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I'm almost finished rewriting the website for a non-profit organization. The existing site receives ~5,000 a month. The new site is being written in ASP.Net and the existing site is PHP. The current hosting provider does not support .Net hosting, so I'll be switching providers.

My question revolves around the transition from the old site to the new. I would really like to get the new site up at the new hosting provider and do thorough testing before changing the DNS records for the domain.

Question: How can I put the new site up, test it, make any changes/additions necessary before updating the domain DNS to point to the new IP without Google indexing the content? Also, what SEO repercussions should I be aware of when making such a drastic change to the content that exists under the domain name?

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There is a nice Google webmaster summary about moving a site. It's not necessary to protect or hide the new site, in fact they recommend to 301 redirect section by section. I did a lot of migrations like you, with a DNS A record change. What generally works good are signals of trust, like: domain owner stays the same or ownership signals by using the webmaster tools.

In my experience hiding the new site is not strictly necessary. In the first hours, days and weeks watch out for 404's, 301-them to the best matching content on the new site; before the transition, use tools like www.opensiteexplorer.org to find the links. Make sure the new site has a sitemap.xml.

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We're going from a site with thousands of pages (added by inexperienced users using a CMS) to a site with hundreds of pages. Also, the domain is remaining the same, but the DNS will point to a new server/ip/host. How can I do redirects from the old site to the new site on a new server/ip/host? The entire directory structure of the site is changing - next to nothing from the old site will remain. –  James Hill Nov 8 '12 at 19:47
    
What web server are you running on this new machine? –  Kenzo Nov 8 '12 at 20:17
    
@JamesHill You redirect the urls that no longer exist to the most appropriate content on the new site. After the DNS change, of course, this is done on your new server. Requests come from bookmarks, SERPS, other sources - and you try to redirect. I have long lists of REDIRECT statements in my .htaccess file for the Apache server, for example. You can create the list NOW, before transition. –  initall Nov 8 '12 at 20:23
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For testing purposes, you can set everything up behind a .htaccess login.

There are a lot of factors to think about in terms of SEO. If you're going to end up with a different URL structure than the original site, use 301 redirects to map old pages to the new equivalent.

If you are changing the content, you're going to have to watch title tags, headers and the content itself to see how it effects the rankings. A total redesign is actually a good chance to improve upon these things.

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