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University Web Developers

Our incoming president has made numerous comments about changing our domain name from colstate.edu to something like columbusstate.edu for Columbus State University. We are a institution of 7,500 students with undergrad and graduate degrees.

I am interested in hearing from others that have had to make a similar change. I am interested knowing how much was spent and how the cost was itemized for the intital budget of the project.

Also what tips/lessons learned/which I had know can you share.

Thanks,
Jay Knape
Manager of Web Services
Columbus State University

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Is that even possible? I thought that ICANN restricted .edu to one per entity. I can't imagine it would be very easy or seamless to make the change. Have you checked on the feasibility?
It is possible. The .edu domains are administered by educuase and they actually have some information on this topic on their website ( http://net.educause.edu/edudomain/show_faq.asp?code=EDUCURRENT#faq188 ). Basically you can have 2 active for 6 months to allow you to transition. Missouri S&T is in the process of doing this (as a result of a school name change). It might be worth trying to contact someone over there. http://namechange.mst.edu/
We are considering changing our domain name as well. It is currently utmem.edu which is short for UT - Memphis. However, since we registered that name we have expanded to include several campuses across the state, so the other campuses feel misrepresented by the utmem name.

Right now it is in the upper administration to decide the outcome. Hopefully they will approve this. I would be interested to see more stories. The Missouri S&T is good.
Jay - As Stewart pointed out, our campus recently completed a domain change process as part of our renaming (from University of Missouri-Rolla to Missouri University of Science and Technology). It was a big hassle, but we had an overlap/grace period from November 2007 through July 31. We had to work with educause to get that extension, and because of our situation, they granted us some slack.

So far, no big issues with the switchover. But we had a pretty good plan in place that was part of the overall name change transition plan.

In addition to the logistics of switching over from the internal side, be careful to consider the external issues, such as:

* Notifying contacts. Motivating faculty to notify their personal and business contacts/colleagues is challenging enough. But be prepared -- or tell your communications/marketing/PR office to be prepared -- to shoulder the burden of notifying the research agencies, the rankings institutions, etc., about the switch. Our department (communications, which includes electronic marketing) sent a lot of email and snail-mail to many research agencies on behalf of the university. We also created a sample letter to help faculty and staff notify contacts, and suggested they revise their email signature line to include information about the name change as a sort of passive awareness-raiser. Not sure how much that helped.

* Checking for external links to your site. We've spent hours contacting organizations with links to our old domain requesting they switch. We haven't taken a lot of time to follow up, however. There's just too much to do.

* Marketing publications. Be sure you're coordinating with all your other departments to ensure they're putting the right domain name on their marketing materials. This is an internal challenge that has big ramifications for your external communications.

Our IT department did a nice job creating a resource page for our campus community to use during the transition. See http://helpdesk.mst.edu/namechange/ . We tried to reinforce their work with our externally-focused name change blog, http://namechange.mst.edu/ .

Good luck,
Andy
Just don't forget to put the proper redirects in place or you'll lose your organic search rankings. All of the pages of your site that have been crawled and indexed by the major search engines will be pointing to dead links if you don't.
And proper redirects means 301 - moved permanently redirects. There are many ways to do this, but the best IMHO is in the .htaccess file (for Apache web servers). Here is a list of ways to accomplish the redirect: http://www.webconfs.com/how-to-redirect-a-webpage.php.

If you are just changing the TLD, then you can use wildcards to easily redirect all pages. If you are changing directory or file names at the same time, you will have to account for that in your redirection rules.

Have the redirection rules written before you "flip the switch" to the new domain name. Then, once any DNS changes have propagated, implement the redirection rules on the old domain immediately. Make sure to TEST the redirects! Then try to leave this setup in place for several months to give the search engines time to discover the redirects and process all of the changes, pass pagerank from the old URLs to the new ones, etc.
We are evaluating the impact of such a change at our institution. uncc.edu > charlotte.edu but it is just R&D at this point. Legal thinks we can get an extra 6 months added on to the dual domains so 1 year to switch is doable... just not sure if it is worth the impact.

Considerations:
- All Search rankings could go away. Sure there are ways to re-index.. but this is challenging in itself.
- Our Portal SCT's Luminis would need to be reinstalled to do a name change.... per the vendor... this is huge!
- publications may never get resolved. We recently went through an email change from @email.uncc.edu to @uncc.edu and dropped the old one after a year. We will see if this has a serious impact or not. We would basically have to do it again with a domain name change.
- Scrub the web to change links... config files on every server, AD and Novell changes, DNS entries... the list is endless.

Putting a dollar value to this is tough. I get the marketing reasoning, but as an IT professional.. this is huge!
Excluding the technical issues, it can cause big SEO problems as many of the search engines look at the age of the domain name in ranking content. For example if a website was setup yesterday the search engines will think that the website isn't as authoritative as one that has been running 15 years.

I would suggest that you just map the new address to the old. Use the new domain on printed marketing materials and then in about 2 years time review how the search engines are indexing your content. It's not a quick job and you'll need to conduct a huge amount of testing.

Piero

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