What Happens to Your Old Website?

We have been asked, recently, what happens to your old website when you make a new one. It may sound like a philosophical question, but each time it has been connected with practical issues:

  • What happens to all the pages Google has indexed on your old site? Do they stay on the search engine results pages, or what?
  • What happens to the value of your old website? Do you lose it?
  • If there’s malware on your old website, does it go with your domain name to the new site?
  • Can you keep your old website live after you launch the new one, just in case?

Your old website is made up of files. You could save them to your own computer and open them up on your own computer in the future and see them again. However, they are no longer on the internet once your website is taken down. They are no longer visible to computer browsers and they cannot be accessed. You might be able to find a snapshot in the Wayback Machine, but you cannot really go to the old site any more, because those files are no longer online.

Your domain is a location rather than a website. It can be pointed to a new set of files — your new website, typically — and people going to that web address will see the new site, not the old one. That’s the answer to the first question in the list above. If you keep the same URLs, your new pages will show up on those URLs and visitors will continue to come as they always have.

Let’s make sure this is clear.

  • Your old website’s homepage was at www.MyDomain.com and your new website’s homepage is at www.MyDomain.com. Visitors going to www.MyDomain.com will see the old site until you launch the new one and it propagates; then they’ll see the new site.
  • Your old website’s About Us page was at www.MyDomain.com/about and your new website’s homepage is at www.MyDomain.com/about. Visitors to your About Us page will see the old About Us page till you launch the new website, and then they’ll see the new About Us page.

However, if your web designer gives the new About Us page a different address, such as www.MyDomain.com/about-us, people going to the old address will not find the new page. The page may stay on the search engine results page until your new site is indexed, and then www.MyDomain.com/about will no longer exist.

In order to avoid having people go to a nonexistent page, you must have your web firm do a redirect from the old page to the new one. A redirect tells the browser, “This page has moved permanently. Please take the visitor over to www.MyDomain.com/about-us.” The visitor shouldn’t really notice the extra step.

If you are careful about naming the pages and doing the redirects, you should not lose any value or traffic when you build a new website using the same domain name (web address) as your old website.

And since the malware on your old website was in the files of the old website, it will not be in the files of the new website. The domain is just a location, so there is no malware associated with your domain. A new site on the old domain will not have any leftover malware issues.

So you have an old website built in files and a new website built in files, and the domain is just pointed to the server where the files live. It can’t be pointed to two sets of files at the same time. That means that your old site and your new one can’t both be live at the same time. It’s one or the other.

However, since the visitors who travel to the old site will automatically see the new website, you won’t lose people. You could in theory keep the old files and, if your new website turned out to be a dud, revive the old website by removing the new files and reinstating the old files, going through the same process of redirecting any URLs that needed redirecting.

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