Domain name registration is the most important step to take when setting up a website, although not actually the first step. The first step to take is to choose a good domain name!
Your domain name is the name of your online presence. Care must be put into choosing a good domain name, since it will live with you forever (while you are on the Internet!). Remember that a domain name is inextricably linked to your website. You cannot have the one without the other. I once had clients who registered a website in their company name and wanted me to change it after a couple of months to the shorter abbreviation of the company name. This cannot be done without harming your online presence! If you had put any effort at all into building your website and marketing it on the Internet so that it becomes visible; and if you have started to see those efforts pay off in the form of targeted visitors who came to your website looking for the specific products and/or services that you are offering, be prepared to lose some of that if you really want to take the radical step of changing your domain name after your website has already been established.
Sure, the technical boffins will talk to you about permanent redirects so that all traffic previously going to your old website will go to the new one, but there are other factors to keep in mind.
1. Your presence has been established through other websites linking to you and using your domain name in the link. Suddenly these links are now pointing to the old website and not the new one. Yes, setting up a permanent redirect will prevent the problem of visitors clicking through and not being able to find your website, but all those lovely links coming in to your website and voting for you will take a dip. The search engine gurus will tell you that Google knows about permanent redirects and all the good karma that you built up by having links pointing to the old site will now be transferred to the new…but why take the chance?
2. One of the factors that Google also takes into consideration when deciding where to rank your website in its results is the age of your site. If you suddenly decide after a couple of months or years to change your domain name, you are basically setting up a new website from scratch.
3. Any branding awareness that you might have built up around your website name will take a knock.
4. Setting up redirect commands so that they work correctly is a tedious and laborious task and errors can creep in. The site will have to be moved with all the file names and page names intact. Changing file names and page names at this point can be very detrimental to your rankings in the search engines.
5. Google has taken the lead with being able to understand redirect commands, but not all the search engines do. Traffic that you might have received from other search engines could therefore be negatively impacted.
6. You will have to maintain two hosting accounts, one for the old one and one for the new, in order to make sure that the traffic going to the old one keeps on being redirected to the new one. If you do not go through the trouble of contacting webmasters (possibly thousands of them) and asking them to change the URL in all their links on their websites, you will probably have to keep these two URLs running in parallel for ever. You never know how many people have bookmarked your site (or has kept your old email address in their contacts folder). You might get visitors trying to visit the old website or use the old email address for a long time after you have made the move.
The conclusion is that if you choose a domain name – put a lot of thought into it since changing your domain name after you have already been established on the Internet is frankly not worth the trouble.
If, however, you have to do it for legal reasons, such as a company name change or takeover, for example, you will need to understand that keeping the old name and using a permanent redirect using htaccess is the best way for keeping the continuity and traffic to your website.