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Overview: Migrating to a New Web Site URL

This page outlines how to migrate to a new web site URL, while keeping useful external hyperlinks from other web sites and search engines. It concentrates particularly on how to migrate from the URL of "free" web space provided by many ISPs, to a real domain name.

These notes were prompted by the sale and re-branding of a long standing and apparently well founded ISP. In current conditions, it is best to assume that the "free" URL provided by an ISP is purely temporary.


This information is supplied "as is". Neither Curlew Communications Limited nor the author take responsibility for any loss or damage caused by use of the information.

With the continuing turmoil in the industry, the number of ISPs is shrinking. Large companies are buying smaller ISPs, then combining and re-branding them. The resulting ISPs often have a different domain name. In some cases, the new ISP may also impose new conditions, such as not permitting their "free" web space to be used for "commercial" purposes.

Over the years, some web sites using the "free" web space (and URL) provided by ISPs have become well known. They have achieved high rankings with web search engines, and many other web sites have made external hyperlinks to their pages.

When the domain name changes, such sites effectively disappear and all links are broken. Potential visitors quickly lose interest when they meet the broken hyperlinks. Several years of site promotion can be lost.

How to Stay Visible

There is no magic solution, but the following actions can help reduce the impact. Although ISPs usually give some warning before closing the URL of their "free" web space, even if your present ISP seems stable, it is best to start now to reduce dependence on their "free" URL. There are several stages:

  1. Buy a Domain Name.
  2. Arrange Web Hosting.
  3. Upload and Test!!
  4. Redirect Visitors.
  5. Re-register with Search Engines.
  6. Repair External Hyperlinks.

Step 1. Buy a Domain Name

The first step is to buy a domain name.

Domain names are now much cheaper and there are several companies offering them at very low cost. However, before purchase, read the terms and conditions carefully. Some companies retain ownership of the domain name, and just licence you to use it. Other low cost companies offer domain name "forwarding", but impose their advertising banner on any page. Companies often offer a package which includes the forwarding of emails.

Check whether the price includes hosting of web pages, or just forwarding to pages hosted elsewhere.

Most contracts give the right to use the domain name for only one or two years. Do not forget to renew the contract - buying back a lapsed domain name can be very expensive. Some suppliers give no reminders.

Step 2. Arrange Web Hosting

The simple domain name "forwarding" service does not work properly with the free virtual URL which some ISPs provide for their free web space - check the FAQs. Therefore, it may be necessary to find a new ISP or web hosting company.

However, some "free" and "low cost" ISPs also sell domain names which can be used with their "free" web space. Such web space may well be adequate for light use. For serious use, specialist web hosting companies should be considered. There is a wide range of hosting products available from the cheap, to the complex services used by large multi-national companies.

If the web site is to be used for serious commercial or e-commerce purposes, detailed statistics will be needed which show how visitors actually use the web pages. Most commercial hosting companies provide "user logs." The better ones provide tools to help their customers extract useful information from the mass of data.

Price is determined largely by the level of reliability/support and by bandwidth to the Internet.

Step 3. Upload and Test!!

Upload the web pages to the new host, and test thoroughly. The features and commands may be different to those on the previous host. Check all hyperlinks especially carefully in case they point to the URL of the previous host.

Step4. Redirect Visitors

Once the new web site is working properly, and assuming that the original (obsolete) URL can still be used, replace the web pages on the previous host with redirect pages. to redirect visitors and search engines to the new URL. For more information see:

Step 5. Re-register with Search Engines

Register the new URL with major search engines, individually or by using one of the bulk services.

On some search engines, you just submit the new URL. On others, there is a special "change" form for changing the URL. Unless you pay for special service, it will take some time (possibly several weeks) for the new URL to appear in the results of web searches.

Note: Normally, the old URL cannot be removed from the search engine's directory until the old web site is completely removed from the web.

Step 6. Repair External Hyperlinks

There may be external hyperlinks from other web sites, to your old URL. These have links two benefits; they bring more visitors, and their presence causes some web search engines to increase your ranking in web searches. Where such hyperlinks are known, it is easy to email your new URL to the relevant webmaster. However, there may be other links.

Some search engines provide a facility for finding external hyperlinks. On Altavista®, there is an advanced search command which has the form:


This search command returns a list of the external hyperlinks to your web site which are known to Altavista®. For details, check the Altavista® help files.

Moving is always traumatic, but these actions should minimise the losses.

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