Podcast #27

SEO Best Practices for Merging Websites

How can a private equity firm get the most from a multi-location healthcare acquisition? Find and take advantage of efficiencies, restructure the website to support multiple locations, and do so while following SEO best practices. Here's why and when you should merge websites, how to develop a migration plan, and the best practices a high-growth healthcare organization can implement during their migration process.

Episode Highlights:

John McAlpin

John McAlpin: “Before you migrate a site, you should take an extensive crawl of the original site. One of the biggest issues is people only look at what’s in the main navigation. There’s always hidden content on the web app, like patient forms, images, and old blogs that you should look for.”

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Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast. The only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex MembrilloWe’ve got John McAlpin the fifth here at Cardinal, our SEO director, and the best technical SEO in the country. John, welcome to Ignite. I’m Alex, still CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing, just so you know, who’s this loud voice yelling at you and while you’re driving your car, so y’all are going to love this. This is a perfect episode for some of my big groups, my PE back groups, my high-growth healthcare groups, you guys are going to love this episode. This one will not so much apply to small provider groups unless you guys are doing acquisitions. Just want to set the table.

What we’re going to talk about today. This is pretty much all John does at Cardinal at this point, because we’ve worked with a lot of high-growth healthcare groups. What we’re going to talk about today is how to successfully merge websites when to do it, how to do it and when not to do it. John, welcome to Ignite. Let’s get it anyway.

The rate of acquisitions in healthcare is increasing, money’s cheap, private equity groups are going and acquiring a lot for very low-interest rates and they’re also seeing a lot of consolidation benefits in the market. John, when you look at a website, a provider group, that’s making a lot of acquisition, what’s the first that you look at and determine whether they should be combined or kept separate as separate provider group entities, different URLs of different brands?

John McAlpinThat’s a great question. It really depends on the regional footprint. Some things that we look at is, are there any regulations talking about certain features or insurances that require different brands to be separated by state, where if you were to emerge it, it would make that website overly complicated. Are there any services that differ by region that can’t share global content or do some of these regional brands have such a strong brand awareness and footprint in the area that merging them could hurt that local performance? These are things that would tell me–

Maybe it makes sense to keep them separate while you build up the brand awareness of the parent. At the end of the day, merging websites is going to be beneficial for all, especially when you’re acquiring small local groups, but sometimes it makes sense to keep them separate for a while. You’re building up the authority of this master brand but when you want to combine, there are some signs that it’s time to combine. That’s when your internal management operations [unintelligible 00:02:49] is hard to facilitate multiple sites. You just don’t have the bandwidth or maybe you can’t afford an agency to facilitate that many updates and things like that.

If you’re looking to trim costs, it’s always cheaper to merge into one site, you’re saving on hosting cost, the management cost of updating websites, and even other types of web-related costs. If you’re looking to improve your domain authority, new merge websites, we all know that acquire a small group, maybe you just have a big backlink profile merging it with a bunch of other sites, they share the wealth of the other websites, and other brands. There’s a lot of signs that it makes sense to combine but sometimes you do need to stagger it.

Alex: You need to stagger it. You’ve got to create a huge site map of everything and benchmarks, et cetera. This doesn’t sound simple, what you’re talking about.

John: There’s a lot of times when you’re dealing, especially in healthcare, especially when you have provider egos at play, you need to have a lot of special treatment for different former brands. They want to keep some of their former glory and finding ways to make an efficient website. If you listened to our last podcast, talking about efficiency and consistency, working with regional brands can be tricky, trying to appeal to local providers while maintaining a national footprint.

Alex: Not easy the egos at play and when they go and get absorbed, the provider groups or the owners that get pissed when you try to migrate their website out from under them and so that’s a subjective thing that does come into play. A lot of times, what’s the best thing to do is to allow the website to sit there for a while. You put both brands next to each other, like this acquired by this or merging with this or this or this. Then over time, you build the master site that will take all the regional groups in, is that what you do to egos?

John: Absolutely, you need to have a strong communication plan to educate patients, especially existing long-term patients. I’m talking beyond digital, I’m talking even like email marketing, maybe even print collateral, really focused on education. Update your local listings to say formerly old brand. Things like that and definitely you have some kind of treatment on the location pages they’re formerly this.

Alex: Let’s talk about benchmark, so does CRO play into here at all? What would you do to set up the benchmarks for how things are ranking and all that stuff?

John: We’re talking about, setting benchmarks for CRO, the whole point of CRO is to improve the conversion path for users, one of the state’s patients. One of the benchmarks that we think about is, find out along the conversion path, where are the most people dropping off. Sometimes you enter on the site, step one, step two, is that consideration phase, step three, take an action. Maybe step two has a lot of drop-offs. We want to find out why they’re dropping off.

Sometimes our CRO team will set up heatmap tracking with tools like Mouseflow and Hotjar and try to find out what part of the page are we losing people and then run A/B tests to find out how can we improve that drop-off point and decrease bounce rates. Sometimes it comes down to, hey, maybe there’s nothing we can do on this page. Maybe we need to find a way to shorten the conversion path altogether.

Alex: Understanding where everything ranks, who ranks for what is also important, because people say, “My rankings disappear when you did the migration.” It’s like, “No, you’re actually, your rankings were total shit beforehand.” They’ll try so you take like comprehensive rank analysis of everybody, store it away so that when the migration happens, you make sure that if they did have good rankings, that has happened on the main site as well on the 301s.

Let’s talk a little bit about the migration plan a little bit, so what are the essential elements? Everyone’s heard of redirect. Tell us, what do you look at? What are the foundational things before you start migrating anything?

John: Before you migrate a site, the number one issue that I always see is to take an extensive crawl of the original site. One of the biggest issues is people only look at what’s in the main navigation. There’s always hidden content on the web app, I’m talking about patient forms, images, maybe even old blogs, things that the providers and patients were always using, but may not have told the new brand about or told the agency about. Always do a crawl and say, “Here are all the pages I found and Google will find on your website. Here’s where we’re going to move them to and have an actual A to B redirect map set up,” present that to the local brands.

Say, “If there are any pages that you still need, this is where everything’s going. If you still see this old content on the new site speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Alex: When you do finally get everything redirected, when do you know the results, the fruits of your labor? Do you get the new rankings in a week? How long does it usually take? How patient should you tell people to be? Or is it like that?

John: When you’re doing a site migration, it depends on how big the old site was. Small size usually, you’ll see a performance boost, lot quicker, bigger sites, it could take longer. Google will say it could take up to a year for a site to fully migrate and to find out what you need to do is after you set up 301 redirects and remember 301 redirects on-site migrations are a mandatory thing. Set up in search console a migration. You can go to the search console and–

I also talk a lot about Google Search Console. You can’t sleep on it. You can set up a site migration there and tell Google, I’m moving this site to this domain. It will scan your 301 redirects and make sure they’re in place. Then once they validate that that’s in place, it’ll actually initiate. You’re telling Google about your site migration and your rankings can happen a lot faster and it will have a tracker in your– Google search console says, “Hey, this site migration is still in progress,” and that can take up to a year. That’s the way when that disappears, you’ll know that it’s done.

Sometimes it takes three months. Sometimes it can take a year. Again, depends on how big the old site was.

Alex: I didn’t know, you could set it up in Search Console and you’re actually telling what you’re doing. I didn’t know you could do all that. Search console’s awesome, man. Everybody’s sleeping on it as you said, they’re sleeping on it.

John: They’re improving it every month, they’re adding new features all the time.

Alex: John, we talked a lot about what happens on-site. You briefly mentioned, update your directories. Very important, I don’t want people sleeping on that, go ahead and update the directories. Use something like Yext so you can do it at scale at volume when new provider groups come in, you plug them in there, but don’t forget, you got to go into the Google profiles yourself. You can add services and directories. You need to update the names formerly by or in partnership with and start translating names but using things like Yext for your directory, updates, and podium, or BirdEye for your review solicitation is much better than doing it manually.

John, you know something we didn’t talk about, this may not apply, but EHR CRMs, the way they track patients all the way through. Do you ever encounter when the provider groups, most of them that are being acquired are not using a CRM? I imagine, so there’s no data. It’s the hub acquirer that’s sophisticated. All right, so nothing to mention there. John, this was awesome.

We talked about everything about what to do with the website when they should be redirected or not. Any other final thoughts, hiccups, boo-boos, issues that you’ve seen, that you want to warn everybody about these migration things with.

John: Two things, don’t rush the process. I know you’ve set hard dates, but make sure you give yourself at least a week in your SEO, at least a week to fully audit your new site and your migration plan. It’s plenty of pushing to get through a lot of the steps, but the most important step, always keep a backup of the old site. You never know when you’re going to need to go pull some old data, old information, old images, text, whatever it may be. Always keep a backup handy of the old site.

Alex: I think also important when you’re going and acquiring new groups like make it a part of the contract is what will happen with the marketing so they know the steps. First, we will do these things. It will be a combined effort for a while. Then eventually we’ll migrate. Don’t throw marketing under the bus where we have to figure everything out and then anger your new provider groups that you’ve just absorbed. Start talking to them about– Marketing should be a foundational element of these acquisitions, so talk to the groups you’re acquiring, please.

John, thank you so much. I don’t know if it’s your favorite thing anymore, because you’re doing so much of it. It’s like the librarian that loves reading. I don’t know, at some point maybe you don’t like reading but thank you for sharing your knowledge. Hopefully, websites come to us in better shape. When these acquisitions happen, they’re listening to you and we’re making less boo-boos.

John: Yes, well, anytime you work with an SEO of any caliber, you’re going to have a better experience with your website.

Alex: Yes, buddy, especially one as good as you. John, it’s been an honor. I learned so much from you every time and thank you for joining us on Ignite. We can’t wait to have you back, but for now, a lot of clients need you in a lot of ways. Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

[00:12:20] [END OF AUDIO]


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