A year and a half ago, we renamed our company from ooomf to Crew.
This wasn’t just about finding a name people could actually spell, but about finding one that connects with what we do as a company.
Along with the change in name we, of course, wanted the crew.com domain, but unfortunately that belongs to a popular clothing retailer, so we had to choose an alternate.
In the end, here’s what we went with:
It was good. It was direct. It got us a dot-com. And though to me it always sounded too much like ‘Pit Crew’ (possibly because I’ve watched a lot of motor racing) it served us well.
Then a lovely gentleman contacted us saying he owned a shorter domain, he was a fan, and that we could have it for a reasonable offer. That new domain:
We hadn’t considered a .co before, but you know what they say: when opportunity knocks, it’s probably time to change your spark plugs.
Why we wanted to change domains
Beyond just having a cleaner and simpler domain (one that actually uses our company name), we were a little tired of getting emails like this:
An easy mistake in a cold email, I suppose. But we also heard it in person. From people very close to our company.
“How’s Pick Crew going?” “Umm…”
We thought we had ditched all the name-confusion when we put ‘ooomf’ in the rear-view. Apparently not.
With Crew.co there’s no mistaking the company name. And while we don’t rely too heavily on our domain name for bringing in traffic, it is nice to have something short and sweet that we don’t have to constantly spell out.
How we determined it was worth $10k
We wanted to give a fair price for our shiny new domain, and started by researching similar recent sales.
Based on those numbers we decided to come in with an offer of $10k. We agreed beforehand that this was a fair price and any counteroffer would have been rejected.
Here’s the actual email we sent:
It was accepted. Sweet, a new domain.
Now let’s all take a moment here to look at my new email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ahhhh, that’s so soothing. (Go ahead and try it out yourself, I might even respond!)
Now the hard part: The ins and outs of migrating a domain
If you’ve ever migrated a domain with any sort of traffic, you’ll understand how tricky it can be.
The switch from ooomf to Crew was a big one because we were changing our name as well. To pull it off, we all gathered at the office on a Saturday night, filled whiteboard after whiteboard with lists of everything that had our old name on it, and started ticking them off. It was a lot of work, but we got it done, ate a cake and went home.
So switching domains only… how hard can it be?
$5s add up—our first mistake
Like you probably do, we use Google Apps for our email and cloud documents. It costs $5 per person per month. Now with a new domain, we had to create new Google Apps accounts for everyone. But of course we still needed our old ones for email and calendar history and logins and other things we’d only have remembered after we deleted the old emails.
So now we have extra email addresses for 20 people. Which is $5 x 20 / month = $1200 / year just for email addresses we don’t use!
We could have made the new accounts aliases of the old (which would have saved us that $1200) but we were cautious about that after some strange happenings the last time we tried it.
So now we needed to flip our accounts and make the old email addresses the aliases of the new. Migrating everything takes time and I, as the guinea pig, lost my old calendar history. Now I never know who I was meeting with on October 24, 2014. Damn.
Lesson: Do a bit more research ahead of time on how the whole Google Apps secondary domain works and see how badly it could affect your set up.
301s: Double check yo’self before you redirect yo’self
As everyone who’s really lived will tell you: when you move a site, use a 301 redirect. Hell, I think I did my first 301 before I lost my virginity.
If though, unlike me, you didn’t spend your teenage Friday nights reading about html status codes, let me explain: When you type an address into a browser, the browser can get a bunch of different statuses back from the server.
A 200 means, “hey bro, thanks for coming, here’s that page you wanted.”
A 301 means, “uh, sorry bro, that page packed his shit and moved permanently.”
A 302 means, “uh, sorry bro, that page is crashing at some chick’s house tonight.”
(Side note: yes, web servers really do talk like your college roommate.)
Both the 301 and 302 status bros know the forwarding address and so you can still get to the page you wanted. However, there is one very important difference:
A site’s Google search street cred (aka link juice) will carry forward through a 301, but it will not follow through a 302. (Maybe that aforementioned chick is Google’s ex.)
So when transferring a site to a new address, you have to use 301 redirects. Which we did when we forwarded pickcrew.com to crew.co.
However, what you might not realize (and what slipped past us unfortunately) is that a 302 can sneak into the middle of your proper, clean 301 redirect, ruining your delicious Google street cred.
In our specific case, while we switched from pickcrew.com to crew.co, we also decided to take the opportunity to switch from http to https. And, like a straight guy overly-self-conscious about his lisp, thoses ‘s’es damn near ruined our lives.
We first noticed it when our organic search traffic took a big hit:
Looking closer, we inspected our redirect and found this:
“(This is where we’d put a screenshot of what happened, but I was a little too freaked out to remember to take one. It was a chain of two redirects, a 301 and THEN a 302.)”
Looking even closer into Google’s docs about change of address requests, we found this:
We weren’t (and still aren’t) sure which one of those two issues caused the traffic problem.
Neither seemed to apply to us because the 301 redirect went http -> https, NOT http -> http (with a 302 to go to https).
Rather than waste time looking into something we weren’t sure we’d ever understand, we switched back to http:// in a hurry and made sure it was a pure, pristine 301.
The traffic (slowly) returned.
Lesson: Make sure you look into Google’s documents on switching domains and clearly understand the potential consequences of what you’re doing before you make the switch.
While we made a reckless error during the migration it won’t do our company much, if any, long-term harm. And the bonus of having a clear and simple domain far outweighs the negatives of a slow month for traffic.
If anything, it is certainly a cautionary tale: diversify that traffic!
A web change can tank a single traffic source. It could be a bad redirect or it could be your #1 referral source suddenly shutting down. If you expect your business to last, you should be equipped to weather these things. And a strong web business should not be reliant on a small number of factors they don’t control.