I was recently asked by a client if they should create a microsite for a product set they were adding. This question really made me think about the value of microsites for SEO and branding purposes and if microsites for seo were good or bad.
What is a microsite?
People have different definitions of what a microsite actually is. For this article, and based on the client we spoke with, we define a “microsite” is a new site that is placed on a different domain or on a sub domain that spotlights a subsection or product set from the primary website. An example of a microsite would be if the primary product set was located at www.abc.com, and a “microsite”, spotlighting a specific product or topic, was built at www.xyz.com.
In my opinion, new experiences that are placed on the primary domain (www.abc.com/new-experience) with a different look and feel are not microsites, they are simply uniquely designed sections of the website that target a focused audience segment.
The SEO concerns below could also be applied to a question such as why you should put your blog on your primary domain (in a sub folder) and not on a new domain or sub domain.
When special-purpose domains for campaign microsites appear, it becomes confusing. At best, people might ignore the microsite domain, keeping themselves safe but making the marketing dollars a waste. At worst, the protection and reputation offered by use of known domains is lost and people end up infected the next time they follow an unknown domain. – Rich Baldry (@rbaldry), Security Expert
So with that said, below you will find 9 compelling reasons that you should not use microsites (as defined above) if your site has any interest in doing SEO. I tried to take my rant and turn it into some useful points, hope it worked.
1. You’re basically starting with a new site
For anyone who has had the pleasure of building and marketing a website from scratch, you know how difficult and time consuming it can be. It takes time for search engines to find a new site, build metrics such as trust and relevancy for keywords, and give it enough value for it to rank well. So creating a microsite prolongs the time from launch to traffic growth and discovery.
2. Link building and link dilution
- With all the hard work and resources that it takes to build quality links to your website, why would you want to split up your time building links between your primary website (that is high value) and a microsite (that is low value, and most likely short lived). Why not create the experience of the microsite on your primary domain and focus the link metrics that drive quality domain metrics on the site that really matters.
Tip: A company that does this well is Nissan with their Leaf Electric Car. They have built the new experience directly on the primary Nissanusa.com domain so that when users link to the Leaf’s page it helps the primary domain gain metrics as well.
3. Content creation
As we talked about it our 12 Most Valuable Pieces of SEO Advice article, content has come full circle and has regained its title as King of SEO, making it the most valuable asset a website has for driving traffic, links and social metrics. It’s difficult enough creating quality in-depth content for 1 site that satisfies the user, the bots, and the business goals, let alone creating quality in-depth content for a 2nd website targeting the same keyword set.
4. Brand segmentation
Yes, you can probably create a cohesive brand experience by spending tons of money to make sure your users can connect your microsite and your primary sites brand values together. But again, why not take that time and create the same microsite experience on your primary domain that gives the user a brand connection point.
5. Wasted design, programming, and QA resources
- Wouldn’t you rather spend your design resources in a more optimal way by maximizing the design and UX on your primary website.
- Shouldn’t your programmers be working on making your primary website faster, streamlined, and more efficient for both the users and the search engines?
- QA is one of the areas that you should be investing more time and resource into for your primary website. Making sure that users are not getting 404 errors or the site is not going off-line due to the influx of traffic to your servers.
6. Duplicate content
As mentioned in point #3 quality in-depth content is key for a website. The problem is that most microsites will try to re-purpose their primary sites content by rewriting it or taking a subset of it; causing the microsite to have thin content sets. Google in most cases will see this as duplicate content thus filtering either the microsite’s page or the main website’s page from the search results; in most cases it will not be the one that you want them to filter.
7. User metrics
With user metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, and engagement becoming more valuable, why would you drive someone to a great experience you created off of your primary website. Why not just create that experience on your primary website and take advantage of all the user metrics you will gain.
8. Social metrics
The primary search engines are utilizing social metrics as a signal for ranking the website and determining content value. Splitting up the social metrics between your primary website and a microsite results in diluted social metrics. Again, why not capture all those social metrics for your primary website.
9. Rankings issues
Back 5 years or so microsites were created based on the assumption that a website or brand could monopolize the top 10 organic listings (get more than 1 bite at the apple) if they had a few sites (that they controlled) in the top 10. With current Google updates, a website having more than 2 spots in the top 10 is almost nonexistent today.
A few pros for microsites
There are always arguments for and against different marketing tactics, and each has its pros and cons. So in the spirit of giving both sides there are a few times that I could concede to using a microsite.
- A websites current CMS does not allow for the functionality that the microsite needs
- A business owner is worried about security risks of giving access to the code base of their primary website.
- Microsites, if done well, can help a website capture additional spots in the top results to help with reputation management around exact match company names or brand names.
Tip: If you are going to embark on a microsite strategy, just make sure when you sunset the microsite you create a 1:1 mapping of URLs to the primary website’s relevant pages. All of the link and social metrics most likely will not pass, but it will give you something for all your hard work.
In my opinion, the value a microsite brings to driving traffic, brand, and value, does not outweigh the downfalls that are inherent if you choose to take the route of a microsite.
If you really need to create a unique experience for a specific product or product set, then create a new section located in a sub folder on your TLD. This will give you all the benefit of a new experience for your users, while allowing all the metrics that you gain from links, social, and users to be applied to your primary domain, making it more powerful.
How an SEO thinks through a microsite strategy
A question that seems to come up alot from clients or internal team members is “How did we reach the conclusion we do in regards to a specific strategy?”. So I thought I would take a somewhat simple topic about microsite strategy and create a flow chart about how an SEO such as myself thinks through the strategy.
Below you will find the strategic paths I take into consideration when I hear microsite. There is alot to think about, which might be a surprise to some people, for a strategy that seems, on the surface, to be simple.