Merging Two Websites: Best Practice For IT Directors And CIOs
This blog outlines the consolidation of two websites after a merger or acquisition but the principles are just as effective in other circumstances where one or more websites are being retired and redirected to a new one.
Click on one of the topics below to get whisked to that section of the article.
- What are your options when merging two websites?
- Benefits of merging two websites
- Dangers of merging two websites
- Website migration due diligence - strategic considerations for IT Directors
- Website migration due diligence - tasks for your team
- How to choose an SEO agency
What are your options when merging two websites?
- Absorb one of the websites into the other. This is usually done by redirecting the resources from the acquired website to the most relevant resources on your current website. In this instance you’re effectively retiring the acquired domain too, which will likely negatively impact traffic from Google for a while.
- Build a new website, and consolidate the best content and back-end systems from both websites (such as lead nurturing and marketing automation) into a shiny new site. This will require redirects from the two retiring websites to the one, new website. If the plan is also to retire both domains and put the new website on a newly purchased domain, this can negatively affect traffic for months (sometimes years) if not executed perfectly.
- Leave them separate. They are stronger as separate entities. While quite rare for us to advise a client to keep two separate websites instead of merging - I’ve kept it as an option here because a consolidated web presence may not yield the maximum commercial benefit in every case. As Ste, our SEO Manager puts it; sometimes owning both horses in a race is a more effective strategy than combining them into one slightly larger horse.
Benefits of merging two websites
- You don’t have to maintain two websites - a saving of both time and money, typically across multiple departments.
- You don’t have to reconcile the outputs of two different platforms when the enquiries from the two websites hit the tech stack (such as HubSpot) powering your marketing, sales and service teams.
- You can absorb the monthly traffic of the acquired website into your own - the new traffic level will take a few months to level out, so manage expectations by informing your CEO that you’ll hold off on reporting exceptional traffic growth / loss for 3-6 months.
- You can absorb the top performing and top converting content from the acquired site into your own - this requires that you redirect visitors looking for content that used to live on the retired site to the most relevant content on your site.
Dangers of merging two websites
- Your digital team may make an error of judgement and you will experience the operational difficulties of merging two websites and systems without actually inheriting the traffic and rankings of the new website. We’ve seen this take months to untangle and cost revenue and job security.
- If the acquisition website is a searched-for brand in its own right, particularly in the software product space, redirecting the traffic from this product to your own may not work. Google may not see your new site as relevant for the acquired product name (and you’ll see a drop in organic search traffic over time), or the experience might be jarring for existing customers (and your conversion rate will drop off a cliff on day one).
- The inherited traffic may tail off when absorbed by an existing website that is marred with speed or website hygiene issues.
Due diligence before merging two websites
Website migration due diligence - strategic considerations for IT Directors
Is there overlap?
Do both websites (and by extension, the brands behind them) offer essentially the same products and services? Or do they have distinct variations, or only a partial overlap? Understanding this will help you decide your website merger options.
Your SEO team needs to present you with a content audit. At a foundational level, brief your team to be creative - start with these tasks and see where that leads them.
- Compile an exhaustive URL map for each website (don’t forget “thank you” pages and gated resources)
- Assess which URLs have overlapping content
- Assess which URLs have overlapping user intent
- Where there is overlap; which of the URLs has the content that is the best?
- Where there is overlap; what is the draft strategy for redirecting at a URL to URL level?
- Review the user experience of both sites and look at: purchase, enquiry, and post-sales support. Is there anything in these processes that is jarringly different that won’t map well if customers are forcibly migrated from one site to another?
I have no hard and fast rules for running a content audit - encourage your team to think like a website visitor who doesn’t know either brand. Ask the team to put themselves in the shoes of your key buyer persona. This mindset should see your content audit evolve into a set of recommendations that are based on business growth, rather than a technical document that outlines what is easiest to do from a technical standpoint.
Which website has the most brand awareness?
Do both websites each represent a widely known brand, or does one eclipse the other? For the purposes of this question, brand might refer to the parent company but it might also refer to the product names themselves. An excellent way of gauging brand value from a website perspective is to use Google Trends to compare how many people search for branded terms relative to each other. Ask your SEO team to pull together a landscape of such terms and present you with the data and their recommendations, to make sure that you get a balanced view. If your SEO team doesn't know what Google Trends is, fire them. There are big changes coming with this website merger, and they didn’t even bother to show up to the first day of SEO class.
Which website wins on Google?
What organic visibility is currently held by both websites? The metric you should be looking at here is organic traffic from search engines. Again, does one website eclipse the other?
While looking at the sitewide numbers will be very useful, you should also break the websites down into equivalent sections and compare them like-for-like by topic, product-type or service. The only real way to accurately get to grips with these numbers is to delve into Google Analytics. Your reputation is on the line with the merging of these two websites (you knew that, right?) so if you have any doubts about your marketing team’s capability with data analysis, you should probably get your hands dirty - use this beginner’s guide to Google Analytics if it’s your first time. Don’t let your SEO team simply rely on SEMrush, ahrefs or similar tools because, while they’re fantastic (we use them all the time), in this use case, where you have access to Analytics for both sites, their estimates of organic traffic aren’t accurate enough to help you make your decision.
Review for dark secrets.
Has your acquired site received a Google penalty, malware warning, or is it marred by some notoriously buggy or problematic legacy software? Is there an IT Director skipping out of the acquired building with a big smile on his face?
If there’s a problem here - it’s often a career defining moment. Spot the problem before the merger and you’ll be carried shoulder high from the next board meeting. Miss a hidden issue and it will soon be time to update your LinkedIn profile to “looking for interesting opportunities”.
Before the merger, be absolutely certain that your SEO team have access to Google Search Console to the newly acquired website. While you’re at it, ensure they’ve got Google Search Console access for your existing site - if they don’t, you need to show them the door.
Once they’ve logged into Google Search Console, they’ll get notified about any recent and outstanding penalties / malware. Note: there are unlikely to be any notifications about anything more than a month or two old. To look backwards in time, get your SEO team to check out three key metrics using Majestic - the backlink profile, the citation score and the trust score of the new site. Compare these metrics with your existing site and if there’s any radical differences, these checks should mitigate against the chance of you redirecting a poisonous backlink profile from the acquired site to your existing brand.
This stuff is absolutely critical so it may be worth getting a second opinion, particularly if you think your team or your agency are flying by the seat of their pants. This is not the time to be learning on the job.
Website migration due diligence - tasks for your team
As you move towards a website merger, you’ll need to ensure that your SEO / Web Dev / UX / Marketing teams have agreed between them who is accountable for these essential jobs:
- Full content audit and migration plan
- Assessment of search visibility at a page level. What is the top performing content on each site?
- Assessment of brand popularity and search
- A full and comprehensive page-to-page redirect map from the acquired website to the destination site. 301 redirects MUST be in place for any website consolidation, they must be granular and specific, and they should remain in place on the acquired domain indefinitely. Exceptions to this rule are rare. More info on how your dev team can do that properly is here: What is a 301 Redirect and when should I use one?
- A detailed understanding of the reporting available for both sites. Detailed benchmarks of both sites should be taken for key metrics such as traffic and conversions, and a reporting framework should be in place for the consolidated site
- A full and detailed understanding of the technical stack for both websites. What analytics, marketing automation, sales enablement, customer service, ERP, product checkout features are present and can they be translated across onto the destination site?
- Logins for web tools associated with the acquired site. This might include click tracking software, call tracking software, Analytics platforms, Google/Bing Search Console
- Don’t forget about the wider web presence. The digital presence includes more than just the website. You must consider the consolidation/ongoing management of;
- Corporate social media profiles
- Hidden satellite websites and subdomains
- Local business profiles such as Google My Business, Bing Places, Yell, Yelp, Thompson Local, etc
- Other off-site brand presences such as Wikipedia pages, local Chambers of Commerce, review sites
- Domain email addresses associated with the acquired brand. Make sure that key email addresses are identified and forwarded accordingly, and that any addresses used for mailing out (for newsletters, for example) are identified
- You’ll also want to audit these for issues, such as blacklisted email domains
- Phone numbers, especially those widely listed on the acquired website and directory sites.
How to choose an SEO agency
Merging two or more enterprise websites isn’t something most companies do very often and, since no migration is ever the same, even if you have the in-house experience to do a lot of the technical stuff, it’s often forgotten by the time your team needs to use it again. Which means you have the unenviable task of appointing an SEO agency to help.
While you make a short list of agencies, check out these questions to ask before hiring an SEO agency. Tailoring these questions to be appropriate to your circumstances and sector will be key. When asking for evidence of an agency's skill and reliability, ask for relevant case studies around enterprise website mergers and migrations.
Here’s the key SEO archetypes you’ll run into as you’re building your short list.
- The hack. Slick, but a bit of a “paint by numbers” approach. They are likely to be very uncomfortable when you ask them the questions in the blog above. Avoid.
- The ranker. Knows their stuff, has got lots of portfolio sites to show you and nice graphs which show how well they’ve done for their clients. Knows a lot about content marketing and links. Worth shortlisting.
- The techie. Clearly brilliant but tends to blind you with science and doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the marketing, lead generation element of what you’re trying to achieve. Worth shortlisting
Ideally, you want to find an SEO agency with a team who has the seniority and understanding of the strategic implications - they can help guide you to the right choice, PLUS a team that includes a good mix of rankers and tech SEOs. In a perfect world the agency you choose will also have a long track record of migrations, including recent (successful) experience at merging multiple websites across multiple territories and languages.
Noisy Little Monkey are legendarily good at this stuff but we’re not everyone’s cup of tea. However, since you’re still reading, there’s a reasonable chance that we’ll get on well together. Check out this merging two websites case study or get in touch if you want to short cut all the marketing BS.