Forced to take down jakemarsh.com - 301 redirect case study
It's not often that you get an opportunity to test out things
like "does a properly handled 301 redirect actually allow you to
maintain rankings?" - Why? because who in their right mind would
put their hard earned rankings and authority at risk just to
validate some statement they read online how "this guy" read
"somewhere" that you can do a 301 redirect and keep your rankings
Unfortunately for my full service SEO customer, Greg Eckler (owner of jakemarsh.com) this very situation has been forced on us by his MLS board.
What? What happened OMG - you have worked on that site for like 6 years and it ranked top 3 for everything!
Yup, that's right - one of my very first SEO customers in real estate was Jake Marsh and his partner Greg Eckler and yes his MLS board is forcing us to now change domains. However this is not a story about another "evil MLS board" making some ill advised "decision" based on a member complaint, quite the contrary - so far they have been quite accomodating and gave us a bit of time to make this switch and try to conserve our hard work.
So why do we have to switch?
Jake Marsh (still a friend to both Greg and I) has decided to move on from real estate and pursue other interests, thus he is no longer licenced. Greg (always his partner and co customer of jakemarsh.com) is now the sole associate broker involved with jakemarsh.com - as you can imagine - the MLS board cannot allow a website named and registered to "non licenced non member" to house MLS data or advertise falsely that he is still in real estate. So to be clear, we totally understand the issue, and although (as an SEO) it completely sucks to have to change domains, we (myself and team as well as Greg) hold no ill will towards the board, they are just following a reasonable set of rules to protect the integrity of the organization.
So let's turn this into a positive - let's see if we can make this 301 redirect thing work (or prove whether it does or not either way (I will be asking for your help at the end - any assistance offered to our campaign is greatly appreciated.
Obviously the first step is to go out and find a new "compliant" domain name with which to 301 redirect jakemarsh.com (man I hate having to do this doh!) - after soliciting feedback from our members on the forum (dealing with slim pickens) Greg decided on http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com - (if you have links to www.jakemarsh.com please change them to link to <a href="http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com">Denver Real Estate</a> we would really appreciate it)
Now that we have the domain chosen (and very little time unfortunately, but again a "fair" amount of time from metrolist board) it's time to start the process (let's hope we get this right and come out with a nice instruction manual for others who end up in this unfortunate situation in the future)
Here is what I have done (so far) in handling this process.
Log into my Google webmasters tools and analytics for the domain and click every single download link I can (I want organized copies of as much data as I can possibly have) - of course I created a folder specifically for this process so I can stay organized. I downloaded the detailed and simple view for keywords, inbound links, internal links, anchor texts, referring sites, you name it - if it's info on jakemarsh.com and it's available I want a hard copy (I do this because I may not be able to retreive it after the redirects due to no longer have a validated URL via WM tools). It's just a good idea anyways.
It's also a good idea to log where you are coming from, so that you can guage your "recovery" (don't want to use that word, but don't know how else to put it)
Here are the stats for 2009 Jakemarsh.com (and a reasonable goal for 2010)
As you can see - we are dealing with more than 80,000 unique visitors a year here (and Greg will be the first to tell you, we took a bit to much a break from SEO in 09) - that's not going to happen in 2010 - time to step it up! (and this is clearly a motivating kick in the ass ;-) - hopefully everyone realizes the potential impract (loss of leads / revenue) to Greg if this does not work, and we have to start over (not to mention all my teams hard work!!)
Next - get ready for the 301 - verify your accounts.
I added the new http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com to webmaster tools and verified it. I also double checked www.jakemarsh.com to ensure it was validated. Here I learned something interesting - when I went to use the "change of address feature" which btw is a WICKED feature (thanks so much Google) - I discovered that you need to verify both the www and non www versions of the domain. Meaning if you have a 301 redirect via htaccess (as we all should to avoid canonized URL's) to redirect the non www to www version, you will first need to remove your redirect rule and verify both versions.
TIP: verify both versions of your URL http:// and http://www.
Ok so I have all my sites verified - and all the data downloaded from the redirecting URL's various analytics and webmaster tools - what next? Don't forget about the new site!
Obviously you have already purchased the new URL, have it hosted / DNS pointed etc - for goodness sake don't forget to upload your files and test everything to ensure a proper functioning website. There was some conversation between myself and Greg and a few others regarding whether it was absolutely imperative that all files exist and be "identical" on the old site and the new site. My final answer (not based on anything but faith in Google's common sense) - we will leave it the same wherever we can because why mess with it if we don't need to, however if we NEED to add a page of content, or edit something on our site, we will do so, and give google enough credit as to realize it's a normal thing webmasters do, and not penalize the process. Final answer? You have lot's of thing to worry about right now, if you can avoid messing with content changes, do it, but if you need to - don't fear google, they are smart :)
Ok - all content downloaded, all stats saved, any info anywhere I could find regarding the site nicely organized and stored on my PC for safe keeping - is it time to do this thing? (It's not even my site and I am still scared witless) - aight LET'S DO THIS THING!!!
I don't trust registrar redirects so I have chosen to do my
301's via the htaccess (meaning the redirected URL remains hosted)
- so on Tuesday, January 19th I permanantly redirected one of my
prize SEO customers long standing domains jakemarsh.com to it's new
and final home http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com (again, if you
can spare some links, please shoot some over, all the link love we
can get to help get this new site spidered is appreciated)
So far it "appears" the redirect is functioning correctly and traffic (and leads) are flowing to the new site.
We have traffic (and leads) coming in - so that's good news, but how do we make sure as the jake marsh site drops out, that the new site http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com gets picked up? (besides all of you linking to the new site, thanks again)
Well here is what I have done (or am going to do) so far!
Step 1 - ensure there is an xml sitemap in place and submit it via Google webmaster tools. (This is done - so far today, not to long ago, the sitemap has been pinged once 174 pages submitted, 0 indexed) - patience I tell myself, we just started this process.
Step 2 - review your downloaded link history for any link locations that YOU (in this case we) control. This means various blogs, social networking sites, etc - head over there and change the links to point to the new location. We have started this process but with many years of SEO on this site, it's gunna take a while.
Step 3 - reach out to webmasters (those that currently link to the old site and those that don't) - for those already linking to the old site, ask them to update the URL they are linking to and make sure they use the desired anchor text. If they don't already link to the site then beg for help! (I'm begging here :)) - This sucks for me, but more importantly this SUCKS for my client - if you can help us out and shoot our new site a link to help it get spidered, we REALLY appreciate it. (Code: <a href="http://www.denverrealtyexperts.com">Denver Real Estate</a>) - if you want to share this post btw by linking to it, sending it to friends or pinging it to your social sphere to spread the word, that would be great too.
This is pretty much where I am so far (I'll read what I wrote above and add anything I have missed so far) -
One final note of interest - Google webmaster tools states the following
"Duration of effect
Your change of address notification remains in effect for 180 days, by which time Google's index will be fully updated with your new site's information. After 180 days, you can extend the period by submitting the change of address again."
Probably worth noting for folks using this feature.