Google Friendly Apache Domain Migration

2 minute read

I recently migrated a domain for a client, and did it like a noob (as in simply copying the db and files, making sure everything’s working, and then shutting down the old site). As a result, Google’s pageranks were lost, old links were broken and ghost pages were found on Google searches.
After googling around, I found out what I should have done, and made my own action list.
Note: While this list contains Apache and Google specific steps, you can certainly research and replace them with equivalent steps for your scenario.
Also, Google’s change of address only works for root domains (not

1. Prepare destination environment

Copy files, dbs etc from to the new site, and make sure it’s working.
Change whatever absolute ( URLs you have in your site to point to the new domain
Before you get to the next stage, make sure your new site is up to date (dbs updated etc).

2. Prepare to redirect the old

site Make sure mod_rewrite is enabled on the old server. Almost all modern Apache hosts have it enabled.
Rename / wipe the old site’s root directory (including deleting sub directories). Of course you should back up the files if you delete them.

3. Preform the actual redirection

Create the .htaccess in the root directory, and set it to contain:

<ifmodule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://NEWDOMAIN.COM/$1 [R=301,L]

This will cause mod_rewrite to redirect all requests to the new domain, except for files that exist in the old site (that’s what the RewriteConds do, -f is for files). It’s useful because that way you can keep Google Webmaster Tools’ validation file on the old domain, but it won’t be served on the new one.
Test the redirection by:

  1. Trying to access the old site and getting redirected to the new (working) site
  2. Putting a file on the old site (such as test.txt) and successfully downloading it (via

4. Verify sites in Google Webmaster Tools

If you haven’t done so already, add both sites to Google Webmaster Tools (it’s free!) and validate them according to the site. It’s preferable to use the html file validation.

5. Post a change of address

Via Webmaster Tools:

  1. Open the old site’s dashboard
  2. Click Site Configuration> Change of Address
  3. Verify the checklist. Should be overlapping with mine.
  4. Select the new site from the dropdown below and submit

That’s it! Make sure to check Webmaster tools every few days to look for things such as crawl errors or incoming links pointing to the old domain, and make sure to google the old and new site to see if Google’s db has updated.
.htaccess code taken from StackOverflow
Happy migrating!