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Corporate Mergers & SEO: Grafting Business Sites Together

Corporate Merger SEO

Photo Illustration Copyright © Mike Valentine

During the course of business growth, it is sometimes necessary to combine two (or more) entities together due to the decision to grow rapidly. When business goals are complementary and that growth means combining two strong but separate companies – it may mean combining two sites so that both of their strengths are fully represented in a single corporate site. Business web site structure is often illustrated as a tree to represent hierarchy. In this instance I’d like to offer the concept of grafting two sites together on a single strong domain (tree) when the two sites are merged following an acquisition.

Not Like Relaunch, Rebuild or Rebrand
These actions are fundamentally different than the typical site rebuild, relaunch or rebranding which requires mapping 301 Permanent Redirects for an entire site or section from previous URLs to a new set of URLs. That scenario can be moving from one domain name to another or one platform to another when it requires an URL change. The scenario I’ll be describing for a site merge is independent of those considerations for one of the businesses – which remains on an existing domain and platform. This situation comes about when an existing site must graft the content and adapt the hierarchy of another site into its current structure.

Hierarchy Graft Point

Measure Search Traffic & Authority
When decisions about site merging are being made, it’s critical to carefully measure page authority and then plan to preserve the current visibility of the ranked content that will be migrated via 301s from the acquired site to the existing property. There are dozens of permutations to the decision trees that might vary in their details significantly, however we’ll assume here that most of the content will either be migrated to new pages on the parent site or merged into existing pages. In all cases, every one of the pages from the prior site must be mapped to new URLs and then properly 301 Permanent Redirected. Nearly every old URL will have a 301 – whether that is to a top level category page, a content page or very rarely, to the home page of the parent/partner site. The exception is low-value or useless pages covered in more detail later.

Crawl Site to Start Migration Planning
A first step in this process will always be a crawl of the site that is to be migrated. This may in some cases be the same as the XML sitemap for the site – but the crawl should be done with Screaming Frog Crawler anyway to grab the relevant title tags and page headlines. Needless to say, all article & text content should be preserved for re-use or migration as well (via database export). Once the existing titles and page URLs are recorded, they will need to be manually mapped to existing URLs on the parent/partner site in many cases for 301 Permanent Redirects. The pages that are most important and should get most care in the migration are those that bring the most traffic from search and in all cases the top 20 to 50 landing pages should be moved and 301 Redirected.

Hierarchy Content Home Page Graft

Home Page Prior Site to Parent/Partner
The home page will be among those that deserve the most careful consideration. Very likely, the previous home page 301 Redirect will be assigned a new home on the parent/partner merged site that is NOT the corresponding home page, but one describing the mission and services of the absorbed partner site. This page will likely serve as the grafting point on the trunk of the hierarchy tree. (See Photo Illustration above). There will certainly be some pages from the site being absorbed that are 301 redirected to very similar pages on the parent/partner site such as duplicate named services or product pages. This type of decision must be made for all important (high search traffic) pages redirected. It is important everyone understands the gravity of being thorough here.

Obvious 1 to 1 Redirects
There will be some obvious merges of pages to 301 redirect, such as “Contact Us” pages an “Terms of Service” and “Privacy Policy” etc. will be 301 redirected from one to the other site. Those are critical to redirect because they are formerly high authority pages linked from the footer of every page on the former site. Transferring page authority from the prior URL to each of the alternates on the parent/partner is of significance and the importance can’t be overemphasized. It’s also important to maintain both Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) and Analytics to monitor remaining traffic to the previous site and any 404 errors once the site migration takes place so any pages missed in the redirect mapping can be corrected or added to the active 301 redirects.

Useless Low Value Pages
Weak pages that recorded very little search traffic prior to a merge of sites can be 301 redirected to top level category pages (such as “Services”) on the parent/partner site. Some prior paginated product pages or faceted navigation links can be 301 redirected to the same top level category pages. It should be strongly emphasized that there should be no previous 302 Temporary redirects remaining at all from the migrating domain to the parent/partner, because a 302 keeps URLs in search engines for a long period, even after the domain is shut down in some cases. Another legacy item to verify eliminated are indexed “search” pages from the prior site, which have no place at all and should 404, so no 301 redirects will be done for search pages on the migrating site, with one exception being when there is a search landing page where search for both sites starts (no query strings). More on site cleanup of low-value pages.

Discontinued Services with High Traffic
When two companies merge, there will inevitably be decisions made to discontinue previous services or products which were highly ranked, but may have brought in little or no revenue. The authority and search visibility for these types of pages should not be discarded entirely out of hand. Capture the traffic by redirecting to a carefully titled blog post on the parent/partner site which repurposes the former content and suggests alternate parent/partner services to maintain that popular ranking and visibility. If nothing else, those discontinued services should continue to bring potential customers for remaining, upgraded services and capture the search traffic for that popular term by leveraging the remaining authority transferred in the 301 redirect.

Merging Corporate Blogs
Some may argue that the corporate blog for the migrating site should be discarded due to branding concerns or prior partnerships that may no longer be appropriate. Wrong. Unless there is no active blog on the parent/partner site – all old content can be cleaned of old partner links, repurposed and segregated by date and blog category to resolve branding concerns unless the posts were extensive. Explanatory modules can be inserted into all posts prior to the merge which explain that the archived material is historical. Archived, historical blog posts are valuable and can be edited if necessary to update to current best practices. Maintaining the prior blog archive increases authority, improves related content modules and improves relevance. More on legacy archived content here.

Final Cleanup and Monitoring
Remember that it is important to be precise with URLs in 301 Permanent Redirects. Every character matters and that includes the ending slash mark / which is very often missed, sometimes resulting in a double redirect from the non-slash version of a page to an ending slash version of the page. Hyphens and underscores are sometimes mistaken, one for the other and query strings with special symbols like = equal, commas, and question marks must be correctly recorded when assigning 301 redirects – especially when pattern matching large groupings of URLs. So it’s critical to monitor 404 errors on the destination site after the merge transition goes live. As mentioned previously, the prior site should be monitored for errors as well – so any forgotten or misdirected redirects can be resolved.

Expect the transition to have a surprise here or there and be prepared to monitor and resolve hiccups as the transition begins and continue monitoring changes in search rankings, referral traffic and overall visibility. It can be a bumpy road when sites are merged, but careful planning with the information here should smooth the way a bit if you are thorough.

Contacting Linking Sites for Updates
If all goes well during your migration, you’ve got another job on your plate immediately. That is to reach out to those sites that link to the migrating site to request updates. For those with deep links, you’ll even be ready with your redirect map to let them know the new URL to switch their links to. Be prepared to invest significant energy and dedicate someone to stay on top of the link updates so that you gain the every last drop of juice from the newly acquired site. Keep the 301 redirects live for about 6 months.

Mike Banks Valentine operates Reality SEO has worked with clients to move, merge, rebrand and launch enterprise and startup sites. Planning a site merge? Contact Us