Blanket Microsites: A Dying Breed?
Let’s start by talking about why you’ve probably at least considered building a microsite for your online business.
You’ve completed your company’s first website and put extensive work into categorizing your products or services. You’ve worked on constructing a comprehensive About Us page that outlines your business’s unique and powerful culture and team. You’ve done a good job at putting “SEO” on your most important pages, and now you’re waiting for business to grow. Maybe you’ve even seen some new sales start coming in and have achieved some decent success with ranking in Google and Bing – but not for all of the keywords you hoped for.
Well you’ve probably heard the Good News on how the big players have dominated your industry. The real geniuses have built “microsites” that essentially target your important niches with stand-alone websites and take over sales for those key verticals. They do this by using keyword-rich domain names that tell the searcher “I’m here to sell exactly what you’re looking for – I’m the expert in this and my highly focused business means better information and better prices. Buy from me.”
The problem is that like a lot of facets in SEO—times have changed. While microsites may have worked before, the logic behind them – the tactic their creation employs – is both known by Google and Bing and is being targeted for removal in today’s marketing environment.
The 7 Reasons Why Microsites Could Be the Wrong Choice
Social Signal Dilution
Some businesses are really well suited for social networks. They have a loyal following of customers who are repeat-buyers, brand advocates, and constantly willing to share your new products with their own following of uninitiated friends.
Most businesses, however, aren’t so lucky. Your product or service may fill a need but that doesn’t mean people are willing to talk about it in their personal circles. For example, online retailers may lose social reach to the original makers because they don’t manufacture the products. Or, maybe you just aren’t big enough yet to be recognized by the social community at large.
Whatever your problem, there are ways to succeed! The problem with microsites is that any effort you put into encouraging social shares is immediately diluted by these multiple websites. It’s better to have shares building on one central asset. This adds to the overall domain’s social signal count and means you won’t need to worry about building two Likes here and two Likes there.
Instead, look for ways to offer better deals on your most important products and let your customers know what makes you more trustworthy than anybody else. Highlight your strong customer service around a product and include more images, videos, and tutorial guides. Social signals will likely continue to grow in influence as they indicate a real endorsement from a real person. These signals will in turn allow you to flow authority throughout your domain – an ever growing ranking factor.
Dilution of Brand Identity
Related to social signals, your brand’s online identity needs to be centralized. As customers become more acquainted with your quality of service and products, they’ll be more willing to buy from you again and tell their friends about you.
One solution that some suggest for microsites is to brand them each in a unique way. While this makes sense in some cases where business goals are unrelated or tied too closely to locations, it is almost always better to centralize your presence under one logical umbrella. For example, if a company can achieve brand recognition after one great buying experience, why would they want to introduce that customer to a completely unrecognized brand in the future? Do what you do well and become a go-to online store for any product or service under your overall offering – there is no reason in this case to build microsites and invest more resources that will entice customers to fall in love with a handful of companies.
Ever Expanding Effort in Content Creation
It’s not just about titles, descriptions, and link building anymore. The game has changed and as the victory-chant goes, “Content is King.” To achieve high value and game-changing links to your site (and the traffic that comes with them), you must have great content that’s wholly unique on your site and elsewhere online as well.
This means you’ll be spending more and more time thinking about what the customer needs and figuring out how to address those issues with great content that’s popular, sharable, and unique.
You’ll have a much harder time with this if you’re focusing on multiple websites with likely lower amounts of traffic. The magical thing here is that the more high-value content you produce, the more the site at large benefits – bringing us to our next point about microsites:
You Could Lose Site Strength Momentum
As Google began phasing out their use of exact-match keyword backlinks as strong ranking factors (i.e. you want to rank for “cars” so built ten thousand backlinks with the exact term “cars”), they started to focus more on branded backlinks and more importantly, diverse branded backlinks from diverse and high-value websites related to your industry.
As you and your marketing team shift focus, it’s important to note that you’re building a brand awareness online with the content mentioned above. As the site as a whole develops more online references from the homepage down, all internal pages gain strength from the domain overall. This means that if your deep product page is a goal for you, build content on that page and leverage it against your overall site’s growing strength.
With microsites you’re forced to focus efforts on multiple unrelated domains. Even a subdomain like nichetopic.brand.com is a totally new and unproven domain in Google’s eyes. All of the backlinks you achieve through content building are distributed across multiple sites leaving each site with less links than a centralized website would have. This means less strength against competitors and lower rankings.
Centralize, build content, and achieve success.
Difficult to Keep Up to Date
For a long time, Google gave a lot of ranking value to sites with Exact Match Domains. These domain names are common for microsites and are actually one of the central reasons why people build them. If instead of just running “YardOrnamentsbyClay.com,” I’ll do more business if I build “BuyCheapYardGnomes.com” and “BuyCheapTikiTorches.com,” right?
The thing is, Google actually now reduces the ranking scores for sites with Exact Match Domains if they determine those sites to also be of low-quality. This has to do with user metrics, unique content, and a multitude of other factors used by Google to gauge site quality.
Likewise, as your business grows and locations, teams, contact information, or offerings change, your site must reflect this. If you own a lot of microsites, you’ll need to update all of these regularly to prevent yourself from losing business.
As what Google looks for in websites evolves and as internet user expectations change, it’s important for site owners to update their own content accordingly. The best websites update alongside technology and focus on creating expanding value for visitors. Microsite owners are at a disadvantage in this environment and are left working harder for diminishing results.
Of course, we’ve seen some businesses use a central CMS (content management system) to push content to hundreds of microsites. Although this is a smart use of technology, it doesn’t always save them from needing totally unique content with totally different social signals and other citations across the web. In the end, each site has to stand on its own.
This is one of the biggest hurdles of building microsites and is a key reason for not making the investment. Google has been penalizing on-site and off-site duplicate content for around two years now and this will not be going away. In Google’s eyes, if a website has a high percentage of content found and owned elsewhere online, the site in question is not offering unique value and therefore should not rank high in search results. Related to this, Google also penalizes on-site duplicate content because it may be indicative of a poorly structured website that offers poor user interaction.
It is often also the case that the layout and template of the overall website is replicated to speed up the creation of microsites. Code duplication on top of copy duplication spell bad news for organic rankings and cripple the entire effort of microsites that are too focused on organic traffic from launch.
The only solution then is to create unique brand logos, product images, product descriptions, videos, reviews, contact information, design, etc. for each new microsite. Before sinking into this kind of investment, first ask yourself this question: “Have I done everything possible on my current site to create and achieve fantastic and engaging content, product images, videos, user generated reviews, better conversion, and dominant rankings for all of my business targets?”
To Microsite or Not to Microsite
There is no question that using microsites was once a strong tactic for innovative business owners looking to build their business online and the rules until recently fully allowed this tactic to continue. Even now microsites aren’t outright banned, it is just becoming harder and harder to get the return. If you keep your microsites and want them to rank organically, they need to be invested in at the same rate as your main domain and must be as separate and unique in content, hosting and social signals as the mother ship. The game of online marketing is an ever changing one and only those who adapt quickly and keep a periscope on the horizon will win. Sometimes these changes require a rethinking of your tactics as a whole.
One of the main benefits about potentially stepping away from microsites is that you will probably be building long term value that is directly in line with where Google and Bing are going vs. using a tactic that is known to be out of favor now and probably in the future. Centralizing your efforts will allow you to come back to your brand, engage more meaningfully with your customers, and capitalize on all of your efforts to exponentially grow your business. Invest in one place and make all those investments strengthen the cause and all of the organic rankings of the pages throughout the domain.