When I listed an open call for SEO stories on Twitter, one in particular caught my attention — acquisition SEO.
My first thought? To be honest, I wasn’t sure what it meant! But I was intrigued, so I reached out to the SEO who suggested the topic, Jake Gronsky, to learn more.
Jake Gronsky is a Web & SEO Consultant for B2B and SaaS companies with experience in technology, manufacturing, education, and M&A organic growth. He’s also a former professional baseball player turned writer whose work has been featured in Best American Sports Writing and ESPN.
The following description and examples come directly from Jake (thanks, Jake!). Read on to learn the ins and outs of acquisition SEO.
What is growth by acquisition?
Growth by acquisition is a potent strategy in the software industry and, if executed correctly, can show significant returns for Search discoverability.
There are two main categories of acquisition concerning the Web or SEO team:
- Domain acquisitions for intentional web growth. This is the process of bidding at auction or purchasing domains to increase search visibility. Not a widely-used method for all industries, and I’d advise treading lightly in this field.
- Company-wide acquisitions as business development. This is your typical acquisition setting (Facebook, buying Instagram) for VCs, down to regional businesses, buying other franchising locations.
Unless your company is in the SEO industry though, it’s unlikely that Search is involved in the decision-making process for the latter, and the expected bump can turn into a new competitor in search.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin on this one. The one is an SEO’s dream. The other is a nightmare.
Example of a problem
I worked as the in-house SEO with a high-growth tech company, and I kept discovering incorrect pages or low-value pages ranking over our software pages. This spilled over from organic search into our branded search.
After a bit of digging, we discovered the problem stemmed from a migration of a previously acquired company site.
There had been an extensive rebranding initiative a few years before SEO was even in the conversation. The compounding effects of sub-optimal redirects ultimately led to missing customer intent (again, there was no one to blame or any fingers to point. SEO didn’t exist in the company yet).
Although the rebrand happened years ago, the technical issues from the redirect sparked user confusion, which spiraled into our SERP confusion.
How we fixed it
I was fortunate enough to help launch and implement an SEO program, so it’s really rewarding to see each fix’s compounding effects.
The strategy relied on connecting the expected page functionality with the “new” functionality, not just backlink profiles or keywords (Note: the acquisition happened years ago, but Google did not recognize it, so it’s new to Search).
The steps we took included:
- Implemented redirects across the company
- Anticipated multiple intents and optimized for users to self-filter
- Built context around the old keywords to new products
- Repointed pivotal backlinks towards the new page to increase product association
Once fixed, we were able to grow our revenue-generating pages, exponentially.
Here’s a snippet of some of the results:
How to consider Search in the acquisition process
The first thing to understand is that acquisitions are layered, complex, and usually, an entire team is dedicated to the discovery, vetting, and completion of an acquisition.
Getting SEO a seat at the table
I always fight for having an SEO on the team. Search (and web growth, respectively) may not be the purpose of acquiring a company, but it can make or break your transitional strategy and, ultimately, your revenue projections.
High-growth companies might acquire 6, 7, 8+ companies a year, and if your web-presence isn’t growing at the same rate (or at least sustaining the growth), you could be leaving a lot of equity on the table.
Acquisitions are complex.
The best thing for a company dealing with all the loose ends of an acquisition is to keep it simple. Pair your SEO with the Go-to-market or Product team, understand how the acquired product is being positioned, and develop a strategy that eliminates friction.
For smaller companies or start-ups, get your SEO or Consultant involved the moment you sign the papers.
Our Web team talks a lot about “harvesting equity.” This ranges from harvesting backlinks and value-driven keywords to customer sentiment and brand loyalty. If we can give the customer the experience they expect from the previous brand while solving their pain-points, we can increase our company’s brand. If we can give Google a clear and consistent path to understanding the acquisition, we can increase search visibility. Both of these are vital for short-term and long-term search growth.
Executing an acquisition at the page-level
An acquisition should be executed at the page-level (or for large sites, by category or grouping). It’s too common for companies to break the tape of the M&A process just to throw a blanket redirect from domain to domain.
Ideally, you want to build a new page with the same functionality as the old page. But as you go deeper into the weeds, it’s not always that simple.
Let’s say you own the leading ice cream company in the world, and you just acquired a start-up ice cream vendor (stick with me, I’m going somewhere). But their three most popular flavors will be rebranded and absorbed into other flavors. This means when people search for these old flavors, there will be multiple intents and inevitably, more friction.
Your job as an SEO is no longer to create a shopping experience for flavors. It might be to educate, to provide resources for what happened to the taste they love, navigate them to a menu to start over, and ultimately connect context between the old flavor (keyword) and the new flavor (new functionality).
Does the acquired company’s website always get redirected to the acquiring company’s website? Any cases in which they’d stay separate?
It depends on the industry and go-to-market plan.
In the software industry, it might make more sense to absorb the company and redirect the site to your own. Let’s say you’re trying to build an all-in-one software suite. It makes sense to incorporate all the acquired companies that will act as each arm in the suite and redirect to one platform.
However, the publishing industry might be the best example of when not to absorb brands. There are only six major publishing companies in America. Each one has several imprints that have several of their own, too. The reason being, different imprints serve different customers. Harper Collins owns Thomas Nelson and Walden Pond Press. Thomas Nelson publishes Christian fiction and non-fiction while Walden Pond publishes middle-grade books. Two totally different markets. Absorbing both as just Harper Collins would confuse readers and dilute brand.
How to implement SEO thinking in acquisition decisions
Evangelizing SEO could be the most powerful advice my manager and director had ever given. SEO is in a unique position because you can reach across the aisle, so to speak. It’s easy for companies to fall into a siloed approach, and I will urge SEOs to be ahead of the curve.
It’s beneficial for marketing to work with other teams, but it’s essential for SEO. There may not be another position in the entire company that works with the content team, product marketing, demand generation, dev team, and customer service team.
Implementing an SEO program was not easy, and I made almost every mistake along the way. But the most successful approach to implementing a new program/cross-departmental action was stolen from my manager and director: be a servant leader to one team at a time.
We started by building a bridge with our content team. Create relationships. Get to know their goals and find a way that SEO can help achieve it. Now, you’ve just opened the door to a conversation about what SEO is and how we can support one another. Ctrl C; Ctrl V for each department.
I’ll take it a step further and say once you build that relationship, figure out the X’s and O’s for them. Know the upcoming sprint for your dev team. Know when customer support is stretched thin. Know the content strategy for the upcoming quarter. Then make your pitch.
Not the other way around.