Have you rebranded recently or acquired a new domain?
Then you may need to merge websites, but you need to do it carefully to maintain your SEO rankings.
Below are some of the best practices that a skilled SEO team should follow to merge two sites successfully.
Table of Contents
Why Merge Your Websites?
Before we dive into how to consolidate your sites and content, let’s examine some of the reasons you need to do it:
- You purchased another domain, and you want to blend the content from both sites.
- You own an outdated site with followers and authority, and you want to merge it with a newer website.
- You need to rebrand your company with another URL.
Are you in one of those categories? Then you’ll need to merge your sites carefully to ensure that you have the best SEO results.
How Does Merging Sites Help SEO?
Merging two sites together can have the following SEO benefits, if done properly:
- A powerful, authoritative site can pass its authority to a less-known URL
- Two sites with mediocre SEO authority can be combined to create a more authoritative, industry-dominating presence
- Two authority sites can target a greater number of keywords, significantly improving rankings for many more keywords than the individual sites alone
The best case studies for website mergers include a 1+1=3 scenario, where the combined quality of two websites can create a higher authority site that ranks better overall had the site’s remained separate and single ranking entities.
As we’re fond of saying:
A site ranking in position 0 or 1 on Google is worth infinitely more than two owned sites taking up 20% of page 1 rankings without the top position.
If combining two sites could mean improving rankings to high positions and removing some pages out of the index, then the effort is very worth the cost.
Strategy To Merge Websites
Below are the steps you need to follow to merge your sites for the best SEO results:
Perform a Comprehensive Audit
Your comprehensive SEO audit should include a review of the following:
- A complete backlink audit between both sites, including the creation of a disavow link list for nefarious links as well as comprehensive updates to internal linking strategies.
- A full content audit, taking into consideration the content overlap and cannibalization potential between the competing sites. Some pages on either site may need to be removed and replaced by existing and better ranking content on the corresponding site. This is a tedious task that can take a great deal of time.
- A review of all title, H1, meta descriptions and other areas critical to your rankings success.
Create a NEW, Combined Sitemap
When you make a sitemap of the site you need to merge, you’ll obtain an inventory of every page. This is what you need to make sure that you include every page you need on the new or merged site.
Design The New Site Well
When you are merging an old and new site, you want to spend time and money to ensure the new product is one that you’ll be pleased to show off. So, as you design your new site, pay close attention to load speed, mobile-friendliness, attractive design, and simple navigation.
Take The New Site Live
Before you merge the sites, you should ensure that the new website is working correctly. If you don’t pay close attention to this critical detail, you could create many problems with the new site.
Map All URLs
It’s important to use your old sitemap to determine where you want the URLs on the new website. This part is a pain in the neck, but you’ll need to do it for a successful merge.
Also, this is how you will make a 301 redirect list, mapping pages 1-to-1 to the new site’s equivalent page or updated page.
Update Your Internal Links
It’s also vital to alter every internal link on the new site. When the new site has links to the old one, remember to convert them to your new URL.
Move The Old Site
You’re almost there! Now you need to move the old site to the new one. If it’s a small site, moving it at once will alert Google to the move, which will lead to the search engine indexing your pages quicker.
If you have a big site, it’s fine to move things by section, and you can correct problems as they occur.
Make 301 Redirects
With your old sitemap and the new one, you can make the 301 redirects that ensure that the power of the links on the old site will go to the new one.
Update All Robots.txt Files
On the old website, you need to take out every robots.txt orders or directives. This ensures that search engines can find the new redirects on the new website.
The new site should be made so that the robots.txt file lets search engines crawl the site.
As part of this process, you should tell Google that you’re changing your site address.
To keep the site merge going, you need to give Google the old and new sitemaps. This will help the search engine find your redirects.
Watch Your Site’s Indexed Pages
You can use the index coverage report at Google to see which pages are getting indexed.
Mistakes To Avoid When Merging Sites
Now that you understand how to merge sites effectively for SEO purposes, let’s look at what not to do:
Failing To Weigh Risks
Merging or migrating sites usually occurs because someone made a high-level decision somewhere. But these folks may not be tasked with running the site or SEO part of the business. Unfortunately, this means that all of the implications of merging sites may not have been considered.
The most significant risk is that site migration can cause a reduction in web traffic. If you follow best practices, this risk can be reduced, but it still may happen.
Sometimes merging or migrating sites must be done because of a brand name change. Otherwise, it’s worth thinking carefully if the move is worth the cost.
Not Making A Comprehensive Migration Plan
There are many moving parts in migrating the old site to the new one. So, there needs to be one person in charge who has made a comprehensive migration plan. Having every part of the move in a project plan is essential to ensure nothing is forgotten.
Your SEO team also needs to be involved in the migration plan from the start. If your SEO people are given a heads up late in the process, your migration could cost you traffic.
Migrating On Sunday
Migrating your site when traffic is lowest sounds smart. But when you launch the new, merged site, there will probably be issues here and there. So you want to have your technical team on hand, ready to handle any problems that crop up.
Improper Use of Expired Domains
When merging two domains, existing, live websites will always outperform the acquisition of expired domain names, even if those domains have great link profiles.
In fact, Google’s spokesman extraordinaire John Mueller has greatly spurned the idea of using expired domains at all:
If you are considering this as a potential strategy, first ask the following questions:
- Has the domain truly expired and been re-registered? If so, the impact of the previous links may be reset.
- Is the site’s content quality, live and already ranking well for great search terms? If not, how long has it been gone?
- Will you own the copyright to expired, once-ranking content? If not, will you be able to get the rights to it cheaply?
- Did the backlink audit reveal any nefarious issues related to spammy links? If so, are they currently impacting the site?
Buyer beware when it comes to the “who” and “how” of acquiring another domain name with the intent to merge it for SEO purposes. Acquiring an aged domain can certainly give you a boost when it comes to authority, but you will want to do your homework before making what could be an expensive buy.
Forgetting To Redirect URLs or Redirecting Incorrectly
Redirecting dozens or hundreds of web pages is tedious work, and after you do this for hours, some can slip through the cracks.
You need to remember, for example, your current redirects on the old site. You could have a redirect history where there need to be several redirects for one page, which can create problems for Google.
And while some might be more concerned with performing a 302 redirect (non-authority-passing) vs. a 301 redirect (full-authority-passing), we have found the biggest issue in site redesign is including redirect chains in your content. To the user it will look fine, but crawlers may see multiple redirects in a chain before the original URL lands on it’s final resting place. This is one way links rot and your site’s authority can bleed out.
We typically use a tool like https://httpstatus.io/ to ensure no redirect chains exist.
Trying To Do Everything In One Day
Consolidating a large site into a new one is a big project, and you need to do it carefully and with a lot of planning. Trying to get everything done quickly is understandable, but it can create problems that cause serious traffic drops.
Now that you understand how to merge sites for the best SEO results, you’re on the road to making your company’s web presence better than ever.
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