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Merging multiple domains into a single domain (that already exists)

 9:43 pm on Mar 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm researching what the best practices are for merging multiple domains into one single domain (that already exists) and I wanted to know if any one had advice, tips, strategies, and case studies on that topic. I'm looking at merging 4 websites into one single one, so for example we have websites A,B,C, and D - I'd like to merge sites B, C, and D into website A (which already exists). The content on all sites is unique and we'd like to merge them because they all fall in the same industry but just different parts of that industry (we publish trade news). I've been doing research on this for the past couple of weeks and have a base idea, but there isn't that much information out there. Here's what i have gathered so far:

- Keep the host IP the same
- Extensive 301 redirect map - ALL unique, useful or authoritative pages (URLs) of the legacy site should redirect to pages with the same or very relevant content on the new site, using 301 redirects. Thus the 301 redirect would be on a page level rather than just a root level in order to pass as much link juice.
- Create a sitemap XML file at the same URL on both domains
- Submit the old sitemap file a few weeks before transition
- Submit the new XML sitemap file as soon as the domain goes live
- Ping Bing and Google with the old sitemap XML file URLs, being sure that the old sitemaps would respond with a 301 redirect to the new files
- New Site On Test Server (password-protecting the test environment)
- Submit change of address for the legacy sites that we are consolidating.

I did watch the video that Matt Cutts posted about this although it wasnít too informational but this is what I got from it:

1) Use 301 permanent redirects.
2) Start with the site that is the weakest and merge that into the strongest site (the final one).
3) Donít just redirect everything to the root Ė redirect them on a page level.
4) Donít just move everything at once Ė move it in stages as you see the transition.

If any one has any thoughts on this I'd greatly appreciate it. What I'm trying to find out is if we do this will it help the main site (A) gain more authority and rank higher for certain keywords than having four separate websites that aren't updated as frequently as website A due to publishing frequencies. So essentially, after all is said and done you'll have one larger site (site A) that has more content and technically more backlinks pointing towards it.




 11:51 am on Mar 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Welcome to WebmasterWorld dblock

Initial questions, are there any overlapping urls on any site? Meaning have all four sites a unique url structure?


 12:24 pm on Mar 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the welcome HuskyPup!

As far as i know there aren't any overlapping urls on any of the sites - all four sites have a unique url structure. You do bring up a good point so I'll definitely be doing a deep crawl of all four sites just to make sure in the initial phase, but before that my boss wants to know if it's a good idea. I've heard back from some web managers that have gone through the process before and have seen the larger site benefit but they didn't get into any specifics.


 6:27 pm on Mar 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

After pages are re-directed, it might be beneficial to do some prudent internal interlinking between pages that were originally on different domains. This might help complete the final unification


 4:41 pm on Mar 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks aristotle, that is good idea.


 1:30 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Hello dblock! Any progress on this? Did you manage to work? I going through the same situation, and it is not working for me. I did the redirect 301 for domain B into domain A, but I haven't noticed any increase of rankings in domain A. I have asked some experienced SEOs to analyse and they said that my problem is that I am redirecting all sub-urls from domain B into domain A. I should have redirected page by page. Have you done this? Did it work? Thanks! :)


 3:17 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

welcome to WebmasterWorld, cferto!

are you redirecting all domain B urls to the domain A home page?
if so, google specifically recommends against doing this.


 7:31 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

I haven't watched this video yet, so maybe I shouldn't be posting it, but...

Apparently, google is treating 301 redirects from an internal page to a home page as a 404.


starting around minute 22 of the video. (Try around minute 21:30)

(sorry, internet connection at work is too slow to watch...)


 2:22 am on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks Phranque, thanks Planet13!

I watched the video. John is not talking specifically about domain merge, but he says that redirecting 301 all urls into one page is the same as 404. Googles tries to identify this and it will not pass link juice.

This is exactly what I am currently doing. I will fix this and let you know what happens.


 3:33 am on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Moving your site - Webmaster Tools Help
http://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/83105 [support.google.com]:
Don't do a single redirect directing all traffic from your old site to your new home page. This will avoid 404 errors, but it's not a good user experience. It's more work, but a page-to-page redirect will help preserve your site's ranking in Google while providing a consistent and transparent experience for your users.


 5:45 am on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

What if i redirect multiple BANNED domains to one new domain? Is it going to get banned?


 5:45 pm on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Sorry for the late reply all. I'm currently at MozCon and the Wifi is horrible - also if anyone is here let me know :)

Cferto, we still haven't started this project just yet. In order to redirect on the page level we have to change our IA and figure out what we want our new URL structure to be. This is going to be a lot to undertake so you can imagine management is moving very slow on this project. I do agree that redirecting page by page is the best way to go about it (at least that is what all my research has shown).

@planet13 thanks for posting that video. It makes sense that Google would treat those redirects as 404's. I still haven't had a chance to watch the full video but definitely checked it out at the marker that you sent.

@sbook - not sure about that one. I'm assuming it would not be good for that new domain, anyone want to chime in on this?


 7:03 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

<moved from another location>

I'm getting ready to migrate a website from an old domain into a new one . From all the research I've done and past experiences I know that it is important to set up the 301 redirects on a page-to-page basis such that sub-folders and deep content pages are redirected to corresponding sub-folders and deep content pages on the new domain.

However, I'm getting a lot of push back from the IT team as well as my boss. They want to get this done fast and think it is too tedious to do on a page level basis, so they asked me how that would compare if we did the 301 redirects on a directory level. Can someone tell me what the difference would be? and why it's so important to do it on a page level? it seems as though if I don't get this point across to them, they will just take the easier way out.

I've never done it on a directory level and haven't read much out there on that topic so I was hoping someone here could help.

Thanks in advance!

[edited by: aakk9999 at 7:50 pm (utc) on Aug 29, 2013]


 8:11 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

From all the research I've done and past experiences I know that it is important to set up the 301 redirects on a page-to-page basis such that sub-folders and deep content pages are redirected to corresponding sub-folders and deep content pages on the new domain.

Your research is correct - the best is to do redirects on the page-to-page basis exactly as you have described.

The danger of having a number of URLs redirecting to the same page is that Google may be treating them as "Soft 404 errors" instead of treating them as a redirects. Here is one recent thread where this particular issue was discussed: [webmasterworld.com...]

I've never done it on a directory level and haven't read much out there on that topic so I was hoping someone here could help.

I am not sure what do you mean when you say "on a directory level". If you are referring to URLs ending with / (which are by definition "directories"), they normally display the content of the default index page (e.g. index.html or index.php etc. depending on your server setup) even though the default index page is not seen as a part of URL (this is the best practice).

In this case you should be redirecting directory URL to another directory URL.

If you haven't meant this, then could you explain better what do you mean by "directory to directory" redirect.

Soft 404 signal bad technical quality of the site to Google. If Google treats these redirects as Soft 404, I am not really sure what effect this has on link juice, but (speculating) it could mean that is not passed on. Definetely not worth a risk.


 8:48 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks for referencing the other discussion going on (I'm actually trying to clean up another process we have here that deals exactly with that problem).

As for my original question, let me clarify what I meant by a directory level redirect. We run a media site so if we did a page by page redirect it would look something likes this:

Old page: www.mysite.com/story/story-title-1/2013-08-29
New page that it will be redirected to: www.mynewsite.com/story/story-title-new/2013-08-29

We have other directors other than /story/ such as /topics/ and /speical-reports/ and /press-releases/ etc..

The IT Director wants to redirect it based on the category/directory. So for example, move all of the pages in /story/ folder from the old domain into a similar /story/ folder on the new domain(http://www.mynewsite.com/story/)

So my question was, how would that affect our SEO compared to moving it page by page?


 8:56 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

So my question was, how would that affect our SEO compared to moving it page by page?

See Below.

The danger of having a number of URLs redirecting to the same page is that Google may be treating them as "Soft 404 errors" instead of treating them as a redirects.

Absolutely this.

Also, it's not very visitor friendly to have someone think they are going to land on a page of information [say by clicking a bookmark] only to have to go try to find the information again.


 8:56 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

soft 404s are now being reported in GWT as crawl errors - in the same list as 404s and 410s.
i've seen urls subject to directory level redirects that were reported as "soft 404" crawl errors in GWT.

a recent soft 404 discussion on WebmasterWorld - Google seeing 301 Redirects as Soft 404 Errors:
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4597637.htm [webmasterworld.com]


 9:19 pm on Aug 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

Ah, I think I understand now what you mean and at the same time I am wondering whether you are perhaps mixing URL structure creation, physical directory on the server and 301 redirects.

They are all three independent of each other!

I believe you have some kind of CMS and therefore you are probably not referring to a physical directory on the server. So I will concentrate on meanings of URL structure and 301 page to page redirects as I think you and your IT may be speaking "different languages" right now.

This post is long because of example given, sorry about this, but this was the best way I could think to explain (if I myself understood you correctly).

On the new site, since your pages will change URL anyway (because of the change in domain name part), you can create URL structure with folders the way you wish. Then you have to map the URLs from the old site to a new site.

The best is to explain with an example:

article1: http://www.myOLDsite.com/story/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myOLDsite.com/story/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myOLDsite.com/story/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myOLDsite.com/story/title4/date2

a) THE NEW SITE COULD BE (everything the same apart from the domain name):
article1: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/title4/date2

b) OR IT COULD BE (similar structure as per old domain, only the folder "story" is now named "article"):
article1: http://www.myNEWsite.com/article/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myNEWsite.com/article/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myNEWsite.com/article/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myNEWsite.com/article/title4/date2

c) OR IT COULD BE (you split the "story" folder into two new folders and all articles go to one or another):
article1: http://www.myNEWsite.com/foreign-story/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myNEWsite.com/domestic-story/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myNEWsite.com/domestic-story/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myNEWsite.com/foreign-story/title4/date2

d) OR IT COULD BE (you insert a new subfolder after the story folder, and articles go to one or another subfolder):
article1: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/foreign/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/domestic/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/domestic/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/foreign/title4/date2

e) OR IT COULD BE (you design completely different structure, no particular rules, for whatever reason):
article1: http://www.myNEWsite.com/anything-here/another-folder/title1/date1
article2: http://www.myNEWsite.com/title2/date1
article3: http://www.myNEWsite.com/story/domestic/title3/date2
article4: http://www.myNEWsite.com/title4/date2

The above is deciding on URL construct structure. Ideally, the construct would:
a) make sense to visitors
b) allow you to write simple 301 redirect rules in your .htaccess (means just less work)

In the above cases, for a) and b) the redirect rules can be easily written as there is recognisable pattern.

Cases c) d) and e) would require more complex redirect rules in .htaccess or it is possible that cannot even be done via .htaccess but instead you would need database mapping with the reference of "old URL" and "new URL" and redirect done by server script instead, after checking old/new URL pair.

Page to page redirect would mean that regardless of the new URL structure you choose to implement your old URL of article1 would redirect to a new URL of article1. In this case you will not have Soft 404

So if your IT director wants to preserve URL structure AFTER the domain name between two sites - this is fine, you will still have 1 to 1 301 redirects if you redirect old URL of article1 to new URL of article1, old URL of article2 to old URL of article2 and so on.

In fact, unless there is something seriously wrong with the current URL structure, or would create a mess in URL structure when merging sites, then for me this would be a preferred way to go.

However, if, because of merging sites, if you "inherit" the old URL structure makes the new site's URL structure looking mess (because of how existing URL structure looks at the moment), then you could revisit and decide how your URL construct will look like. As I said, creating (mapping) redirects for these will be much longer job as you would firstly have to create a spreadsheet mapping old to new and then implement this programatically (whilst if you are inheriting URL structure from the old domain, the 301 page to page redirect is a few lines in .htaccess).


If I have misunderstood your question and the post above does not answer it, then help us by giving the following example:

- pick up three (exemplified) URLs from your OLD site
- tell us where you think the redirect should go to (examplified target URL(s) on a NEW site for each URL from OLD site)
- tell us what your IT Director says such URLs should go (examplified target URL(s) on a NEW site for each URL from OLD site)



 2:23 am on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

A thought:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^domain.com$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://domain.com$1 [R=301,L]


 2:56 pm on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

@aakk9999 thanks for that detailed response, it is much appreciated! you pretty much nailed it. You are correct in that we do have a CMS and thus I am referring to the URL structure. I agree with you that options A and C will be the better options. Luckily for us, the two sites we are merging have a very similar URL structure so there is recognisable pattern, which makes the page to page redirect bearable.

I probably should not have used the word "directory" and rather should have referred to it as the folder (or sub folder) in the URL. Nevertheless, what you mentioned above is what I have proposed. Unfortunately right now the IT Director is out of the office until later today, but I definitely plan on sharing your posts with him. I believe what he was trying to say was this:

these are links from the old site:


and so on. If we took all of the stories in the /story/ folder (in this example title1, title2, and title3) and redirected based on the folder/category level, so the entire /story/ folder on the old domian would be redirected to the new one:

Old: www.olddomain.com/story/
New: www.newdomain.com/story/

Thus moving the entire folder over to the new domain so you don't have to do it by story, but rather by folder. How would that affect all of the stories in the /story/ folder?

Nevertheless, I'm very thankful for your response above as you have given me the actual reason to represent my case.


 3:06 pm on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

To further clarify, I believe his opinion was that it would take a long time to create a 301 redirect from one URL to another URL (page level - which is what I proposed and what I believe you are proposing as well) and it would be easier to 301 a directory URL and all of its contents to another.

So instead of doing this:
Redirect 301 /title1.html www.newdomain.com/title1.html

he wants to do this:
RedirectMatch 301 ^/story/ www.newdomain.com/story/

I should also mention that the domain we are merging into already has a /story/ folder.


 3:20 pm on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think the main issue was "redirecting folder" terminology which caused confusion and missunderstanding betwen your IT Director and yourself.

From your latest post it seems that the only thing that changes in the new URLs is the domain name and that the folder structure and the rest of the URL remains the same.

In this case, the Elsmarc post (further above) pretty much gave you the template for the .htaccess redirect rule, you just need to adjust it a bit to cover www in domain name (if your domain names use www format).

In this way you will achieve 301 page-to-page redirect, but without the need to analyse and specify each page URL redirect separately, which I believe is the end result both, your IT Director and you want :)

Just saw your post from few minutes ago. I think the suggestion is not to use Redirect 301 nor RedirectMatch if you use RewriteRule elsewhere in .htaccess. You can use what Elsmarc posted above, adjusting for www part (if used in domain name) or replacing the RewriteCond to match a HTTP Request that contains a specific folder in URL from the old domain (if you want only to redirect URLs that have a specific folders in URL rather than all URLs from the old site).


 3:41 pm on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

Perfect. You are correct, we have a lot of pages so if we can achieve a 301 page-to-page redirect without the need to analyse and specify each page URL separately that would be the option all of us would go for.

Again, I greatly appreciate the help and support. I'll make sure to do this one folder at a time to make sure nothing goes wrong (per Google's suggestion on their blog).

@Elsmarc thanks for that template for the .htaccess redirect rule. Our domain does use www format so I'll make sure to adjust for that.

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