Migrates Domain, Follows Google's Instructions But Rankings Don't Follow

Feb 23, 2012 • 8:54 am | comments (11) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization LogoI've been following a thread at Google Webmaster Help where a webmaster said he migrated his site from one domain to another, followed the moving site instructions Google has laid out for webmasters exactly and almost two months later still doesn't have the rankings the old site had on the old domain.

The site migrated from to, the webmaster said:

On January 6th, we submitted a change of address for to We followed everything to the T. 301s, change of address in webmaster tools, and even tried to consolidate old indexed pages with rel=canonical and redirects.

Yea, this is a large site and it will take time, but Googler John Mueller chimed in with his somewhat disappointment in Google taking this long to pick up the new site. John wrote:

I'm sorry to hear that it's been this frustrating for your site. We worked hard to make our systems as fast and as pain-free as possible when it comes to site moves, so it's particularly frustrating for us to see situations where algorithmic fluctuations from such a change last longer than we'd want. Looking into your site, the issues you're seeing are very likely to settle down over time, as our algorithms get used to the new content and are able to migrate all associated signals properly.

He basically said, yea - you did everything right but Google's algorithms were in flux causing a slow down in the migration time. At least that is how I read it.

Maybe more interesting is the comment he made about "over time, as our algorithms get used to the new content and are able to migrate all associated signals properly." So no, 301 redirects do not lead to immediate ranking signal migration from the origin URL to the destination URL.

Alistair Lattimore who has been in correspondence with me on this thread felt that you can look into his comment as saying, a " 301 redirect doesn't magically transfer all ranking data over to the new domain/URLs, such as Google Panda signals as an example."

I hope the webmaster keeps us posted on the migration status.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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02/23/2012 02:44 pm

Nov 2010 I moved my website to a new domain.  I also did everything that has done.  301s for EVERY page on my old site. Change of address in Webmaster Tools. Immediately after my move to the new domain my traffic started to fall.  After the first 6 weeks I lost 35% of my organic search traffic!  I was so, so frustrated. Finally, late last year my organic search traffic started to bounce back.  However, I have not returned to my traffic levels BEFORE my domain switch.  I am no longer down 35% I am happier and breathing easier. Along with my domain change I also had a website design change and 90%+ of my page URLs changed.  So, my organic traffic troubles may not have been only because of the domain switch. My website content did NOT change though.  It was ALL the same content as the previous domain. I never expected the 35% drop in traffic!  Prior to my domain switch I researched making the move and everything that I had read stated the 301 would pass 100% of the link juice.  Well, I just don't think this is true.  I think it passes most but not all of the link juice. Seeing go through these issues as well and seeing their drop in search traffic tells me again that there is no way 301s pass all of the link juice...just no way.


02/23/2012 09:37 pm

" Seeing go through these issues as well and seeing their drop in search traffic tells me again that there is no way 301s pass all of the link juice...just no way."   Google has always stated that 301 don't guarante that all juice will be passed.


02/23/2012 09:51 pm

Where has Google said this?  In this YouTube video from Matt Cutts ( he discusses 301s.  At the 4:15 mark he states about 301s, " level to page level (301s); that's a great user experience and the Page Rank and those sorts of things should flow relatively well to the new site as well. So, everything should go pretty smoothly." While he does not state that 301s will pass all of the link juice.  This statement does seem to state that with 301s the change should go "smoothly."  What has experienced does not seem a smooth transition.  I can also state that I did not have a smooth transition.

Alistair Lattimore

02/24/2012 12:43 am

Chris, Eric Enge interviewed Matt Cutts in March 2010:  One of the topics that he covered was 301 redirects & the passing of PageRank.  Matt confirmed that there is a loss of PageRank when using a 301 redirect. Al.


02/24/2012 01:08 am

Alistair: Thanks for the link to that article.  Of course I am disappointed in reading that interview.  Plus, it seems that there is some inconsistency between this interview and the YouTube video from 6 months ago regarding 301s.  Matt states in the YouTube video that "...PageRank and those sorts of things should flow relatively well..."  I mean, am I there no inconsistency between the video and the interview?  Clearly, the interview is very clear.  Matt responds in an email that there is a loss in PageRank.  Why doesn't the video also state that fact?  I know my domain switch was very frustrating and it is clear it is very frustrating for as well.  Just a frustrating process...

Alistair Lattimore

02/24/2012 07:05 am

Chris, I guess things change and Google are willing to disclose different amounts of information about the inner workings of their system over time.  If you want an absolute, from the horses mouth account that a small amount of PageRank is lost through a 301 redirect, watch the following video where Matt Cutts discusses rel="canonical" vs 301 redirect issues in April 2011.  Al.


02/24/2012 02:14 pm

Al Thanks for the YouTube video.  Yup, he definitely states that there is a loss in link juice (PageRank).  However, he states that it is slight. He says its "...a tiny little bit..." and you should not have to worry about it.  Back to that in a second... So, now I have been "schooled" that clearly there is a loss in link juice with a 301.  Thank you both Al and Jaan for sharing the information that you knew about.  This will be helpful to me in the future. But, I dispute that the loss is "a tiny little bit."  My experience, and it looks like the experience for, is not "a tiny little bit" of loss in link juice.  It seems to be more than a slight loss.  Again, I had a 35% drop in organic search traffic within 6 weeks as a result of my domain move.  From the posts in Webmaster Forum it looks like their drop is also quite significant. I hope that traffic comes back for them much, much faster then it came back for me.  In fact, ALL of my traffic has not come back.  However, since it is well over a year now and there have been algorithm changes who knows what my old domain would have been like today in the SERPs.  All I can say is that I feel like it was about 9 months before I felt like my new domain was back to the traffic levels it should be at. My personal experience with this process, and now's experience, and the statements from Matt about 301s just don't seem to match up.  I feel bad that is having this issue.  I feel like when a person moves a site and that site's Webmaster Tools account is updated with that fact and 301s are set up correctly then the process should be much smoother than what I experienced and what is currently experiencing.  My site is my life and puts food on my table.  A 35% drop in traffic definitely hurt my sales for a long, long time.  It doesn't have to be like that. Okay...rant over.  Again, thanks for sharing the article and the YouTube video about 301s and link juice loss.  They WILL prove useful to me in the future.  Have a great day!

Alistair Lattimore

02/25/2012 01:30 am

I do believe the loss is slight, not significant. Over the last five years or so, I've moved some relatively large websites to different domains for various reasons and in that time - I've not been penalised or seen a significant loss in traffic. However, I haven't changed domains since Google Panda happened around 12 months ago.  I think what we might be seeing with and potentially your site as well - is that the 301 redirect behaviour hasn't changed but the signals that Google Panda are using might not be moved with the other ranking data like PageRank when the 301 redirect is processed. The result is that your new domain is in effect wrongly/artificially penalised because the new domain/URLs don't have panda ranking data yet.


02/27/2012 11:39 am

I did a similar move on a site with 10s of millions of indexed pages last year. Only minor ranking/drops which recovered and exceeded previous levels with 2 months. I *only* used 301s and setup a new seperate WMT account and didn't tell them about the move... this was to track how the site on the new domain gets indexed. A year later; I just closed the original WMT account a few months after data levels got very low. I bet shot themselves in the foot and this is someone trying to save themselves. 10 years staying away from ego-blogging and just listening has been a real eye-opener to SEO and the spread of knowledge.


05/02/2012 04:36 am

I have different web hosts and domain providers. Will it be fine if I purchase a new domain and change the name servers to web host and simply cancel/dump the old domain. Basically I want to get rid of some spam backlinks to current domain. Will not using 301 redirect in the above case affect my new domain with same content as earlier one from being indexed.


06/26/2012 08:20 pm

Going through exactly this as we speak, been 6 weeks and still have both sets of URL's in the Google index, Bing, Yahoo are fine just Google, transferred many a site out with no issues, however this one is bad, traffic is non existent. Have no choice but to sit it out From site A to site A, Google acted on the 301 immediately, on the new site all but around 200 of the 11k pages were indexed within 48 hours i really thought it went smooth No traffic loss in Bing but Google down around 80%-85%

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