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A Guide to Merging Websites: SEO and Best Practices

merging websites

Should I Merge Websites or Keep Multiple Separate Websites?

There are pros and cons to merging multiple 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 consolidate 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.

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”.

What Tools Will I Need to Run a Content Audit?

There are several free 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,

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.

mozbar
MOZBar offers lots of useful SEO info, including links and domain authority.

BuzzSumo: Okay, this one 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.

buzzsumo

 

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 a free scanning tool, like Screaming Frog, to identify every URL on your site. However, if you have any URLs blocked from scan by your robots.txt file, you’ll need to pull all of your URLs out of your content management system.

Create a spreadsheet that contains every URL on your current website. You can divide your URLs into four groups:

1. 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.

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.

4. 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 that 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.

Decide what pages need a similar version created on the new site (a 1:1 match). 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).

pages that are indexed by Google
Use site:domain.com in Google search to see of the number of pages from your website currently indexed by Google.

Also, use Google Analytics (or whatever analytics program you use) to look at quality signals like time on site, bounce rate and pages per visit. Compare keyword rankings from the old sites to the new; is there a general movement upwards in keyword rankings? Did clickthrough rates from organic traffic improve?

When it comes to websites, bigger is better. Merging two or more websites into a single solution is a big undertaking, but the SEO benefits will usually outweigh the effort. 

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