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I have a friend that I'm helping out with some web design. Basically, the guy owns a few businesses that are all complementary of each other and he wants to combine them all into a single site. There's service A and B, based on the west side of our state; and service A and B based on the east side. Each has their own website (eg, eastservicea.com, westservicea.com).

The previous web designer maintained completely separate and unique content, and unique designs, for all four sites. He is now wanting to merge all that together into a single site (statewideservica.com) with a new design.

Right now all four sites are at the top of the searches for his niche market. The last thing we want to do is hurt that SEO. So the debate how do we merge these sites without hurting the SEO.

  1. Keep the existing URL's and just make the content of all the same.
  2. Redirect all the sites to the new URL.
  3. Set a static page on all the existing URLs with content, but all links point to the new URL.

Any thoughts?

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4 Answers

Don't just redirect everything to the new homepage. Before you start, take an inventory of all existing URLs that you want to transfer. You should redirect each old URL to a new URL with a 301 redirect. For example:

  • eastservicea.com/widgets/red/ should redirect to statewideservica.com/widgets/red/
  • westservicea.com/gizmos/blue/ should redirect to statewideservica.com/gizmos/blue/

If you have overlap, like an about us page for each site, you can have them all point at the new, improved statewideservica.com/about-us. I'd really recommend doing this on the server level, rather than through code.

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Just adding that server-side redirects can (and generally should) be done in the main server configuration rather than .htaccess files. –  David Z Jul 25 '10 at 1:59
    
Thanks for the correction, David. –  Virtuosi Media Jul 25 '10 at 3:07
    
Do the URL's have to match, though? Or can eastservicea.com/widgets.php redirect to statewideservicea.com/widgets? –  Nathan Loding Jul 25 '10 at 14:39
    
@Nathan: No, you can redirect from any URL to any other. However, since the URL is a factor in ranking, you should try and keep them similar to keep the pages ranking for the same keywords. widgets.php to widgets will be fine, but widgets.php to abracadabra won't help! –  DisgruntledGoat Jul 25 '10 at 15:44
    
+1 Good points. –  RandomBen Jul 25 '10 at 19:54
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What @VirtuosiMedia said.

Take advantage of Google's Webmaster Tools site move instructions.

Be prepared for the site to suffer traffic drops in the short term as the search indices come up to speed with the changes. As well, any time there is a 301 the link "quality" is degraded slightly, so there may be a slight drop overall. Do your best to ensure that the content of the pages that you're 301-ing to are as similar as possible to the old pages, at least for a couple months. If possible, use the same IP address as the most popular site for the new site. You may want to consider migrating the sites to the new domain one at a time over a longer period. Are they currently strongly interlinked?

Be prepared to maintain those redirects FOREVER. Keep the old sites with their existing IP addresses if possible, and maintain their redirect configurations independently. If you restructure the main site in the future, you will want to go and revise these redirects so you don't get cascading redirects with even more pagerank degradation.

When you're done, keep a close eye out on the new site for 404's, and keep the old sites verified in Google and Bing Webmaster Tools so you can track any errors there as well.

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+1 Good additional points. –  Virtuosi Media Jul 25 '10 at 1:49
    
+1 Also Good points. –  RandomBen Jul 25 '10 at 19:55
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What VirtuosMedia and JasonBirch both said.

One more thing, whatever you do, I would not make 4 copies of the exact same site for each URL and host them seperately. This will end up hurting you because all 4 of your sites will compete for the same traffic then. So they will all do worse as they will compete. Google, Bing, and Yahoo may also noticed that they are exact duplicatess and reduce your pagerank thinking that it is spam.

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statewideservica.com is going to automatically suffer from lack of "aging" unless it was purchased the same time as the others and has been in operation...even still, if there wasn't content there it's likely far down the list. Just a small drawback to standardizing on a single one (from a marketing perspective). Obviously, over time this would work itself out.

I worked on a similar challenge, and our answer was a bit different than crazy redirects. We maintained separate (albeit co-branded) sites with different URL's (think your existing structure) that we fed content via the same CMS (custom built, in house) Instantly, we had the ability to publish similar content between sites, modify all content in one place, and reduced our overhead on staff logins and training. The trick is making sure that you have a CMS that's powerful enough to tag content to different areas and knowledge of how to serve content to distinct sites....an off the shelf product like Joomla could be made to work, but probably wouldn't be the best answer here.

In theory, duplicate content could result in a hit as mentioned above. However, our traffic (and SEO) actually went up. Perhaps it was because most content ended up being unique just by virtue of the people maintaining the copy. We did maintain the URL structure via Apache rewrites, so as far as the search engines knew, nothing besides the design had changed.

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