Before Building a Microsite ask Yourself These Ten SEO Questions
Recently we’ve had a few clients ask about what the best strategy or approach is to microsites from a search engine marketing point of view. Generally the with microsites you best be sure that they are the best option before moving forward with them as often from a natural search perspective they aren’t ideal.
What follows below is ten questions you really need to ask yourself before going down the microsite path.
1. Would the site benefit from not being associated with your main domain? One of the strongest justifications is that the microsite would benefit from not being associated with your company or organisation. Are you trying to make completely un-commercial website which has very little association with your main website? Then there may be a good justification or are you trying to change people’s attitudes about your brand? Again microsites can make a lot of sense.
2. Is Natural Search intended to be your main source of traffic? There can be many ways to attract visitors to a website, before launching any website it’s vital you have a good idea where you would like yours to come from. If natural search is going to be your main driver and you already have a strong main website then Micro-sites wouldn’t be the best option. Micro-sites will not benefit from the trust of your main site and will have to stand on their own two feet. As a consequence they need to build their own trust and reputation in the eyes of the search engines. Depending on the competitiveness of keywords you are targeting this can take anywhere between three to nine months to establish a website in the search results. With very high profile keywords the time and effort required can be even more significant. However if you intend to use paid search, banner advertising, offline advertising or any other source of traffic other than those from search rankings Micro-sites can be ideal.
3. Could it be a freestanding brand? – If you think in the future the micro site could be spun out into its own fully formed website with its own audience independent of the other website it makes sense to host a separate website on a separate domain, it’s not easy to move a website from a folder of a larger site to its own domain, so if this is the long term strategy you should locate the site on the most suitable domain. If the domain name you are considering using contains your brand name there is very little reason to host externally as a microsite. You can’t expect users to be able to appreciate the subtle distinction (which may be based on some internal arbitrary decision) why some content is on one website while other similar content is on a completely different website.
4. Does it duplicate content from your main site? Duplicating content from another website is undesirable for a couple of reasons. Firstly search engines don’t like websites which have the same content as others. It confuses them regarding which is the original source, if there is any doubt they may not return either. Normally Google err on the side of caution and go with the longest established most trusted website and don’t promote the newer less trusted site, if you are launching a new website it won’t get the benefit of the doubt. There is also a danger that although only a few of your pages duplicate content but search engines they judge the whole website, deem it unoriginal and make it very difficult for the website to rank.
5. Do you have the resources to pay it the attention it needs? - To achieve good rankings and all round success with a website requires ongoing attention and effort. To make a microsite truly “work” it’s not just something you can launch and leave. This is one of main reasons not to use microsites, a new area of your main site will benefit from any previous search marketing efforts, any you’re currently doing or any in the future. As a microsite is in affect an island it can’t take advantage in the same way, so it requires ongoing resources updating content, building links, etc. if you think that you may struggle to pay the attention required adding the site to the main website is a safer benefit. Plus having all your content on one domain has other benefits as, rather than splitting link building time across multiple domains, you can focus on just the one site so all pages on the site benefit now and in the future.
6. Would the time/money spent on the new look, design and feel be better spent producing content presented in the template of the main site? While design is of huge importance it can take a lot of time, money and resource. For many users it’s the content of your site they are most interested in, as a consequences you should ask yourself whether the hours spent on the look and feel of a microsite would be better invested in improve the depth, variety and value of the content you were intending to include. Could with the saved time explore multimedia content? Could you carry out of completely new research etc.
7. Can you track the traffic and results of the microsite independently? – Quite often microsites are used to appeal to a small niche audience and present them with a very tailored message but ultimately when it comes to a conversion they work their way into your normal system. If you can’t isolate which conversions came from the microsite you should be working on resolving the technical issues there before commencing work on a new microsite. If you can’t measure the results of a strategy it’s generally not wise to try the techniques.
8. How well is the main site performing in the search engine result pages? - There’s two situations where your current search rankings for your main site would justify introducing a microsite, if for all your major keywords your website is being returned in the top three results it may make sense to launch a microsite to gain extra share of the top ten results or alternatively if you’re fairly confident your original domain name has been banned or penalised by the search engines you might want to start with a clean slate.
9. Is it time sensitive?- Microsites are very often used for specific campaigns which are usually time specific, however the more specific the shorter the time frame the less likely you are to be able to create a website which achieves significant search engine visibility, however content on an trusted domain may begin to rank on competitive terms as soon as it is spidered by search engines.
10. Is it just for a memorable domain? - a reason a lot of people choose microsites as they want a short and memorable domain name for offline advertising, and while this can be one criticism of hosting content on your main domain it is possible to by the memorable domain for offline use and set up a search engine friendly permanent 301 redirect, so whenever someone types in the URL they are sent to the more search friendly folder of the main site.
That’s a few questions we ask clients to think about before launching a microsite, do you have any tips you’d like to share?