Mergers and acquisitions involve legal processes and critical business decisions that impact the future of the companies and employees involved. As the deal nears a close, executives may be tempted to rush the seemingly less important decisions that come next: what to do with messaging, public/analyst/investor relations, branding, websites, social media, and so on.
The most successful mergers and acquisitions are those that get a second wind after the initial dealings and put serious effort into strategic branding, a process that is so much more than choosing a name and designing a logo.
Here’s a roadmap to marketing during a merger or acquisition to keep on hand.
When it comes to selecting between two or more existing brands or creating a new, unified identity, things can get heated as executives have loyalty to previous brands and websites.
Merging two or more website domains has many potential pitfalls with big implications: a misstep can cost your business considerable website traffic and online visibility. Luckily, there are several objective digital marketing metrics to analyze, along with more subjective considerations to help you make the right choice.
Here are 8 digital marketing factors to consider:
1. SEO rankings
Organic search rankings drive traffic from search pages to a website. If a company is not tracking SEO rankings or doesn’t have an optimized website, they likely aren’t driving any search traffic to their website outside of branded searches.
However, rankings alone don’t tell the full story. Ample page-one organic rankings can be little more than a vanity metric if they don’t drive traffic and conversions.
Bottom line: Look at organic rankings, but more specifically, evaluate organic traffic to see what’s driving revenue.
2. Domain authority
Domain authority is a combination of more than 40 metrics used to assign a score (out of a possible 100) to predict a website’s organic ranking potential. These include domain age, number of indexed web pages, number of linking root domains, internal links, external links, and many more metrics.
Domain authority is a good way to compare websites at a high level, but we encourage you to dig into the individual metrics that make up domain authority to make a more educated decision. These signals take a long time to build and should be strongly considered when choosing a domain name for the new company.
3. Website intangibles
Diving deeper into your digital analytics and website characteristics can reveal insights into who your visitors are and how they interact with your brand online.
What type of content do your users interact with and how do they get to your website? Do they read your blog posts via shared links on LinkedIn or other social media channels?
4. Website traffic statistics
Comparing website traffic of two or more sites will tell a story of the brand exposure. Every unique website user is a set of eyeballs on a brand, and every returning user is someone who has reinforced their association with your brand with a subsequent visit.
Evaluate your users, new users, returning users, sessions, pageviews, pages per session, average session duration, traffic per individual campaign, and goal conversions.
Think of the impact of a domain change on these real website visitors. Which website’s users will have an easier time adjusting to a new site and user experience? Which audience will be more open to a change? Who will resist?
5. 301 redirects
You’ll have to create a comprehensive 301 redirect plan when sunsetting any website. This involves creating a detailed redirect map that lists every existing URL impacted by the merger, and pairing it with a URL on the new or chosen website.
Do not do a blanket redirect of all pages on one website to another’s homepage. This will not transfer as much SEO value as possible from the old pages to the new and will be a nightmare for the user experience. Instead, redirect each page to its most closely related page on the new website. That way, people will have a more seamless experience.
Also, consider how people will be accessing your new website for the first time. Put yourself in their shoes to think about some of the confusion they might encounter. You may want to provide an explanatory welcome message that can be taken down once people have received communications about your brand transition and are familiar with your new website.
6. Other domain redirect issues
Redirecting an entire domain can be a tricky business. In theory, the 301 redirect process should work to direct all of your traffic to the new location and preserve all of your SEO value. But things don’t always go according to plan, especially with Google calling all the shots in determining organic rankings.
The redirect process involves more than just a change of URLs. You are redirecting to a website with a different history, different layout, different metadata, and so on — factors that can impact organic rankings. The risks are real and should be considered before moving all website assets to a single domain.
Also, think about the time and costs of switching domains, including any website integrations that will also need to be altered.
7. Brand assets
Even if you’re ditching a website or a brand name, hold onto ownership of any domain names and trademarks for at least ten years.
Always consult an attorney when it comes to trademark questions.
8. Social media profiles
Social media profiles should also be merged, when possible, to depict a cohesive brand. When selecting the primary profiles, look at more than the sheer number of followers. Look instead at which brand has the most engaged audience.
Keep your social audiences updated along the way. While it’s best practice to leave all existing profiles live for at least one-month post-merger, you should prepare your followers for the transition right away. Alert them that changes are coming and give a timeline for completion. If any profiles will be retired, provide an advanced warning, and tell them which profiles they can follow for continued updates from the company.
Once you’ve decided on the profiles you’ll use going forward, ensure the imagery, descriptions, and calls to action all match the new branding.
Trust M&A digital marketing success
See how we created new brand messaging and websites for Cellero and RevSpring. Two months after their site launch, Cellero was acquired by Charles River Lab and RevSpring met all revenue targets only one year after launch.
Note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated to reflect current trends.