Burning your digital presence in a merger

Are social media and websites on your lawfirm merger checklist or are you burning down the house?

There are a number of often-touted advantages of law firm mergers, amongst which are a reduction in back office costs, cross-selling opportunities, and a bigger brand to go to market with.

Yet if it’s about building a bigger brand why is it merging firms too often destroy the digital footprint of the junior merger partner?

It’s a bit like buying a building and burning it down to leave nothing but a smoking wreck. Watching mergers over the last ten years sometimes makes us wonder whether the digital presence of law firms is part of due diligence.

You might have a junior merger partner with hundreds of links on the web to their website (built up over a decade or more), with 100,000 unique visitors a year coming in to articles and other web pages, and overnight that website is shut down, and all requests for juniorfirm.com pages are redirected to the senior merger partner’s globalfirm.com‘s home page.

Search engine crawlers then go to crawl an article they’ve been sending thousands of people a year to on juniorfirm.com, and find themselves instead on the homepage of globalfirm.com, with none of the expected text matching the article.

So the search engine simply drops that article for those keywords from the search results and 60,000+ annual visitors evaporate (in our benchmarking 60-70% of visits to law firm websites come directly from search engines).

Equally, if juniorfirm.com‘s domain is associated with a particular country, so Google sees that firm as local to that country (local searches are estimated at 30% of searches) but after the merger globalfirm.com‘s servers are based in the US, Google doesn’t see globalfirm.com as associated with your country any more but instead as a US website.  After all, even where you merge with a global firm, you’ll likely be getting most of your work from businesses in your local jurisdiction.

So if you want to preserve the value of the digital footprint of a law firm that you’re merging with (rather than ‘burning down the house’) here’s a list of six things to avoid:

  1. Avoid redirecting all pages on juniorfirm.com to a single page on globalfirm.com (or for a variation on this leaving the old domain up and create a single page on it saying something like ‘we have merged‘) as by doing so you fail to pass on 95% of the search presence of the junior firm.
  2. Failing to budget for moving selected content across to globalfirm.com from juniorfirm.com. Doesn’t have to be everything but equally moving nothing will destroy juniorfirm.com‘s footprint in search almost totally. We’ve used our editorial operation and analytics team to select and move content at scale for firms merging where a hard-pressed marketing team in the middle of a merger doesn’t have the time or capabilities.
  3. Not individually redirecting lawyer profiles, practice group pages, and key articles (see 2 above in relation to articles) to the appropriate individual page on globalfirm.com (also see this article re handling lawyers who opt out of the merger)
  4. Not localising content relating to juniorfirm.com in the country where juniorfirm.com is predominantly practicising so that Google sees that part of globalfirm.com as belonging to your particular country.
  5. Letting juniorfirm.com‘s domain registration lapse (even some years after the merger as after all the links are still out there).
  6. Not merging/changing details on social media accounts for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and your Google My Business page.

In the end a good merger should result in a ‘sum of parts’ outcome in your website analytics i.e. if you were to add the total visitors to juniorfirm.com and globalfirm.com that should be the traffic that globalfirm.com sees  a year after the merger.

If that is not what you are seeing, or if for that matter you may not know what the traffic to juniorfirm.com used to be, talk to us. We’ve been able to still reclaim some of these losses even several years later.

How significant could this digital gain be?

In the rare scenario where a global professional services firm merges with a national firm and the digital footprint is properly conserved at the time of the merger, the national firm’s traffic might represent a 10-20% lift in the global firm’s traffic (depending on the country and size of national firm).

Photo by Peter John Hill