Microsites and SEO

In 2017, I met a client who had about thirty microsites. At first, I thought this was pretty odd that a client would have so many different small websites. “Isn’t this hard to manage?”, I asked him to figure out why go through all this trouble. He then showed me his analytic account and I quickly realized exactly why he did this. He generated 50% of all his traffic from his microsites! Good idea client! Then I started looking at his rankings and he nailed the top five spot for just about every single industry keyword with a microsite! Holy cow man! Great idea right?

I kept this idea in the back of my mind for a long time. When clients would ask me about Microsites, I would bring up my client’s story and how he dominated keywords with microsites. Over the next three years, our company built hundreds of these mini websites for our clients. Some clients had as many as thirty or forty sites. All of them had unique content, targeted to a special segment of their business. They received tons of traffic and loved me for it. Until… well you know already don’t you?

Google’s Big Changes = OUCH!

Then it happened, Matt Cutts and the Google team made major changes so that having an SEO Friendly domain will not land you at the top of the search engines automatically. Overnight, many of our clients lost a significant amount of traffic. The biggest reason that most SEOs believe this happened was that Google is now looking at how people find your site. If all the traffic is coming from organics, then the site is really just another content farm. While it might be good content, it is still just a bunch of landing pages built for people to find them through Google search!

Either way you slice it, microsites were not working anymore and we had to rethink this SEO strategy.

Moving Content from Microsites to the Main Website

After doing some research, I figured out that if we closed down the microsites, we could move them over to the main website, which would obviously be receiving a lot of direct traffic, social media traffic, and direct visitors. By logging into webmaster tools, we were able to move the sites and put the unique content of the microsites on the client’s main website. For a few clients, this worked great!

Since this was a “move” or a consolidation, the links still stayed in tact, and the clients’ websites grew substantially in traffic. Good news huh? Well, not exactly. One of my clients had duplicate content and many spammy links on his site and it ended up hurting the traffic for the main site. So actually moving the site over, hurt our main site because now the main site had duplicate content, spammy links and was being penalized. From the frying pan to the furnace the site went!

We decided that a better way to move the microsites is to back up all the content and then check it in copyscape to make sure the content was unique. Once we realized the content was clean, then we would slowly add it back to the main site a few articles at a time. The other thing we were forced to do is check the back links on the microsites first before moving them over. If they were clean, we then could move the site. If the domain was beat up, we’d just let it expire and use the good content.

In a nutshell, the microsites’ content was valuable even if the domain didn’t have a clean SEO track record.

When You Should Use a Microsite

Most of the time, you should just use one main site. It is easier to manage and gives the overall site more authority in Google. However, if you decide to keep your microsites up, remember that you’re going to have to so some serious work on these sites to get their traffic back. This includes making them a site that can stand on its own. It should have its own social media profiles, sources of traffic, and should feel like an independent site with 100% unique content.

Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is easier to have one very high quality site than dozens of little sites. It just makes life easier and because of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, there is no real benefit for using microsites when you consider the amount of work it takes.

I guess that is what Google wanted to accomplish… they have successfully de-cluttered the web and there are probably domains expiring like crazy now! I know we let about 30 domains expire because of it.

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