Acquiring companies is a great way to grow, as we’ve just seen. But, like every growth endeavor, it’s how you execute that matters. From driving efficient traffic to grabbing brand share, it’s critical to consider the impact of your SEO strategy and execution post-merger. To ensure that your new company’s website traffic, existing customer base, and best-converting content are seamlessly moved from their old domain to your existing website, you will want to avoid these top 7 SEO mistakes that companies commonly make post-acquisition:
- Redirecting the old site wholesale to the homepage of the acquiring site (not all redirects are created equal!)
- Not redirecting the old site at all and letting it 404
- Not redirecting the old site at all and letting it stay live on the internet, languishing and confusing users
- Doing the redirects initially, but removing them too soon
- Redirecting to a subdomain
- Missing the ideal timelines for each of the above
Why is it such a big deal? Since you’re buying that company to build upon its existing success, you need to ensure Google has all the right information to make sure its SEO success continues. The mistakes outlined above can result in loss of traffic, conversions, category placement, domain authority, and even the acquired company’s existing customers!
While I’m outlining the basics of an SEO acquisition analysis in this article, you really do need an SEO expert to do this work. Understanding user intent and redirect mapping is a skill grown over time (and our spreadsheets aren’t for the faint of heart!).
Your Strategy Depends on the Acquisition
The most common answer to any SEO question these days is “It depends.” In this case, the kinds of recommendations that we provide to our clients depend most upon which kind of acquisition it is.
There are two basic types of business acquisitions:
- Acquiring direct competitors in the same category as your company
- Acquiring adjacent companies who grow the product offering in new ways and enter you into a new category
The strategies for these two types of acquisitions vary a great deal.
For acquisitions of direct competitors, you won’t have to worry too much about category creation or contextualizing your firm in a new place. What you do want to ensure is that you’re capturing the best pieces of content from the acquired site and transferring the SEO gains to your site. Generally speaking, the timelines for the redirect plans on acquisitions are tight, and there’s only time to grab the top-performing content before the acquired website is taken down. Wouldn’t it be nice to know which content items you needed most?
For acquisitions of adjacent companies that grow a product offering, in addition to top-performing content, you also need to consider that you’re creating a new category of content on your website and establishing relevance for an entirely new area of content on Google. This usually includes the addition of subject matter experts from the acquired company and capitalizing on expertise, authority, and trustworthiness that was established there. Ensuring that your Schema markup, knowledge panel, and Wikipedia pages match the new category is also an important step here.
Every Redirect is Not Created Equal
301 redirects are one of the most important tools in the SEO toolbox. The best way to think about these redirects is that they represent a permanent change of address. If you’ve ever moved, you know that changing your address takes time, thoughtfulness, and precision. You don’t want to do it too many times, too quickly, or you might lose mail.
Just like a change of address covers many different kinds of mail, a 301 redirect covers different purposes. It preserves SEO traffic, it ensures user experience when a user clicks on an old link, and it passes domain authority and value via that link on someone else’s website. Ideally, we want to preserve all of these things.
Important notes about 301 redirects:
- Search engines usually need to see them consistently for 4-6 weeks to pass 100% of traffic from the old URL to the new one.
- The new URL must answer the same question that the old one did – or it will get dropped out of the search results.
- Many of these redirects will be preserving backlinks, so think about someone clicking on a specific link on a referring domain, and where that experience lands them on the new site
- They may need to be around for years if the backlinks pointing to the old URL persist long-term.
Having the right redirect target is the key to retaining SEO traffic.
A typical ROI·DNA SEO acquisition analysis will provide a list of about 10-15 landing pages that need to be built on the main website to do the redirects gracefully. Often, they are rebranded blog posts or resources that answer the user questions that are getting backlinks and search traffic. We will also prioritize a backlist of blog topics that the acquiring company might want to build out in the long term.
Redirecting an entire website to the acquiring company’s homepage is a mistake because it doesn’t meet the same user intent. It will result in referring clicks bouncing, rather than converting. And it will result in the acquired company’s existing SEO traffic and rankings being lost.
SEO Best Practices for Sunsetting an Acquired Company’s Website
The timeline can stretch out as long as your company needs it to, or move as quickly as it must. The key is to complete all of the following steps in the right order.
8 steps to preserve SEO traffic and authority of an acquired company:
- Publish press releases on both sites
- Update Organization schema markup on the homepage of the acquired company to include that they are a “subsidiary” of the acquiring company
- Conduct a content analysis of both sites, including where they compete in search results
- Create new content on the main domain that replaces the best content on the acquired website, get it crawled and indexed
- Conduct a backlink analysis of the acquired site
- Strategically redirect 1:1 URLs on the old site to the main one (and maintain those redirects for at least 1 year)
- Consider reaching out to backlinking websites to update links to the new URL and company name
- Monitor the movement of category placement, index coverage, search engine rankings, domain authority, and traffic
Yes, it does seem like the “right way” will take for.ev.er to complete. However, because we are under NDA with our clients, we generally conduct most of this work during the due diligence period of the acquisition. That means they can have the content in step 4 created and ready to publish practically the same day the news goes live.
We can have the redirects ready to go within a few days after that! Keep in mind, though, that it usually takes Google a few weeks of consistency for the same signals (like a subsidiary markup or new content), so we do recommend waiting about a month before doing the redirects themselves if it’s at all possible.
Do you need an acquisition analysis? Or maybe just an SEO analysis for starters? Contact us.