5 min read. January 7, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Merging Two Big Ecommerce Sites

To help you plan your merger, and give you some useful tips, we have outlined the plan we use for merging two big ecommerce sites.

Sometimes, in the world of SEO, mass redirects are needed. Whether this happens as a result of a merger or as a result of a change in technology or CMS, navigating redirects can be precarious and not without its share of risks.

Despite the risks, it’s important to note that the purpose of this post is not to scare you, but rather to help you understand that getting this wrong can cost you buckets of traffic and money. When you embark on this exercise, you need a plan and you need to have your wits about you to ensure that all things go smoothly.

Here at Cartello, we have done a number of redirects...

  • We’ve helped with the merger of Takealot and Kalahari
  • We’ve also assisted with the move from Spree to Superbalist
  • Very recently, we’ve overseen the move from PnP corporate to ecommerce

We have a process and we find this process always helps us achieve a smooth merge.

To help you plan your merger, and give you some useful tips, we have outlined the plan we use for merging two big ecommerce sites. Give it a read and let us know if you have any questions.

Why are redirects required?

The reason redirects are required comes down to the fact that a business’ individual URLs are the lifeblood of their presence in search engines. Google follows links and then documents each URL in its index. Over time, these URLs are linked to and spoken about and, in the process, established in the search. If you simply chop them down, your traffic and reputation are quickly lost.

The objective of redirects is to:

  • Transfer SEO wins from one site to another through a sensible redirect strategy;
  • Transfer on-page SEO content to retain rankings and traffic for existing and new categories and brands;
  • Transfer all traffic to the new domain.

This exercise has seven key milestones, which are as follows:

  1. Measure Engagement
  2. Redirect Strategy
  3. Link Audit
  4. Reporting
  5. On-Page SEO Content
  6. Redirection Checks
  7. Post Migration Improvements

1. Measure Engagement

Understanding the behaviour of all the referral site traffic is key to measure adoption post-merger. That means measuring engagement of all traffic from the referring site.

Step 1: Detect all incoming HTTP* requests

Step 2: Determine referrer value

By looking at the referrer in the header we can split out by channels:

  • Organic > Google, Bing, Yahoo
  • Social > Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
  • Direct > No referrer value
  • Referral > Everything else

Step 3: Amend referrer to the 301 redirect using either #$referrer_value or UTM tagging

Step 4: For #$referrer_value, use Google Tag Manager to push a custom event to Google Analytics. Custom events also provide a live dashboard in Google Analytics to keep an eye on traffic flow on the day that you redirect. Events can be tracked against sales data, and measured against site averages, such as conversion rates, revenue, bounce rates, and time on site.

#hashtag vs UTM Parameters

We prefer using the #tag over UTM parameters because Google ignores the #tag value so no link equity is lost through the canonical tag.

2. Redirect Strategy

Step 1: Create a list of all known URLs of referrer site

  • Scraping the referrer site
  • Querying XML sitemaps
  • Database export

Step 2: Create mapping document - usually an XLS document

Step 3:
Specify bulk redirect rules and one-to-one mappings in the same document

Step 4: Get access to referring site’s Search Console to audit crawl errors, looking for 404s of any legacy pages that we should work into the redirect strategy

Step 5: Set up redirect rules for:

  • Products
  • Categories
  • Combinations
  • Brands
  • Customer service pages

Step 6: Use the homepage as catch-all if redirect rules fail

3. Link Audit

Step 1: Perform a link audit on the first website to clean up any links that could potentially harm the second website

Step 2: Create a list of top linking domains to make sure these are retained

4. Reporting

  • Report on all catch-all redirects to the homepage
  • Feed URLs into redirect rules where it makes sense

5. On-Page SEO Content

If the referrer store has categories and brands that don’t exist on the other store, then you need to import the SEO values in order to retain rankings and traffic, especially if the referrer site was ranking well. This is a quick win and on-page SEO can be improved later on the production site where needed.

  • Import categories and brand’s SEO values that the new website doesn’t have
  • Return page titles, H1, and SEO copy
  • Replace all old brand mentions with new brand mentions
  • Create an import file for developer to populate new brands and categories with SEO content

6. Redirection Checks

  • Old URLs redirect correctly to the new site
  • Redirects are implemented as 301 (permanent redirects) and not 302
  • Legacy redirects haven’t been lost
  • There aren't any long redirect chains
  • There aren't too many internal redirects
  • Redirect rules work as expected, including www vs non-www URL requests
  • http vs https URL requests
  • Lowercase vs upper case URL requests

7. Post Migration Improvements

  • Regularly check the Index Status report in Google Search Console to closely monitor indexation
  • Monitor the sitemap indexation levels
  • Keep an eye on the Crawl Stats report in case the number of pages Google crawls per day drops
  • Download and review the Crawl Errors report daily, particularly the ‘Not Found’ URLs, and redirect the more valuable links
  • Review the HTML Improvements report to find missing or duplicate title tags
  • Look out for mobile usability and structured data errors
  • Re-submit referrer site sitemaps in Google Search Console for Google to quickly discover the redirects
  • Log change of address for referrer site in Google Search Console

While the above checklist should help, it’s important that you find a process that works for you rather than trying to use a ‘cookie cutter’ strategy that may not be quite right for your unique needs. As we mentioned earlier, redirecting can be precarious and risky and it’s important that you are giving it the time and focus it requires.

If at any point you require assistance, feel free to email us on info@cartello.io.

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