SEO Tip #64: What is the Benefit of Using the Change of Address Tool in Google Webmaster Tools?

Matt Cutts: This is a really good question. Certainly you can leave the 301’s in place but there are a couple differences between the change of address for and 301 directs.

The first one and the biggest one is that the change of address form is at the site level. Whereas the 301 redirects are at the page level. So for example what if you move one directory to another directory? You can do a 301 on every page in that directory and we’d eventually learn to go to the pages in the new directory. But it can be hard to interpret whether that applies to the entire site or just to that specific directory. The change of address form very unambiguously says, “This site right here is moving to this site right here.”

The other thing is 301 redirects can take a little bit of time to go into effect. Change of address form, whenever you fill that out and submit that to us, gets that information to us immediately. So we don’t have to try and interpret, ‘Okay are we seeing a lot of 301 redirects? No, we have the intent of the webmaster right there and they’re saying you know what I’m moving from site A to site B. Please transfer over any reputation and whatever stuff you can over to the new site.’

Now the change of address form is not perfect but it is very useful and I think it’s much better than what we had before, which was just 301 redirects. So I would use both. It certainly doesn’t hurt to use both and not every web search engine has a change of address form. In fact I think Google is the only one that has a change of address form.

So what I would do is if you’re moving from site A to site B I would fill out a change of address form and then I would also do 301 redirects that point from the certain pages on site A to the corresponding pages on site B. And then that will help the transition go as smoothly as possible.

If everything is going well for example when I did 301s from to because I’d moved there and then I moved back, it didn’t take very long for those 301s to go into effect where the entire site was moved over within Google’s index.

So if 301s are working fine for you and 180 days has passed, maybe you don’t need to worry about filling out the change of address form again. But if you want to be safe and you still control both sites it certainly doesn’t hurt to say, “You know what? Yes this site has still moved to this site over here.”

So the main difference is that it’s a site wide tool as opposed to a page tool, but it’s also very helpful for you to tell us explicitly, “Yes I am moving my site,” as opposed to us trying to guess because search engines can sometimes get that wrong.?

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About the Author

Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson has been on the Internet since the its dawn(ie his first computer program was recorded on cassette tape) and his first hard drive cost about as much his current MacBook. His first byline was in 1993 for a local newspaper rag he eventually helmed, and his last “real job” was at a computer start up which ended when it ended. Throughout it all he’s freelanced and blogged. Now he is mesmerized by Search Engine Optimization forever trying to “rise to the top” for the right reasons. He’s been married to his wife Julia for as long as he can remember and has two lovely, wonderful children. He looks forward to sharing the latest in the technical best for all the online entrepreneurs.