This blog was updated and re-published July 2019.
As Google’s search algorithm has evolved to emphasize trusted, well-established domains and unique content, the debate is heating up on the marketing value of microsites. Some experts believe that creating a microsite is never a good idea, diluting the brand and hurting coveted search results, while others think they still have a place in a targeted, strategic marketing campaign.
A microsite is loosely defined as a small cluster of web pages that are differentiated from a parent website through unique design and layout, limited navigation options, and a unique domain URL to set the site apart from the parent domain. Many companies have implemented microsites to promote specialized, short-term offers, product launches, or wholly new segments to their target audiences.
We’ve put together some practical guidelines on microsites and their current place in a business.
Don’t Build a Microsite to Improve Search Rankings
Ever since Google began cracking down on link farms and giving more prominence to well-established domain names with numerous backlinks and unique content, the argument that a microsite can help you show up higher on search engines has fallen flat. Google’s focus on unique content, domain age, and backlinks are an effort to include metrics such as trust and relevancy in their rankings.
A microsite can hurt your SEO for the following reasons:
- Microsites that live on a separate domain than your main website will not share any of the “domain credit” that Google gives your primary website. Google sees the microsite URL as a wholly new website, forcing you to build up its search value with new backlinks and content updates, which can take time and resources that are better spent improving your main site.
- If microsites have identical content to any pages on your primary site, Google will not regard it as unique content, resulting in low ranking . All microsite content must be unique, fresh and updated often for good rankings. Simply put: there are no shortcuts for good SEO.
- If you are targeting the same keywords in your microsite as you are in your main site, you’re simply splitting your resources and your sites are competing with each other for rankings. You’ll be spending double the time and resources required to achieve high search rankings, and competing against yourself. Don’t do it.
If you manage to climb the natural search mountain and achieve high listings on Google for your microsite, ensure that you’re ready to maintain and update it for the long haul. Short-term microsites that are scheduled to go dark after a set period of time don’t do you any good in search, because once they’re turned off they become broken links on the search listings.
Don’t Build a Digital Band-Aid
Imagine that your existing website is outdated, messy and hard to use. But the idea of starting over – rebuilding the site’s architecture, design and content flow – is just too overwhelming, not to mention the budget you’ll need to pull it off. You may be tempted to consider a microsite as a quick fix to this challenge. A small number of newly-designed pages, free of the confines of your existing, hard-to-navigate site, can be very tempting because it’s limited in its scope.
Avoid the temptation to remedy an outdated site with this digital band-aid. Here’s why:
- As mentioned above, Google places value on older domains and existing backlinks, so investing in your main site is paramount for good SEO. You’re just making more work for yourself when you reinvent your existing site in a microsite’s new wrapper.
- From a branding standpoint, it’s never good to look scattered to your target audience. Having two separate sites to address the same users can be confusing and doesn’t present your brand as organized, strategic or focused.
If you’re already too resource-strapped to maintain a great user experience on your existing site, the same can probably be said for a microsite. Though it may be limited in scope, a microsite still requires time and resources to plan, build, and most important, to maintain and keep fresh. That’s time better spent improving your main site if you really want to see a return on your web investment.
It’s also worth noting that microsites that are linked to from your main site can cause what we at TREW like to call “digital whiplash”. Web visitors on your site have the expectation that as they navigate your content, they will stay within the structure and feel of your site. If they click on a link that suddenly delivers them to a new site with an entirely different navigation, with no easy way to get back to where they were, it can be disorienting. If the visitor feels lost, they’re less likely to remain on your site or come back.
A microsite used to be a smart approach for specific campaigns and product introductions. However, the search ecosystem is rapidly changing, and at this point, microsites have gone the way of the dinosaurs. There are very few, if any, beneficial ways to use a microsite at this point in time.
Instead of turning to a microsite to address a new business focus or campaign, look at your website as a whole and ask yourself some questions. Who is coming to your site, and what are they looking for? Is it easy for these people to get an accurate impression of your company and find the information they are searching for? Does your site accurately represent your company as it currently is?
If the answer to the last two is "no", or if you don't know the answer, the solution is to refresh your website strategy and approach.
Learn more about website strategy and strategic redesign in our ebook, "A Guide to B2B Web Redesign".