. Starting with the most recent links is always a good idea, as the freshest are the most likely to bring in traffic. On that same note, any links bringing a lot of traffic into your website should be prioritized. These can usually be identified through your web analytics software. Following these, any links from high authority sites, which can be identified through measures such as Google PageRank or Alexa Rank, should be recovered next.
- Create a link recovery spreadsheet. I find it best to organize your links according to category (e.g. directories, blog posts, etc.) and priority. You’ll then want to create additional columns for information such as the URL(s), the linking webmaster’s name, their contact method, the date you sent the update request, the status of the update, and any other additional notes that might be helpful.
Requesting Link Updates
Now that you’ve got everything set up, it’s time to start recovering your links. Of course, how you go about communicating with your link sharers will affect how many links are recovered. Here are some guidelines to use when composing your link update request.
- Only recover a link when it’s practical. Generally speaking, most people consider links in their blog comments or guestbooks to be too trivial to deserve revision, so it’s best not to bother them about such links in the first place. Stick to prominent links, such as those found in directories, the main body of blog posts, link pages, etc.
- Ask nicely. A link sharer is under no obligation to update the link, so be sure to phrase your request politely. It pays to compliment their website, because people are more likely to take action on a personable request than a dry one. It’s also considered polite to thank them for linking to your site in the first place. The more respectful you are, the higher your chance of a successful recovery.
- Do the work for them. Track down and provide the exact pages on the link sharer’s site that contain links to your site. Unambiguously identify the link you’d like changed, being sure to provide the new URL. If you have any reason to believe that the link sharer isn’t very savvy with HTML, it might help to provide hand-edited code that they can copy and paste right over the old link. Make it as convenient as possible and the link sharer is more likely to update.
- Track your progress. Whenever a link is updated to your satisfaction, mark that URL as complete on your spreadsheet. Be sure to go back and check manually, since some link sharers may update without responding.
- Don’t ask twice. Chances are good that, if a link sharer doesn’t respond or take action from your initial request, they’ll simply get irritated by repeated pestering. If a link sharer responds, be sure to reciprocate the communication, but don’t hound them into updating your link; they’re more likely to take it down entirely, and a redirected link is better than no link at all.
Link Recovery Message Template
If you’re not sure how to phrase your update requests, the following template can provide a good starting point.
Hello <THEIR NAME>,
My name is <YOUR NAME>. I run a <YOUR WEBSITE’S CLASSIFICATION> named <YOUR WEBSITE’S NAME>, which is currently linked from <THEIR PAGE’S NAME> (<THEIR PAGE’S URL>). I have recently moved my site’s domain and would appreciate having the link to <YOUR PAGE’S NAME> changed from <YOUR PAGE’S OLD URL> to its new location at <YOUR PAGE’S NEW URL>. Please let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for linking to my site.
Concluding the Link Recovery Campaign
Done correctly, a link recovery campaign can give your website real traction in the search engines, possibly even as much as it had prior to being moved. Itâ€™s important to note, however, that even the most successful link recovery campaign will only recover a fraction of the site’s old links. This is normal and should be expected as you track your progress.
Link recovery efforts should be concluded a reasonable amount of time after all of the update requests have been sent. A month or two at the most is a good benchmark. After that time, most if not all of the recoverable links will have been recovered.
The next step, of course, is to start building new links to replace those that couldnâ€™t be recovered. The goal, of course, is to eventually surpass the popularity of the original domain. Normal link building through blog comments, directory submissions, linkbaiting, and the like should be an extension of, and even concurrent with, your link recovery campaign to ensure the long-term health and growth of your website.