If your website is outdated, your church is changing its name, or going through a rebrand, you may be considering changing your website domain. Though this can be necessary, there are key factors you need to consider first. What can be a simple transition could turn into a logistical nightmare if it’s not implemented correctly. Your website domain is listed and integrated on several platforms online, so making this change requires a streamlined plan of action to ensure that no one ever ends up at a dead end domain when searching for your church website. If you’re thinking of changing your domain, here are the eight most important factors to consider.
#1. Should You Change Your Domain?
Changing your domain is not a decision that should be taken lightly. There are strategic reasons to change your domain, but just wanting a new website or changing your domain because you like a different name better may not be good reasons to add the extra work to your team’s to-do list. There are a few great reasons to change your domain, but ultimately it can be costly in both labor and the inevitable authority regression. Even when done correctly, Google may deprioritize your domain in the search results and devalue your new domain authority. If your church has a very well-established domain and has worked to perfect your SEO, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons before jumping in. You don’t want to minimize the work you’ve done and do your team a disservice in the process.
#2. Add a 301 Redirect
If you don’t tell Google and other search engines to redirect website visitors to your new domain, they may receive a 404 error code stating “Page Not Found.” This could be detrimental to gaining new website traffic and visitors to your church. However, how you do this will depend on whether your whole website structure is changing or not. If your entire sitemap and internal linking is changing, then a full 301 redirect plan needs to be executed. This will map all valuable URL endpoints of the old website to the contextually appropriate locations on the new site. For example, if you used to have your staff bios on an “about us” page, but they are now on a “meet the team” page, you will want to make sure that people can find what they’re looking for by linking to the correct destinations. On the other hand, if your church is only changing the domain name, but your website structure will stay the same, you can put a 301 rewrite rule in place which will preserve the path of the URL to the new domain. For example, your olddomain.com/connect/groups will link to your newdomain.com/connect/groups and so on. Identifying the correct redirect plan to implement for your new website will avoid what could become a SEO disaster that could take months to fix. It’s worth the time to do it right the first time so you can maintain an uninterrupted user experience.
#3. Check Websites Where Your Church is Listed
If your church is listed on any online directories, denominational databases, or regional lists, you may need to ask the website owners to update their links. This is also helpful if you have your link listed on any other church-owned websites, ministries, or personal blog pages.
There are tools available online that scan the web for you to find any backlinks you need to change. Remember to update linked text pointing people to pages on your website and listings within your website itself.
#4. Change Your Sitemap and Internal Links
You will want to immediately change your church website’s sitemap to reflect the new URL to avoid any misdirects or 404 codes. In addition, read through each page of your website to look for internal links that need to be changed. This includes your navigation menu, footer, sidebar, contact forms, and any links within your content. If your church has correlating email addresses, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, you will need to change any forms or email addresses listed on your website to the new domain addresses.
#5. Think about Tracking and Analytics
Unfortunately, changing your URL can negatively impact your SEO rankings. This can be minimized somewhat by using the correct redirects. However, you may also want to consider how this change could affect your analytics. Your Google Analytics tracking code snippet for an old domain will continue to capture data post-migration with no additional action from you. However, you may need to consider updating your settings within any Google Analytics Property that makes reference to your old domain. There may be specific filters or destination-based conversions that need to be updated with your new domain. As you do this, testing and troubleshooting a few Google search result links and internal links on your website are essential to ensure everything works before your new domain goes live.
The Keyword Analyzer tool helps evaluate the content and SEO optimization of your church website. It crawls your website to detect the presence of commonly searched ministry related keywords in the H1/H2 Headings, Meta Descriptions, URLs, and text. It then gives a score from 0% to 100% for each selected keyword group. This information can help you identify opportunities to have your church's ministries found more often in Google searches.
#6. Update Your Social Media Links
Be sure to update your website URL listed on your social media pages, your business information on Facebook, your Instagram bio, and anywhere else you have an online presence. This is also the time to change links associated with any content management or scheduling apps you use. For example, if your Livestream gets automatically posted to social media platforms, ensure it uses the correct link. Also, changing the URL on the past few days of social posts may help you get ahead of the change. In addition, you should create a social media announcement to get people comfortable with the new URL. This way, when your church members share your website with their friends, you can be sure they land in the right place.
#7. Change Your Church’s Stationery
Though this may be tedious for churches with many print materials, you should swap out any business cards, stationery, brochures, postcards, or other print handouts with your URL listed on them. Churches may forget this since a URL change is primarily focused on online tools, but ensuring your print materials are consistent keeps people from being confused by your brand or misunderstanding who you are.
In addition, have your whole church staff spend a few minutes considering anywhere else your URL is listed, like the church sign, flyers around the community, or staff email signatures. When in doubt, a 301 redirect will cover anything you forget by bringing visitors to your new page.
Changing your church website domain is a necessary part of the process when your church name changes, you are initiating a rebrand or your old website is being upgraded. However, to ensure you are still capturing the web traffic Google sends your way and engaging with every potential visitor online, updating your church website URL links is critical.
Our marketing professionals at Missional Marketing have significant experience with changing church website URLs. We know how hard it is to remember the small details, so we compiled this checklist to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered. If you want to speak with one of our coaches about your marketing plan or get help with any of these steps, call us today for a consultation!
#8. Activate Google Search Console
Once your new domain is active, be sure to activate Google Search Console. This will trigger Google to begin capturing search performance data for your new domain, as well as provide you notifications if Google notices anything amiss with your search presence.