28 January 2021
Find out the process required to successfully consolidate two websites without losing any organic traffic. A step by step guide to merging two websites.
14 min read
YOU WILL LEARN
Pros and cons of merging sites.
The key personel required.
33-step process you can follow.
Digital Marketing 4 Leads is a SEO Agency based in Ibiza that specialises in helping small businesses across Europe merge websites.
Often businesses will consolidate their domains before they carry out a website health check and start their SEO campaign.
Do you want to increase your organic traffic when you merge your 2 websites?
The easiest way to combine two websites and increase your traffic is to use an expert from a small business SEO agency.
They will guide you through the entire process and prevent you from falling into the common traps that most small businesses make.
When you merge your two websites, your organic traffic will almost immediately drop.
How to Merge Two Websites in 33-Steps
Digital Marketing 4 Leads has created a 33-step website consolidation process that you can follow...
...to help your website recover from this drop and gain more organic traffic in the shortest possible time.
Scroll down to read the full guide now, or if you are in a rush, email this page to yourself and save it for later.
In principle, merging two websites is quite simple:
1) Decide which content from the two websites that you want to keep, merge or delete.
2) Build the pages on the new website.
3) Forward the old URLs to the new pages using 301 redirects.
4) Wait for Google to crawl your website.
However, in reality it is not this simple.
There are so many moving parts and decisions that have to be implemented...
...and getting it wrong can be the end of the road for a business.
Merging multiple websites can bring many benefits to a business.
The primary goal is to increase the amount of organic traffic visiting the new website.
In theory, the merging process should combine the link juice from the backlinks on the two websites...
...creating a single website with a higher domain rating (DR), helping it to rank higher for more keywords.
For websites selling similar services, it will also avoid competing over the keywords.
Combining two websites into one means that there is only one domain to optimise and maintain.
Your SEO and web developer will be pouring their efforts into a single website, saving you time and money.
Before you upload the content from your old site to the new site, you have a chance to update your page templates.
Your SEO can provide your web developer with a detailed technical SEO specification.
In turn, your web developer can update your page templates to ensure best SEO practices.
A website merge is the perfect time to review how the pages are structured and linked together.
Review the taxonomy categories to make sure that they fit the new website content.
You should also use this as an opportunity to improve the URL names.
That being said, you should keep the URLs of your highest performing pages from your old site...
...as similar as possible to their URL on the new site to avoid ranking drops.
Overall, improving the architecture of your site will lead to SEO gains.
Identify any duplicate content and use the merger as an opportunity to remove any issues.
This will prevent any search engine penalties affecting the new site.
Consolidating your brand onto one site will make it less confusing for your visitors.
They will be able to see all of the services that your brand offers in one place.
You will also be able to cross-sell...
...something that you wouldn't have been able to do across two separate websites.
Merging multiple websites carries a substantial amount of risk.
If not carried out properly, it can spell disaster for a business...
...and even if the correct procedures are followed, you are still at the mercy of the search engines.
In the short term, your new website is likely to suffer a ranking drop as Google recrawls you site.
In most cases, this traffic drop could last 3 months but there is no way of knowing how long it will take.
Google has confirmed that 301 redirects should pass on the link juice from the old site to the new one.
However, the disaster stories in SEO forums show that long term traffic drops happen.
It takes a lot of time and effort to merge two websites and it needs meticulous attention.
It is not a job that can be rushed, and you need a team that you can trust.
If you get the merging process wrong, your business may never recover.
This is the 33-step strategy that the SEO experts at Digital Marketing 4 Leads for merging websites.
You will need to create a team for your website consolidation.
For a small business, this team should include the following roles:
The website merger is usually managed by the SEO expert or a dedicated project manager.
Build a timeline with a list of every single job that has to be completed during the project.
Assign each job to a person in the website migration team.
Separate these jobs out into the three key stages: before, during and after the migration.
Add in checks that have to be met before the project can progress to the next stage.
If you thought that the worst thing that could happen is a rankings drop then you are wrong.
During a website merger, there is a chance that a developer could make a mistake and corrupt the database.
You need a fool-proof back up plan so that you are able to restore the original versions of your site if things go bad.
Don't skip this step.
Compare the two domains that you are looking to merge.
Ideally, you should keep the strongest website and redirect pages from the weaker one.
Look at which domain has the most organic traffic, the most back links and ranks for the most keywords on page one.
Compare your sales metrics across both domains and work out which site gets brings in the most money.
Keeping the stronger site is most likely to help you keep the most after the move.
The other factor to consider is the name of the domains.
For example, if you ran a plumbing business called Phil's Plumbers.
You might have the domains www.philsplumbers.co.uk and www.philsplumberslondon.co.uk.
If your goal was to become a national business, then the domain without London in the name would be the best.
Use a SEO spider like Screaming Frog to crawl both websites and generate a site map for each one.
Export the site maps into Excel and use this data to help with the migration.
The site maps will list every single page, photo, media item, css file, etc on each site.
Use Google Analytics to find out the pages on your old site that are generating the most organic traffic.
Find out which pages on the old site have the highest amount backlinks using SEO software.
Establish the core pages and product pages that you will be keeping and moving over to the new site.
List the landing pages that you use for your paid ads and your email marketing campaigns.
These are your priority pages, and you will be tracking them carefully during the merger.
Your business relies on the priority pages keeping their visibility.
Create a record of the amount of organic traffic, conversions, and sales for each site.
Export a list of the organic keywords that the sites are ranking for on both desktop and mobile devices.
For the key organic landing pages, export a list of the organic keywords, rankings and traffic.
Create a report with the page speed performance and loading times for your key pages.
Export performance, coverage and links reports from Google Search Console for both sites.
Check the manual actions section in Google Search Console for manual penalties.
You should remove all penalties from both sites before starting the website merge.
Manual penalties can be passed between domains through 301 redirects.
You don't want any penalties from the old site moving onto the new site.
Ask your SEO expert to send over a technical SEO specification to your web developer.
Your web developer can then add new SEO elements to the page templates as they make changes.
For example, it could be a great opportunity to add open graph fields or structured data to your website.
Is the page speed of your new site faster or slower than your old site?
If it is slower, the important organic landing pages from your old site might lose traffic.
Get your web developer and SEO expert to work together to improve your site speed as much as possible.
Are there any missing or weak pieces of content across the sites?
Create a content job list and ask your SEO expert to allocate this work to their copywriter.
It is a great chance to make sure that your new site is packed full of the content you need to get more sales.
Does the site navigation need to be improved?
You will be bringing across lots of new pages, so your site navigation will need to include the new content.
Take time to think about user experience (UX) and design the site navigation with mobile first in mind.
Internal linking is really important for both UX and SEO.
Even if you already have great internal linking on both sites...
...you need to remember that you are bringing lots more pages into the mix.
Pages from the old site need to be updated with internal links to key traffic pages on the new site, and vice versa.
You should also remove any internal links to pages that you have decided to remove from the new site.
Use internal links to improve the visibility of useful pages that are too deep within the site.
Analyse the anchor text of internal links to ensure an appropriate level of keywords.
In a Google hangout, John Mueller, a webmaster trends analyst at Google said:
“It's important that from a content point of view you have something that matches the old content.
So that people who are explicitly looking for their old stuff will have some place to go.”
His advice is essentially to match the old page to the new page as closely as possible.
This is crucial for the most important pages that you identified in step 6.
Keep the new URL naming as close to the original as possible.
Keep the content the same (text and media).
And, if possible...
Keep the design of the page the same.
In most scientific experiments, you change just one independent variable.
This allows you to measure the change to the dependent variable.
With a website merge, you are changing the location of the page.
You are measuring the traffic.
If you make other changes at the same time...
...you will never be able to understand how the migration has affected your traffic.
This could be a disaster if your traffic drops and you no longer generate sales online.
Find out how the staging area will work for the new website.
The whole website migration team will need access to the new site in the staging area.
Google's crawlers must NOT have any access to the new site until it goes live.
Discuss how the content will be migrated and whether or not it can all be done at the same time.
A web developer should be able to migrate and import the content using databases.
Trying to do this manually will take too long and cost too much money.
Make sure that all of the meta content is also included in the migration.
Ask how the web developer plans to keep as many internal links working as possible.
Talk through the find and replace rules that they will be creating in the database to do this.
Put in place a method for dealing with the content when multiple pages are merging into one page.
Find out how easy it will be to add new content to the site when it is in the staging area.
This will allow you to keep track of what URLs are disallowed within the robots.txt for both sites.
Go through every URL in your Excel sitemap export list.
Decide which URLs you are going to keep, merge and remove.
Keep all of the important pages.
If both sites have a URL with the same function, merge these pages to avoid duplicate content.
Merge any pages that are still useful, but do not currently generate traffic.
For example, you could combine 10 thin blog posts into a useful "top 10" post that is more likely to rank.
Remove pages that don't generate traffic or are no longer relevant.
Junk pages like these hurt your SEO as they take link juice away from your important pages.
Mark every single URL with keep, merge or remove (pages, images, media, scripts, css, etc).
This is the most important part of the website migration process.
You need to go through every single URL on the old site map and map it to a new URL on the new site.
This is an extremely time consuming, yet essential part of the process.
The list you make here will be crucial for the web developer to use for the migration.
Your SEO expert will also use this list to create your 301 redirect list later on in the process.
Your web developer will use the mapping information to build the new website in the staging area.
They will import the content from multiple sites and multiple files onto the new site.
This is a job for the whole website migration team.
The content of every webpage has to be reviewed.
Everything from the page copy, formatting, media, navigation, footers and headers...
...to the breadcrumbs, meta data, structured data and internal links all need to be checked.
Each different page template type should be checked for correct technical SEO implementation.
Run a speed test on each page template to check that the page loads faster than on the old site.
You should check that the important pages are a maximum of 2 clicks away from any page on the site...
...and make sure that none of the key organic traffic pages are deeper in the site structure than on the old site.
This is really important to maintain visibility for your key pages.
Crawl the new site in the staging environment and hunt for errors.
Manually review the site from different mobile devices to check that the UX is strong.
Run a mobile friendly test for each page template to check for errors.
Review the new sitemap XML file.
Use your mapping spreadsheet to make sure that all the new indexable URLs are included.
Make sure that any non-indexable URLs are excluded from the site map.
Create a custom 404 page for the old website.
On this page, explain that you have migrated the site and include links to the most important pages on the new site.
This way, if a visitor comes across a URL that you have removed from the old site then they will know where to go next.
Create a custom 404 page for the new website.
On this page, explain that you have recently merged two websites and apologise that a page is missing.
Include the menu/header/footer and links to the most popular pages on the website.
Track the most visited 404 pages on the new site with analytics so that you can identify any issues.
Your SEO will use the mapping information to start building the redirect rules.
If a lot of the URLs have stayed the same, it should be possible to map these redirects using rules.
Other URLs will have to be mapped manually.
Every single page and media image should be redirected from the old site to the new site.
The redirects should be written into the .htaccess file.
The robots.txt file for the old site should be cleared of all directives.
This allows Google crawlers to explore freely and find all of the new redirect rules.
The robots.txt file for the new site should be set up to provide the directives that you require.
This is the moment of truth. Good luck!
Remove all of the pages, media files, and everything else from your old site.
This will avoid any unwanted duplicate content penalties.
Upload the sitemap(s) for your new website to Google Search Console.
Test each sitemap for errors and fix as required.
Upload a new sitemap with the old sites indexable pages to Google Search Console.
This will help the crawlers discover the redirects that you have set up.
You should also upload the new sitemaps to Bing.
Use the change of address tool in Google Search Console to tell Google the change of domain address.
Google Search Console has a super useful URL inspection tool.
Start by using the URL inspection tool to request indexing for your most important pages.
This will help to make sure that they are indexed as quickly as possible.
Use the URL inspection tool to test a URL for every page template (homepage / blog / product).
You want to make sure that nothing is preventing Google from indexing the pages.
Upload a disavow file to Google if you are worried about any spammy links from the old site impacting the new site.
This is such an important part of the website consolidation process.
You need to make sure that it has worked!
Search site:oldwebsite.com in Google and it will list every page that it has indexed.
Start clicking on the links one by one and see where you get taken.
Double check the page on the new website against your mapping information.
Check for the correct combinations of http/https/www/capitalisation.
When you are fairly confident that everything is working as planned, it is time for a more thorough check.
Upload the old site map to Screaming Frog, set it to follow redirects and start the crawl.
It will identify any errors and your SEO consultant can make correct them as required.
You might remember that you did this in the staging area before the new site went live.
Nonetheless, do it again.
Double check your most important pages to make sure that the copy and SEO meta is all as expected.
Your business relies on these pages, so just make sure that they are perfect.
Have you ever changed your phone number?
You'll probably remember how many different people you had to tell about the change...
...from your banks and utility companies to your friends and family.
The same thing applies for a change of web domain.
Start with everything that you control.
Social media accounts, paid ads, marketing emails, business directories, brochures, cards, signage, etc.
The next step is to use SEO software to generate a list of backlinks to your old website.
Manually reach out to the webmaster of each of these sites and ask them to update the link to your new site.
Ask your SEO expert to monitor the coverage report in Google search console every day.
You want them to pick up on any crawl errors as soon as they happen so that they can fix them straight away.
If you don't fix the errors quickly, it can delay the rate at which your website traffic recovers.
As a warning, it takes time for Google to crawl your entire site and update the search results.
It could take 2 months or more before your SEO is able to gather enough useful data to generate a report.
In the report, you will want to see how the indexing process is progressing.
It can be useful to know many pages have been indexed and how many are not yet indexed.
The report should also compare your new site with all of the metrics that you benchmarked in step seven.
This will enable you to track progress against previous performance results...
...and all being well see an increase in organic traffic as time progresses.
Are you a small business looking to merge two websites onto one domain?
If you would like an SEO expert on your website migration team then please get in touch!
You can book a free online consultation or send an email to start chatting about your project.
Find out whether or not a SEO agency can help your business get more leads and customers online.