The art of merging websites is a delicate one. It comes with huge potential and many benefits; but it can cost you a ton of time, money and resources if done poorly.
To carry out a successful website merger, you will need a detailed understanding and analysis of technical, content & link building aspects of two websites.
In this guide, we cover:
- Types of website mergers and their main distinctions
- Benefits and pitfalls of merging online assets
- How to carry out a successful merger from start to finish
Let’s dive in.
4 Types Of Website Mergers
There are 4 different types of website mergers that happen in this industry.
They all have a similar goal; acquiring content, rankings, traffic, or authority of another domain or a website.
Some occur more frequently than others and while most have a similar process, they do come with certain distinctions.
Aged Domain Mergers
An aged domain merger is one that most experienced website owners have done or at least considered doing at one point of their online career.
There are 2 ways to do a merger with an aged domain:
- Direct URL redirects to the main website from an aged domain with no content rebuild.
- Resurrecting and consolidating the old website on an aged domain before merging it with the main website.
While both methods have their pros and cons, the second one is becoming a preferred method for website owners lately. This is largely because Google has become increasingly aware of any shortcuts website owners regularly take to boost the authority and rankings of their websites.
Google knows direct URL redirects from an expired domain are a simple and easy way to do it. That’s why they have introduced changes to their algorithm to recognize these types of redirects and place lower value on them.
Old Website Mergers
Having an old and neglected website in your portfolio doesn’t do much for your business. If that website has valuable content and/or backlinks, you should consider merging it with another website.
To do that, you need to ensure those two websites have a good topical overlap.
Merging an old and neglected website will likely involve shedding some dead weight; pages that don’t serve a purpose due to topical irrelevance, no backlinks and/or poorly written and outdated content.
Newly Purchased Website Mergers
These types of mergers are often the most complex ones. They require an in-depth analysis of competitor website’s content and traffic.
They also require a detailed strategy; rebuilding a topical map, redoing an internal linking strategy and figuring out how all the elements of two websites can work together.
Company Rebrand Mergers
Company rebrand mergers happen quite often and include mostly a content migration to a new domain.
They rarely come with major changes in content strategy; that’s why the main focus here is on building out a detailed page-to-page redirect map and ensuring no content and PageRank are left on the old domain.
5 Benefits of Merging Two Websites
While there are potentially many benefits of merging two websites, depending on how you run your business, we will outline 5 main ones.
In case you acquired a competitor’s website, you have effectively removed them out of the game. You also took months or even years of work they invested in developing that asset, and all of the resources they poured into it along the way.
Through a website merger, you will likely acquire a large amount of new content. This will save you a ton of resources that you would otherwise spend on managing writers, creating briefs and producing the content.
This, however, doesn’t mean that the content transfer would be that easy. You will have to figure out:
- How content from an old website fits the main website (tone of voice and content structure)
- Where the overlaps in content exist and how to merge such content together to avoid keyword cannibalization.
- What content carries no value and shouldn’t be transferred to the main website.
Absorbing Ranking & Organic Traffic
Organic traffic remains to be one of the top benefits of doing a website merger.
But to make sure all rankings and organic traffic pass onto the main website, you will need a detailed redirect map.
Be aware that regaining organic rankings for the same content on a new website takes time, and there have been cases where it fails to recover.
Authority Backlink Boost
If the website or domain you are acquiring is of good quality and a merger is executed correctly, your main website stands to gain many benefits.
These are not only limited to content and rankings that could be transferred over – but the domain authority boost you are inclined to get if the asset had a quality backlink profile.
This will also result in boosting the rankings and traffic of the existing pages on your main website.
Through the acquisition of an existing website or an aged domain, you will likely be able to save yourself a ton of time you would have to spend on content production, acquiring backlinks, training team members, etc.
When building an online business, time is the most scarce resource. Leverage money as an infinite resource to put you ahead faster.
5 Pitfalls Of Merging Two Websites
While we can spend an entire day discussing all of the benefits of merging websites, we also need to shed some light on the common pitfalls. To reap the benefits of a website merger, you need to learn how to recognize and avoid these.
Let’s review them in detail.
Keyword cannibalization is an issue that happens with a great portion of websites, and one that will surely happen during your merger, if you don’t learn how to recognize it.
In its simplest form, keyword cannibalization represents two or more pages on the site being recognized and ranked for the same keywords.
In the SEO world, you will often hear the regurgitation of the same advice that’s focused on having more pages and publishing more. This often results in website owners being hesitant to delete and remove pages, even if they are hurting the website’s growth.
If, during the merger, you recognize that there’s a good topical overlap between two or more pages, you will have to either:
- Merge these pages together – in cases where all pages involved have quality content you would like to hold onto.
- Delete 1 or more pages and do a 301 redirect – if one page has outdated or thin content, it’s likely ideal to just delete it. You should also do a 301 redirect to make sure all link juice is passed onto a different and more complete page on the same topic.
Short-Term Traffic Drops
In almost every website merger, there will be a significant traffic drop from the pages of the acquired website.
It takes Google some time to identify what happened, recrawl that content and rerank it.
This is not necessarily an issue; however, if you are planning your website exit any time soon, keep in mind that you will need to be patient throughout the merger and the next couple of months.
To extract the most value out of the merger and the consequent website exit you are planning, it’d be wise to let traffic stabilize.
Imagine this scenario; you bought up a competitor that has a worse backlink profile than you do, has a lower DR (domain rating), and content is of lower quality on a similar set of subjects.
What incentive do you have to merge that website into yours? If you decide to do that, you would see diminishing returns, because your main site stands to gain very little from it.
But then you might wonder why spend money to acquire that website in the first place?
It is still wise to remove competitors out of the way, and you get to have another asset that you can rank and earn money from. You acquire more of a search engine’s real estate on a similar set of topics and you get to use the same resources you likely already have at your disposal. On the opposite, you can always sell your site to a competitor.
That’s the situation we had during the acquisition of Stream-SEO earlier this year.
If your situation looks anything like this, it might be wiser to avoid the website merger altogether as you will likely invest money for little to no return.
Merging Brand Voices
While merging content aspects of a website is something that can follow a strict framework, merging brand voices is far more delicate.
If the website you acquired has a strong social media and brand presence, you will have a difficult job in keeping the audience engaged throughout and after the merger.
People get attached to brands and what they represent. How can they immediately trust you? Trust has to be earned, and in the eyes of the audience, you are an unfamiliar face.
You should act fast, be honest and see how you can get that trust to keep the audience engaged. We heard offering free products and discounts gets people on your side quickly.
Technical Work Gets Messy
The larger the acquisition, the bigger the chance the technical work will get messy. Here are most common errors that happen during website mergers:
- Pages get forgotten and end up as 404s, leading to lost content and PageRank.
- Long 301 redirect chains.
- Potential crawling issues due to indexation bloat.
- Not updating internal links.
- Analytics or tracking issues.
The list can get longer; there are potentially many more issues that can happen during the process of merging online assets. Each of these can be a potential hazard aiming to decimate your rankings and revenue.
4-Step Due Diligence Process
If you have a detailed due-diligence checklist on your hand, your website merger is iron-clad. Here is everything you should check before you begin merging online assets.
Ensure There’s A Good Topical Overlap
To do a merger of two online properties, you need to make sure there’s enough topical overlap.
We prefer to see at least a 70% of overlap between merging assets, in order to make sure Google considers the merge natural.
Pay special attention to topical overlaps when aged domains are involved – it’s very easy to make a wrong decision by assuming something is relevant based on the domain name alone.
Go into the Archive to see all of the pages and content that was hosted on the domain name prior to your acquisition.
Make sure you check the other side of the coin as well – what type of backlinks and anchor texts are pointing to the domain name? Where will they point after the merger?
Try to think a couple of steps ahead when checking for topical overlap.
Check For Manual Penalties
When acquiring a website, one of the main things to check are manual penalties. It’s a standard part of any due diligence process.
Before you clear Escrow, you will have access to the website’s Google Search Console. Under Security & Manual actions, you can check if there are any manual penalties.
If the website does have manual penalties, it’d be wise to avoid any further involvement. Recovering from manual penalties is hard, takes time and is not guaranteed to succeed.
Check For PBNs and/or Shady Links
Any PBNs or toxic links are a potential hazard for a website. In order to avoid this, we advise you to do a thorough analysis of an assets backlink profile.
We wrote an in-depth guide on how to spot PBN backlinks when doing due diligence.
Establish The Future Website’s Design
A difference in design and content structure between the two websites is very probable. Before you begin the process of a merger, our advice is to figure out how the content will fit on the destination website and what type of changes will need to be made.
From there, create a process that you (or a VA) can carry out for each page you will be merging. You will likely need to iron out issues as you go along, but setting a process beforehand will save you a few headaches later on.
How To Carry Out a Successful Website Merger
Collecting All Relevant Data Points
It is of absolute necessity to collect as much data as possible when doing a website merger. These data points will guide your strategy and define what actions you will need to take to extract the most value out of a merger.
Our process consists of collecting the following data points:
- Impressions, clicks & CTR from GSC – to gauge and understand content performance in search engines.
- Pageviews & Organic Sessions from GA – to evaluate page performance and importance in the merger process.
- Ranking data from Ahrefs – To see backlinks & keywords of every page.
- Technical data from Screaming Frog – To see page depth, word count, URL status, publishing date & internal link flow.
Once we have this data, we create an overview spreadsheet that provides us with a bird’s-eye view of the website performance. Based on the previously defined criteria, we try to determine next actions.
Data, however, is not always enough. To make sure you are recommending the right action, you need to do a manual check and analysis of each page.
Creating a Full Page-To-Page Redirect Map
Once you have all pages laid out with relevant data points, it’s time to start creating your page-to-page redirect map.
This part of the step is crucial – we recommend thinking things through and doing an in-depth analysis to define an action for each URL.
Through mapping, you will be deciding the future of every page – what gets deleted, recreated, merged or redirected.
Shedding Dead Weight
One of the main criteria when analyzing content performance is finding a website’s dead weight. These are the pages that will be left behind in the merger process.
Most common reasons for that:
- Lack of topical relevance – if the content doesn’t match the topic of the destination site, the page is best left behind.
- Poorly written content – if the effort to rewrite the piece of content is too large, then it makes sense not to merge it into the main website.
- Outdated content – if the website has content that is no longer applicable in today’s day and age, then it makes no sense to be a part of today’s website.
There’s one stipulation here; if any of these pages have noteworthy backlinks, it’d be wise to redirect (301) these pages toward a relevant resource on your main website.
If that’s not an option, then redirecting it toward a press release page of your recent acquisition is going to be the next best thing.
Creating a New Topical Map
Since you will be transferring a lot of the content over to your main website, you will need to recreate your topical map. Your content strategy will likely change; you will need to redefine priorities and build a new editorial calendar.
Take into account the surge of new content; what type of internal links can be recreated, what type of silos will get fresh content, and what topical cluster should you focus on going forward.
Once the website merger process is complete, you should update your sitemap to include all of your new pages. This is to help Google recrawl and index your pages faster.
Updating Internal Links
The most tedious part of the process includes redoing internal linking for an entire website. With new content and migration, you will experience broken internal links and long redirect loops.
To make sure you are leveraging the full power of internal linking, you must solve these issues.
The initial focus needs to be on recreating the strategy and tracking every internal link. Knowing where internal links lead, what anchor texts they use and how to change them is the first step of the process.
Once you have that, you should set up a detailed SOP, focused on how to correct these. Based on the complexity of the task, you will likely need a more experienced SEO to carry out these changes.
Set Up A Tracking System
If you have come to this part, your website merger is heading towards being a success. But you will not know that unless you are spending time and resources tracking the performance of your website.
Your goal here is to ensure that:
- Page redirects are done correctly (using a tool like Redirectinator)
- Transferred content can be crawled and discovered by search engines.
- Transferred content is being indexed.
- Traffic and rankings for transferred content are recovering.
We recommend taking data from the same sources you used to map out websites for the initial merger. Having those data points will give you enough insight into what is happening.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Can I have two websites with the same content?
It is possible, but not recommended. Google will not rank 2 pages with the exact same content – so there’s no use in doing it.
In a specific case where you think this is necessary for the end user, you can add a canonical tag that will signal to Google what content is the original one.
Is it possible to merge multiple websites under one domain?
Yes, that is an option. Keep in mind that the more websites you are trying to merge, the more complicated it is going to become.
By now, you should have a clear understanding of a framework and a strategy that needs to be applied in website mergers.
You should also know everything you stand to gain by doing one – a great boost in content, traffic and rankings if you do it correctly.
To carry out a successful merger you do not need to be an expert – but it certainly helps to have one.
Web Acquisition team has carried out hundreds of website mergers to success.
Check out how we can help merge content websites and what is our detailed process.