The UX of M&A: Getting the Best of All Worlds When Merging Websites and Digital Platforms

When companies merge, successfully combining digital assets like websites, intranets, apps, and other platforms takes more than just squishing things together. Poorly merged digital properties can diminish brand equity, squander years of SEO value, and even drive away customers or employees — ultimately tanking the value the merger was supposed to create.

The challenge is that you’re bringing together two end-user communities with different experiences and expectations. And it’s easy to assume the bigger or faster-growing company has the better digital platform, even when there’s a lot you could learn from the smaller company’s practices.

That’s why we recommend a collaborative, UX-centered approach to combining digital properties, to ensure you’re leveraging the best of both worlds. In this article, we’ll share a sample of UX analyses that can help set up a new combined platform for success.

First, let’s talk about leveraging the right mindset.

A Different Approach

Typically, when combining digital platforms, companies tend to take a top-down approach, meaning there’s a hierarchy of decision-making based on which platform is believed to be better. But the calculus can change a lot when those decisions are made from the end users’ point of view instead.

From a practical standpoint, these companies are usually trying to create efficiencies and add new competencies while carefully messaging the benefits of the merger for their customers. They focus on things like branding, SEO, and consolidating social media — all of which are important, and none of which truly shapes the platform user’s experience.

To be fair, before the merger, both companies were likely focused on trying to create the best possible user experience for their customers. Now that they’re joining forces, each brings a unique set of learnings and techniques to the table. Which begs the question: what if your new partner handles some aspects of UX better than you?

Working collaboratively through in-depth Acquisition Analysis gives you an opportunity to extract the best from all digital properties, as either company’s platforms may have features, functionality, or content that does a better job of meeting business goals. How do you know which elements will be more successful? By auditing both platforms with tools like the ones we’ll talk about next.

When merging, don’t assume the bigger company should swallow the smaller and all its digital assets. There might be many things that the smaller company is doing better.

Conducting UX Audits

To preserve SEO value and cull the best-performing content for the new platform, many companies conduct content and SEO audits, often using free or paid tools. These usually involve flagging duplicate content, comparing performance metrics, and using R.O.T. (redundant/outdated/trivial) analyses.

What many organizations miss, however, is the opportunity to conduct UX and customer audits while directly comparing digital platforms. These can provide invaluable insights about the mental models and behaviors of users.

At a minimum, we recommend comparing both platforms using Nielsen Norman Group’s 10 usability heuristics. Setting the standard for user interface design for almost three decades, these guidelines give you a great baseline for identifying which parts of each platform are the most user-friendly. You can also compare heatmaps and scrollmaps to assess which platform does a better job of engaging users in ways that matter to your business goals.

Here are some other examples of UX analyses we conduct for clients when merging digital platforms:

Five second test

With existing customers or representatives of your target audience, ask users to view a page for five seconds and then answer a few questions about it. You’re looking for gut feelings here, as first impressions can tell you a lot about a page’s effectiveness.

Questions might include:

  • What does the site tell you about the company’s personality?
  • What’s something you think you could do on that website?
  • Did anything stand out as new or surprising to you?

This test should be done for multiple pages on a website, not just the homepage. It’s especially valuable for product or service pages, where you can assess whether specific features are easily visible and accessible.

Customer interview comparison

For this assessment, enlist 5 to 10 customers for each business. Have the customers of Company A use Company B’s platform and vice versa, asking them to explain the value each company offers. You can also ask users what’s missing when they use the other company’s website. What’s different and better (or worse) than before? The answers can help you determine which brand and functional elements are essential to the user experience for each platform.

This test can also provide insights about the impact of elements you may not have previously considered, like the quality of photography or the order in which information is presented. These elements can set expectations and affect how people use the platform, all of which contributes to building users’ trust.

For a more in-depth analysis of user engagement and preferences, try gathering a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.

Site map analysis

Given that the merging companies are likely in the same or similar industries, there will probably be overlap between the site maps for each company’s website. But there will also be elements that are unique to each site. To successfully blend the information architecture of both properties, you’ll need to determine which elements work best for your target audience.

In addition to comparing analytics for the different websites to see which elements are most effective, here are a few other research methods we recommend:

Cohort analysis

Looking at other websites in your industry, examine their site structures and the language they use (e.g. “Find a doctor” vs. “Find a provider”). This reflects visitors’ expectations of what information they’ll get and where they can find it. You can also identify areas where you should deviate from the norm, including language that’s more authentic and unique to your brand.

Card sort

Card sorting helps you understand how to structure content in a way that makes sense to your users, so they can find what they’re looking for. Participants group labeled notecards according to criteria they would naturally use. For example, if you have a car rental site, you could ask users to organize different vehicle models into groups that make sense to them. While your company might use terms like “family car” or “executive sedan,” your customers might have completely different perceptions.

Tree testing

Tree testing helps you evaluate a proposed site structure by asking users to find items based solely on the menu structure and terminology. Using an online interface (Treejack is a popular one) that displays only navigation links without layout or design, users are asked to complete a series of 10–15 tasks. This can show you how easy it is for site visitors to find and use information. This test is often used after card sorting sessions to confirm that the findings from the card sorting exercise are correct.

Use Information, Not Intuition

Like we said, just because a larger company acquires a smaller one doesn’t mean its digital properties have nothing to learn from the other’s. Better practices could exist in either place, and it would be a shame to lose any unique value the smaller company’s platform might offer.

With so many robust tools available for UX analysis, there’s no reason not to gather the crucial data that will help you decide which features of each platform will best achieve your business goals. When combining digital properties, the “1 + 1 = 3” trope only works if you truly glean the best of both worlds.

Need help laying the groundwork for merging separate digital platforms? Our strategic UX experts can craft a set of research exercises to help your team make the best possible decisions. Contact us today to learn more.

Technical Architecture


More about this author

J. Hogue

Director, Design & User Experience

I have over 20 years of experience in design and user experience. As Director of Design & UX, I lead a team of digital platform experts with strategic thinking, cutting-edge UX practices, and visual design. I am passionate about solving complex business problems by asking smart questions, probing assumptions, and envisioning an entire ecosystem to map ideal future states and the next steps to get there. I love to use psychology, authentic content, and fantastically unique visuals to deliver impact, authority, and trust. I have been a business owner and real-estate developer, so I know what is like to run a business and communicate a value proposition to customers. I find that honest and open communication, a willingness to ask questions, and an empathy towards individual points of view are the keys to successful creative solutions.

I live and work in Providence, RI, and love this post-industrial city so much that I maintain, a documentation project about the history and evolution of the local built environment. I help to raise two amazing girls alongside my equally strong and creative wife and partner.