At first, it looked like the Overstock migration went poorly. But there is more going on than a quick chart can say.
Why it matters: migrations are inflection points for businesses
- Companies can lose or gain a lot of money
- There are different types of migrations with different implications
- Businesses can learn from Overtsock’s move, which is smarter than it looks at first
What happened: Overstock is reborn as Bed Bath and Beyond
In June, Overstock bought the Bed Bath and Beyond (BBaB) brand, website and app for a cheap $21.5M.
Context: BBaB struggled for years with financial mismanagement, private label products and slow embrace of the internet. In April 2023, the company filed for bankruptcy and put its assets up for bidding. It’s still up in the air who will buy Retail stores and BuyBuyBaby.
Since August 1st, overstock.com redirects to bedbathandbeyond.com. However, 3rd party rank trackers didn’t show the expected shift in ranks.
🤔Unexpected: In good ‘ol SEO fashion, you would expect clean 1-to-1 redirects from Overstock URLs to BBaB.com. That’s not what’s happening. Instead, we’re seeing a mix.
- Some URLs have clean 1-to-1 redirects. For example, www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Dining-Sets/Counter-Height,/table-height,/18551/subcat.html redirects to www.bedbathandbeyond.com/Home-Garden/Sectional-Sofas/18553/subcat.html.
- Many URLs redirect to the homepage. For example, www.overstock.com/guides/best-tips-to-find-your-ring-size redirects to BBaB.com.
3 theories why Overstock chose to redirect many URLs to the homepage:
- The migration is not complete yet, and URLs that point to BBaB.com’s homepage will soon redirect to an equivalent URL
- The Overstock team pruned URLs during the migration (for whatever reason, like the quality wasn’t good enough or the content didn’t add value)
- It just took time for Google to rank the new URLs.
🔍Zooming in: Many, including myself, thought Overstock messed something up. Instead, Overstock moved its whole inventory to BBaB.com. Instead of a classic 1-to-1 migration, Overstock’s site move is a site merger, a specific (uncommon) type of migration.
- According to Overstock: “More than 600,000 items, primarily in the bed, bath and kitchen sectors, have been added to the new website.”
- The “new” site offers products from both brands, including many BBaB items that were available before the liquidation.
- Google already understands the change: When you Google “overstock” today (August 7th), BBaB ranks in position #1, and Google lists the BBaB Android / iOS app.
- Smart: Overstock convinced former BBaB suppliers, who pulled back from BBaB not to be associated with the liquidation, to offer their products on the new site before winning the bid on BBaB.
Story twist: Over the last few days, 3rd party rank trackers have shown traffic improvements for BBaB.com in the US.
In June, Overstock already made the same move in Canada, and the results looked much better after a few weeks. The results just took a while to come in. The same is likely happening in the US.
But why merge the sites instead of keeping both and getting more traffic and (potentially) revenue?
❓Why: Overstock bought a better brand
The site merger makes sense for a simple but powerful business reason: BedBathandBeyond is a stronger brand.
Judging by search volumes for each brand, BBaB is about twice as popular as Overstock.
Overstock’s brand has become a liability. Overstock CEO Jonathan E. Johnson:
“People view Overstock as liquidation, which is what we were 25 years ago when we started, but that’s not what we’ve been for the past two decades.” (source)
Context: Overstock is the OG of Dropshipping.
- Overstock started by selling only surplus and returned products below wholesale prices from over 18 failed dot-com bubble companies.
- The business model is still similar: buying excess inventory in bulk at a discount and reselling it below average market price.
- +2,600 partners are still selling on overstock.com as of 2021. (source)
But: Dropshipping fell out of fashion and now has a bad rep. Some governments, like France, even forbid it (the German government warns about it). On top of that, a lot of excess inventory accumulated during the pandemic and benefitted Overstock got flushed out of the system. Retailers are running leaner now, creating headwinds for the business model.
The brand is damaged. It doesn’t help that former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne resigned in 2019 after admitting to dating a Russian agent, being involved in the 2016 election investigation, and having committed securities fraud. (source)
BBaB has what Overstock needs. Jonathan Johnson again:
“We thought we had a good operating model but a bad name; we thought Bed Bath & Beyond had a great name but a bad operating model”. (source)
⛏️ Dig deeper: Twitter and Ebay
Not all migrations are the same. Domain changes tend to show faster recovery in the search results.
Ebay just redirected its German classified site ebay-kleinanzeigen.de to kleinanzeigen.de (“kleinanzeigen” = classifieds). One of the biggest migrations this year.
Why it matters: Ebay-kleinanzeigen.de is one of the largest domains in Germany, with 900m annual visits and 48m listings. Ebay sold the site for $9.2b (cash & stock) to Norwegians’ marketplace group Adevinta - huge compared to Overstock’s market cap of $1.5b.
The migration is going well so far and moving faster than Overstock. However, consider that we’re not comparing apples to apples because Ebay classified doesn’t hold any inventory. All transactions are between users, which means the migration is a pure domain change.
A different example: Twitter has rebranded to X. All content still lives under twitter.com, but a big migration is imminent. Other than Overstock, though, the Twitter brand is still strong.
- X’s rebrand is the opposite of the Overstock case. Overstock bought a better brand. Twitter moves to a worse brand and destroys tons of brand value in the process.
- Many people search for brand combination keywords like “Taylor Swift Twitter” (13K) or “Fortnite Twitter” (55K).
- The x.com domain has a diverse history of hosting different types of sites. (Moz)
It’s a trend: Radioshack, Circuit City, Ebay classifieds, and Linens & Things are all brands that were acquired and kept alive for the brand value.
- In an increasingly noisy world, brands hold a lot of power.
- Non-paid channels can significantly contribute to brand growth, as we’ve seen in the case of BBaB.
🖼️ The big picture: not all migrations are the same
There are different types of migrations and combinations among them:
- Domain migration = changing domains with content remaining the same
- Merger = combining two domains and their content
- Example: Overstock and BBaB
- URL migration = moving a subdomain / subdirectory / set of URLs to a different name or location with or without content changes
- Example: thewirecutter.com moved to nytimes.com/wirecutter in mid-2020 and grew traffic by a multiple shortly after. (details)
- Redesign = changing the look & feel of a site, but content and URLs remain the same
- Example: money.com revamped its design and saw significant traffic gains. (details)
- Platform migration = Changing the underlying infrastructure, like CMS or tech stack, but no URLs or content
- Example: In 2015, Pinterest moved its legacy web experience to React and saw strong growth shortly after. (source)
Each type has different implications, bottlenecks and time to completion. Domain and URL changes take longer to recover, while redesigns and infrastructure migrations can show an almost immediate impact.
🗺️ How to: win migrations
Domain / URL migrations and mergers are big projects that need careful planning and execution. Here are the high-level steps you need to keep in mind:
Before the migration
- Crawl your domain and map old to new URLs
- Define requirements for infrastructure, engineering / design / content teams
- Create XML sitemaps for old and new URLs and keep them up as long as possible
- Set up 1-to-1 URL redirects with a 301 status code
After the migration
- Set up a Search Console account for the new domain / subdirectory and fetch & render a few URLs
- Reach out to the strongest sites that link to you and ask for URL changes in the backlink
- Change internal links, canonical tags and hreflang tags to point at the new domain / URL
- Monitor if URLs change in Google’s index
- Monitor server log files for whether Google has recrawled all old URLs
- Run site speed tests
- The type of migration
- Make sure all teams are informed, aligned and prepared (eg paid teams need to change URLs, too)
- Pruning or combining content during the migration
- Moving scripts like CSS or JS to the new domain
- If you move to a new domain, be careful with existing links and old content (can send mixed signals to Google)
- Can you reverse the migration quickly (Kill Switch)?
- Can you test a redesign / platform change by rolling it out in a specific subdirectory / page type / country?
- Don’t judge too early: migrations of big sites take time (1-3 months, sometimes longer), even with perfect execution
- Business reasons can trump SEO reasons: SEO is a means to an end
- Test: try migrations in secondary markets (like Overstock in Canada) or in subdirectories before a broader roll-out
- Be careful: don’t destroy brand value in the process
- Differentiate: not all migrations are the same