Changing your domain name doesn’t have to be a headache.
There are good reasons why WordPress.com has become the world’s leading blogging site and personal publishing platform. Born from the long-defunct b2/cafelog platform, WordPress made its debut in 2003, with the first of its iconic plugins following a year later. Since then, an ongoing programme of refinements has retained the core architecture while developing a far more sophisticated platform that can now handle emoji, visual previews for embedded content and automatic maintenance updates.
The current version of WordPress is 4.5, which underpins almost 16 million websites. Yet none of WordPress’s 40,000 plugins can undertake the seemingly simple process of changing a domain name – a surprisingly common occurrence among WordPress users. People may decide to rebrand their website due to a change in circumstances, to reflect the introduction of new content, or simply because the originally chosen name is no longer suitable or appropriate.
Changing the domain name of one of the 75 million individual WordPress.com blogs is surprisingly straightforward. To change the primary domain, log into the control panel and find the fields for the WordPress and Site addresses. Enter an unclaimed domain or URL, click Save Changes, and the process should be complete. The process of changing a name server (from sitename.com to sitename.net, for instance) is slightly more complex but can still be managed from within the Domains section of the account settings.
Of course, WordPress.org websites are rather more complex. These typically contain plugins and images, not to mention linked databases or other important resources. In the first instance, every file and folder must be downloaded and/or exported to a safe backup location, possibly using a plugin like VaultPress or BackWPup. Step two involves repeating the process outlined above for .com users, of logging in and changing the URLs in the Settings – General section. Attempting to visit either site will now result in a Page Not Found message, until the site files and any databases have been uploaded with the new server’s MySQL database name and appropriate login details. Once the database has been imported onto the new server, the site should appear online. However, it’s worth running a number of tests during the first 24 hours after migration to check for unexpected glitches.
Databases pose a particular issue since they may contain references to the old domain name or location that aren’t immediately evident. Doing an automatic Find-Replace for the new URLs can have knock-on consequences regarding searches for a specific URL length, and which will no longer work once that URL changes. These are among the unexpected issues that can arise when altering a domain. WordPress does offer some assistance in this regard, courtesy of the Better Search Replace plugin and the Search and Replace for WordPress Databases Script, though these require a level of database management knowledge beyond that of many rookie users.
Users often express concerns about the impact on SEO rankings of changing domain names, and there will be an inevitable effect as the old site is decommissioned and a new one takes its place. One way to mitigate this impact involves using the Duplicator plugin on the old site to transfer files and update any URL links, before establishing permanent 301 redirects to the new site from the old one. By submitting a change of address through Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), the impact on SEO should be fairly minimal.