Consolidating brands into one without losing SEO

You’re a large company that has grown through acquisition, buying multiple businesses that do similar things but which have different brands well known in each country that they operate. Your most powerful brand however has the potential to be a global brand. You want to rebrand all of those subsidiaries and consolidate your web properties into one global website servicing each market, each language but each of those other brands you acquired has years of accrued value in incoming links, saved bookmarks and their own independent PageRank scores.

So the problem is, you have lots of earned value in the existing search engine rankings that you don’t want to lose. But you still want to update your brand, because brands are global these days.

How then do you merge all of these properties into one without compromising those existing rankings, ensuring that your new global brand site has the full benefit of that existing ranking and more?

First of all, here’s the things you have to be careful NOT to do:

  • Don’t turn off those old domains and old servers as soon as your new website goes live!
  • Don’t redirect all URLs on the old domains to the home page of your new site
  • Don’t delete your old domains’ google webmaster tools accounts
  • Don’t yield those old domain names any time soon, and don’t let them rot or point at long turned off servers either – ideally migrate them all to the same DNS service so you can manage them all easily in one place and make sure they are somewhere that lets you exercise fine grained control over all DNS parameters, such as Amazon’s Route 53 service.

Then what should you do? At a minimum do this:

  • Plan a content strategy to migrate and update your best performing content from the legacy brand sites to the new site
  • Look at your existing analytics (or install some before you start planning your transition project!) and figure out for each site you’re going to deprecate, what is the 20% of content riving 80% of the traffic
  • Make sure that your new site includes that same content, or a more recently updated version of it, on a page of its own on the new site
  • Make sure all the same languages are supported as with the old content
  • Try to have a 1-1 relationship between all pages in the top 20% of your legacy content with pages on your new site, even if many of those pages are redundant to your new user journeys – in that case just include an infobox somewhere on the page pointing out to visitors where the new journey starts
  • Setup Google Webmaster Tools on each of the legacy sites, if you haven’t already, as well as on the new site, and actively manage the sitemap
  • Setup 301 (permanent) redirects on all your old domains for every individual page in that top 20%, mapping it to the new page. Don’t simply swap out the domain (the part including the .com or similar), unless the full content path of the URL is exactly the same on both the new site and old site, so yours user aren’t taken to somewhere different from where they expected to go
  • Tell Google to reindex your site once the new site is live and the full set of redirects are in place using Webmaster tools. Google now provide a special ‘Change Address’ tool from the drop down ‘cog icon’ menu to access this, where having setup both your old domain and your new one, you tell Google to swap over all indexes for the old site(s) to the new one. Check your webmaster tools on other search engines such as Bing or Yandex for similar options
  • Leave all those redirects in place for at least two months to ensure all the search engines have updated their indexes permanently, and keep an eye on your analytics to see if you’re still getting a lot of traffic via the old sites
  • If your old site had separate mobile domains (e.g. m.blahblah.com) but your new site is responsive, make sure the old mobile site had it’s canonical URLs set properly before you migrate
  • If your new site makes heavy use of AJAX Javascript to dynamically, or is a so-called JavaScript Single Page Application, make sure to follow the latest guidance from Google on indexing of dynamic content, which currently is here.

If you are planning a period of A-B testing of new site against old, and don’t wish for Google to start indexing the new site in preference to the old one, you can exclude , but since Google crawlers also sometimes don’t identify themselves as such in order to check if you’re serving them different content from ordinary visitors (a practice known as Cloaking), don’t leave the variant site running for more than 48 hours or so. In particular, if old URLs are being redirected as part of the test, make them 302 response codes instead of 301, until you’re ready for them to become permanent. See here for Google’s advice.