A ‘microsite’ is a small website, a business can use them for a lot of different purposes: promoting a particular event like a competition or conference, targeting a particular type of business by having a site just for them, highlighting a service that customers might be interested in but which is not the main focus of the company.
How I’ve used microsites successfully is as a way to experiment with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
SEO has a lot of rules, some clear, others rather vague. Usually, I err on the side of being very safe when optimising for a client. I fix any technical problems, and work with copywriters like David Rosam who can write for both being found in search and convincing a visitor to become a customer simultaneously. No dodgy linking. No weird technical tricks. Straight down the line works over the long term.
However, there are times when I want to try something in the grey area where the rules are vague.
One of these situations was targeting various searches and locations. My client wants to be found for various searches which were a combination of <service> & <location>, so cleaning flats brighton. We could see these getting clicks and conversions from Google Ads searches, so wanted to see if we could get found for them in normal, ‘organic’ search results as well.
So the goal is: get found for various services in a wide range of locations.
The client already had registered a wide variety of domain names, some of which contained the service (keyword) being targeted, i.e. cleaningflats.co.uk or apartment-cleaners.net They weren’t in use, so I borrowed four to start our experiment. (To be clear: the searches and domains are just examples, my client is not a cleaning company.)
A copywriter the client already used wrote four pages of copy centred around the service and a single location, and four smaller amounts of intro copy we could use on the home page of each microsite.
I created four small websites using the same branding and navigation we used on the client’s main site. As well as the intro copy from the copywriter, each homepage listed the main locations being targeted by the client. The locations linked through to individual pages which were re-written using code and a database to have the location in the text replaced with the location that was in the link. Also, the pages showed the nearest office to the location rather than just the HQ.
Now, strictly speaking, this is against the guidelines of the big search engines. They do not like text re-written in this way as it is too repetitive across all the pages. But, they were useful pages for the people who were searching for the service in a particular location. And… they worked. Google and Bing did show the pages to searchers looking for the particular service in a particular area covered.
These are not high traffic sites. They are small – hence ‘microsite’ – and tailored to a very particular audience. Maybe this is why the search engines were happy to show them in the results.
Once a few had shown their use, the client was happy to roll out several more to target all of their top services. I added in some refinements to the sites to help the re-written pages be more useful to the people finding them, and to the whole sites to show Google we weren’t running a network of spam sites to try to influence their ranking of the client’s main website – it would have been a terrible result to have some small sites doing well in search and lose the whole of the main site from being found.
Over time, the microsites have brought thousands of extra enquiries in to the client, so have been excellent value compared to the cost of creation and maintenance.
An interesting side effect of having a main website and range of microsites is how they are affected when Google changes their ranking systems. When a big change comes through, if conversions through the main site start dropping, we often see a boost in enquiries from the microsites. By following a different path in optimising the microsites, we’ve gained a bit of resilience in riding out the big changes.
If you have an SEO experiment you wish to run, a microsite can be a great way of doing it. Re-using existing branding and navigation saves a lot of time, so you can concentrate on the content and some promotion to get the site found. You don’t even need the technology behind the microsites to be the same as your main site. Use a complicated, bespoke CMS behind the main site but want to use something simpler for your experiment? Feel free to use WordPress, or some simple static HTML pages. Anything that lets you get an experiment up and running quickly is fine.
Interested in looking at how microsites might help your business? Get in touch, I’m happy to chat about your needs.