SEO Considerations for M&A (Especially Redirect Mapping)

When your company incorporates another via Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), you often gain a valuable SEO asset!

Unfortunately, it’s then just as often squandered…

Digital marketers, even non-SEOs, nearly always do redirect mapping for site migrations within a company. This gets overlooked though for M&A due to the complications involved.

Master companies may shut down other sites, perhaps worried about diluting brand strength. Redirect mapping though works perfectly to establish the parent brand since the pages from the old site are never seen. Redirected URLs eventually drop out of search indexes (but links to them may still exist on other sites).

Another reason this happens is because only the master domain continues to be tracked, so companies don’t notice the tremendous organic search loss while seeing no major positive change as well, maybe some traffic to a press release that announces the deal.

Most info out there, even from Google, assumes you are moving the same content to another domain or changing URLs. Not all SEO best practices here apply to merging websites, and traffic decreases can last longer.

Many SEOs prefer to keep things simple & safe in the short run, by maintaining both domains for as long as possible. This is sensible especially if the old domain performs well, with more opportunities to rank, sometimes twice for a search query, and you can still leverage cross-domain linking. You could rebrand the old site to some degree.

However, this isn’t feasible in the long run, as you won’t benefit from ranking signal consolidation, brand strength & economies of scale.

Therefore, the main goal for SEO is to preserve & consolidate web assets, topical authority & link equity from the sunsetted domain to the master site. The following metrics determine redirect mapping & content migration priorities:

  • Keyword rankings
  • Backlinks
  • Traffic & sessions, mostly from organic

M&A Site Merging Process for SEO

  1. Ensure no bad SEO practices on the old domain, like artificial linkbuilding or manual penalties in Google Search Console (GSC). In this rare case, the association could be harmful instead.
  2. Use server-side, 301 (permanent) redirects focused on the best pages according to the metrics above, extracted from an SEO platform or GSC, from the old domain to the most relevant page on the master site. In today’s SEO world, redirects are fine and unlikely to harm your link equity so won’t require manual outreach to create direct links for top backlinks. Consider including a link to a press release explaining the acquisition above-the-fold or via pop-up, at least temporarily. Ensure self-referencing canonicals on master site pages. NOTE: Watch out for redirect chains, such as multiple redirects within the old site that now link to the new page.
  3. If you can’t find a relevant enough page on the master domain (which is ultimately subjective), you’ll need to migrate exceptional content. This gets complicated with different brand voices, broken internal linking and a risk of keyword cannibalization when done verbatim, so will often need to be revised. However, this is the safest approach for highly-specific pieces like popular blogs for instance.
  4. Maintain the XML sitemap for the old domain; ensure GSC submission.
  5. If completely migrating the old domain, use Google’s Change of Address Tool to accelerate the process.

Finally, consider staggering the redirects & content migration to measure results if there’s truly no rush. Benchmarking SEO metrics properly, for both master & old domains, will allow this to be done.

Another way to think of this process is ensuring that offline perception is manifested online, for both visitors & search engines. Domain, hosting & other web-related maintenance costs are cheap versus the huge SEO upside. Otherwise, watch out that competitors may grab your expired domains!

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