Should I Merge Websites or Keep Multiple Separate Websites?
There are pros and cons to merging websites, including branding concerns, but consolidating websites is almost always the advisable option versus managing multiple domains.
The first question I hear from clients is, “Won’t it benefit us more to have several separate websites that are linking to each other? Backlinks are good for SEO, right?”
Yes, backlinks are good for SEO, but the four or five backlinks you are potentially getting from your external websites (unless all of those websites have domain authority above 70) are usually not equivalent to the value you will gain by pooling all of those resources under one roof.
This will combine the link equity of all of those sites (one site with 100 backlinks coming into it is better than five websites with 20 backlinks each). It will also combine the expertise areas of each of those websites into one, creating a site that can rank for many more searches.
So, for the sake of this argument, let’s say that you have definitely decided to merge your domains.
How Do I Choose My New Domain Name When Merging Two Websites Into One?
Unless you are changing brand names, you should stick with an already established domain, preferably the one that has the highest current domain authority.
Let’s say you have two domains: dinkycola.com and dinkycolalite.com. Unless you are changing brand names, you should use one of the domains that has already been established for two reasons:
1. Creating a new domain, like dinky.com means that new domain will have to start all over again in building authority, starting at zero. It’s better to build on the authority already established
2. Creating a brand new domain will mean that you have to migrate two (or more) sites into a new domain instead of just one.
In the example case you would have to redirect everything from dinkycola.com and dinkycolalite.com into the new dinky.com, twice as much work as it would have been to merge everything into the existing dinkycola.com.
Excepting certain cases (like a brand name change), you should always use an existing domain. If possible, you should be merging websites into the domain that has the highest current domain authority.
In this chart, taken from a real client, they had seven domains they were considering merging together. Their best option is to merge everything into Domain A, because it already has the highest domain authority.
You might be wondering why one combined domain would be better than a bunch of domains with pretty decent domain authority. One reason is because the content and links from all of those domains will combine to make Domain A even stronger. While Domain A is currently 74, the added power from those other domains could push it up into the 80s or 90s, which would give all of the content on the site the potential to dominate in search for almost every keyword.
While the domain gets stronger, all of the content that previously lived on those lower-authority sites will now be positioned to win more searches and to get more organic traffic.
How Should I Arrange My New Website’s IA?
As you merge websites together, you’ll need to develop a new information architecture for your new site.
An IA is important because it helps Google understand the structure of your website, building a better picture of what your website and business are all about. If you didn’t put much thought into your IA before, now is your chance to really plan out how Google categorizes your site.
Therefore, this requires a lot of thinking about structure that really defines what your business is about. You may want to arrange your site by brands, products or solutions. What you don’t want to do, however, is to arrange your new site’s IA around nebulous terms like “making it work” or “get started”.
Another thing to note: Use a clear folder structure, and avoid subdomains whenever possible. If you have a business, a good IA allows a person or search engine to understand exactly what your business does by reading the URL structure. An example:
This structure allows a search engine (or user to follow your folder path and say “I understand this company sells products, and one category of products is x, and this is a product in category x.”
What Tools Will I Need to Run a Content Audit?
There are several tools that will be indispensable to you when you decide to run a content audit before you merge multiple websites into one.
Screaming Frog: A desktop application that crawls a websites’ links, images, CSS, meta content and response codes from an SEO perspective. It basically tells you what a search engine spider would see when it crawls a website.
This allows you to quickly analyze, audit and review a site from an onsite SEO perspective, which would be very costly or time-consuming otherwise. However, ScreamingFrog may not access the content in the deepest, darkest recess of your website (or pages that are blocked from crawl).
DeepCrawl: A paid tool, DeepCrawl gives you a much more thorough accounting of your website’s structure than a traditional tool like Screaming Frog can provide, and I’d highly recommend it for a project like this. DeepCrawl will find every page on your site, count backlinks, and provide a “score” for the page’s importance.
AHREFS: Ahrefs, a paid tool, boasts the largest live backlink index in the industry. This is the best source for finding the content on sites that are attracting links. You can sign up for a seven day free trial, which could be enough to get all the info you need if you play your cards right.
Google Analytics: Analysis of your website’s traffic. If you don’t have this established on your website already, you won’t have any historic information. Regardless, make sure this is set up on your new website immediately.
Search Console: Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, you can hook this toolkit up to your website and monitor things like 404s, robots.txt files, internal and external links and sitemaps.
MOZBar: This handy plugin for Chrome or Firefox lets you examine any webpage to see its page authority, domain authority, number of backlinks and number of domains those links are coming from.
BuzzSumo: This also isn’t free, but is a really useful tool for identifying how many times each piece of content on your site has been shared through social networks. This is a great way to find the content that is really resonating with social audiences to find those high performers on your site.
How Do I Perform a Content Audit?
A content audit is a very time-consuming aspect of website consolidation, but is integral to setting up the site for SEO success.
You need to pull out every current URL on your sites into a content matrix. I’d recommend investing in a scanning tool, like DeepCrawl, to identify every URL on your site (DeepCrawl will even find any URLs blocked from scan by your robots.txt file).
Create a spreadsheet that contains every URL on your current website. You can divide your URLs into four groups:
- Essential content
You need this stuff, so the new website should contain a new version of each of these pieces of content. Use a 301 redirect to send traffic from the old URL to the new page. A 301 is a permanent redirect, so it also passes along the original page’s SEO credit to the new site.
What is essential content? That’s something that you need to decide as a brand, in some cases. Are there pages that you think are absolutely integral to your business? These could be product pages, services pages, company leadership – anything that you know needs to remain. All of that stuff needs a direct recreation on the new site and then what we call a 1:1 redirect: a redirect from the old site or content page to the new version content page.
Then there is content that needs to be recreated on the new site and 1:1 redirected whether you like it or not:
- Content with a lot of backlinks. Backlinks are the “vote of approval” that are the foundation of search rankings. A URL with lots of backlinks is a page that lots of other external websites think is good and are linking back to. That means this content must find a place to live in the new site, no matter what! You must redirect high-backlink URLs, so you don’t lose the link equity those pages had (otherwise you are throwing away “SEO juice”).Wondering how you know which pages have backlinks? You’ll have to use a pay tool most likely, like MOZ’s Open Site Explorer, AHREFs or DeepCrawl.
- URLs/pages that are generating a lot of organic traffic. Use Google Analytics to identify the pages that are bringing lots of organic traffic to your site. These pages, for whatever reason, are performing well for you organically (in Google search). Try to recreate these pages exactly in the new site and definitely create a redirect from the old URL to the new one.
- Content that has a lot of social shares or traffic from social media. Social shares don’t have a direct SEO benefit, but they help build your brand reach, bring new people into your website and can lead to backlinks. Anything that is performing really well in social should be recreated in the new site with a 1:1 redirect.
You can also use BuzzSumo (again, this is a pay tool), to see what the most shared pages on your website were in the last year.
- Content that converts. Do you have certain pages on your site that convert really well? Are you tracking conversions? If you have goals set up in Google Analytics, you can see which pages are your best conversion tools.These pages are gold – make sure you recreate them on your new site and redirect them.
SEO TIP: Anytime you change a page’s URL in any way, even if you only add one letter to the URL, you have to redirect the precious URL to the new, altered URL. Otherwise, the old URL will be recorded as a broken page by search engines and you will lose that page’s link equity.
2. Outdated or nonessential content that doesn’t have any links and doesn’t bring in traffic.
There is no point in porting over content that is outdated and that is not resonating with consumers by generating links, shares or traffic. This content can be dumped altogether.
3. Content that has a lot of backlinks and/or social shares or that brings in a lot of organic traffic.
Regardless of what you think is the best content on your site, this is the content that is resonating with your readers. Therefore, any content that has a large amount of backlinks (links from external websites), social shares or that is bringing a lot of organic traffic into your site should be recreated on the new website with a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one.
In addition, if you don’t redirect content that has a lot of backlinks over to your new site, you are in danger of losing some authority that those links provide.
Use BuzzSumo to identify the most shared content on your site, and use the MOZBar to see how many backlinks each page has.
3. Whatever is left.
So, you may have some other content that isn’t really outdated, but hasn’t set the world on fire with readers either. I’d recommend using 301 redirects to link these pieces of content to the most similar piece of content that you can find on your new site, but don’t bother creating an exact matching piece of content on the new site.
Remember, any page that has even one link from an external website should be redirected to the new site; you don’t want to risk losing any link equity.
For additional tips, Andy Crestodina offers a great checklist for launching a new site.
How Should I Sunset My Old Websites?
Once you have set up your new website, you need to shut down, or sunset, those old sites. When you merge websites together, follow these tips to shut down old sites properly.
- All of the unique, useful or authoritative pages (URLs) on your legacy sites that you identified should be 301 redirected to the new site. Map all legacy pages to their counterparts on the new site, applying the 1:1 redirect (when appropriate). If no 1:1 option exists, redirect to the most similar piece of content or the most similar broad category page. URLs with no links can be 301 redirected back to the new homepage
- Be sure to follow your new site’s IA in finding placement for content from your old sites. Do not widen the navigation. You spent all of that time creating a new IA. Fit the old content into that new site structure and avoid adding new subfolders as much as possible.Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of subfolders in your site navigation that only contain one or two pieces of content.
- Leave your 301 redirects in place for 9 months before you shut down the old website (and those redirects). This will leave enough time to ensure that all of those redirects have been indexed.
- Turn PDFs into on-page HTML content when possible and 301 redirect the URL of any PDFs to the new page.If you have any old content on one of the old websites that is in PDF format, and it is content that has to be moved to the new site, now is the time to do something about it. PDFs are a navigational black hole and are bad for usability (especially on mobile). Convert all PDF content into HTML content on the new website.
- Monitor any broken links and 404s in the Google Search Console after launching the new site. Were there any URLs you forgot to redirect?
- For a while after you merge websites together, you may have the same piece of content active on both an old website and the new website. If you leave duplicated content live on an old domain, apply a canonical URL to the old piece of content that tells search engines that the official version of this piece of content lives on the new website.
How Can I Monitor My New Website’s Progress?
To see how your new site is performing, you’ll want something to compare it to. Benchmark the performance of your old sites before you shut them down.
You can note items like site speed, domain authority, organic traffic, backlinks (number of backlinks and the number of sources for those backlinks) and the number of pages on old sites that are being indexed by Google (use site:domain.com in Google search to see of the number of pages from your website currently indexed by Google).
What are the SEO Best Practices When Merging Websites?
- Select a domain for the new website, preferably one that already has some link equity and authority
- Create a new information architecture for the website with a clear folder structure
- Perform a content audit on the outgoing sites, identifying all content that has link equity, content that generates traffic and conversions and important brand content
- Recreate important content in the new site
- Create 301 redirects directly from old content to new content
- Redirect inessential content to the homepage
- Leave redirects in place for nine months
- Create Google Search Console profile for new website and submit sitemaps
- Monitor any broken links and 404s in the Google Search Console after launching the new site
- If you leave duplicated content live on an old domain, apply a canonical URL to the old piece of content that tells search engines that the official version of this piece of content lives on the new website.
- Benchmark the performance of your old sites before you shut them down to measure the new site’s performance