Sean X Cummings, the director of marketing for Ask.com, made a rather bold, but completely wrong*, argument in his recent post “3 Reasons To Ditch Your Microsites.” Cummings said that companies should ditch their microsites because they are “advanced brochureware” and a sure sign that a marketing agency “does not get it.”
(*It’s entirely possible Sean and I are using the same word for two very different things. I’ve been calling one-page sites on unique URLs “microsites.” The following is based on my usage of this term.)
Actually, microsites serve a very important purpose to web marketers. Here are the three reasons you need to keep them:
1) Microsites boost search engine optimization.
2) Microsites improve your SEO.
3) Microsites make your SEO better than your competitor’s.
Microsites are not for marketing, not for branding, not to participating in the conversation. Once you build them, you don’t do a single thing with them.
The proper way to use a microsite
Let’s say you own a carpet cleaning service in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You also serve other areas, like Grand Rapids, Holland, and Battle Creek. You’ve already checked, and CarpetCleaning.com is already taken, but you own Cleanest-Michigan-Carpets.com (mostly because you listened to your brother-in-law, and he’s an idiot).
But you also know that:
- Yellow Pages usage is going down, while search engine usage is going up.
- Rather than pull out the phone book, people would rather Google something.
- Local search engine optimization wins local search (and carpet cleaning is definitely a local business).
- Search engines love keywords in a domain name.
Here’s how to use microsites properly:
1) Buy domains for KalamazooCarpetCleaning.com, GrandRapidsCarpetCleaning.com, etc. This tells the search engines that your sites are about carpet cleaning in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Holland, and Battle Creek, and nothing else. Those are also your keywords for each site, and you will use those 3 – 4 words, in order, without exception (i.e. not “Carpet cleaning in Kalamazoo”).
2) Optimize the bejeezus out of each microsite.
- Put the keywords at the start of the page title: e.g. “Holland Carpet Cleaning for Residential and Commercial Jobs” and “Kalamazoo Carpet Cleaning by John Smith.”
- Put the keywords in the first 4 words of the body copy. This may be awkward, but it needs to be done.
- Have no more than 2% keyword density (2 keywords or phrases per 100 words). SEO experts are still debating this, but 2% is a safe number.
- Include photos of you cleaning carpets, and use the keywords in the alt tags. “This is John, working hard for a Battle Creek carpet cleaning customer.”
- Use only the keywords in hyperlinks that lead back to your main site. “Find more information about Grand Rapids Carpet Cleaning on our website.” Don’t use any other words in those links. Put 2 -3 links back to your site.
3) Install a WordPress.org site on each page. Not because you need WordPress’ amazing functionality, but because it’s free, and let’s you create one front page. You can add more if you want, but you need at least one page. (You could expand each site later by writing blog posts about your keywords — see #2 — but that’s pretty involved. Save this as a last resort for when your idiot brother-in-law opens his own carpet cleaning business.)
4) Make it look pretty. A man is sitting in his living room wearing nothing but his underwear and a hat. A friend stops by to visit, and asks about the man’s outfit. “I’m in my underwear, because no one ever comes to visit me,” says the man. “Then why are you wearing the hat?” asks the friend. “Oh, because someone might come,” says the man. Put a hat on the site — download a free template — because someone might visit it.
5) Write strong, persuasive copy: If people come to visit, you need to give them a reason to click through to your main website. Don’t put up crappy copy just to game the search engines. Create well-written copy that explains what you do, how well you do it, and includes a call to action. Make significant changes to the text for all four sites, so they’re not identical or even nearly identical.
6) All links must point back to your main site: They should not point to any other site anywhere on the Internet. Ever. With one exception. Create links to the other sites under a small section that says “we also offer carpet cleaning services in other Michigan cities.” Then use the exact keywords and link to each of the other sites. These backlinks between the microsites and to your main site will boost your search engine ranking.
Here’s what will happen (more or less): The search engine spiders will visit each site and say “Hmm, this site appears to be about Kalamazoo Carpet Cleaning. Let’s make sure.” It will do a quick check, and confirm — based on your domain name, title tag, first 4 words, keyword density, and alt tags — that, “by God, this IS a site about Kalamazoo Carpet Cleaning! And it has everything we like, so it must be important. Let’s see where these links go.”
The spiders will follow the links back to your main site (hence, the name “backlinks”), and conclude, “if those really well-done sites point back to this site, and this site does carpet cleaning in all these cities, then this carpet cleaning site must be really important!”
Then, when people do a quick search for carpet cleaning in one of those cities, your main site will come up first.
That is how you properly use a microsite. No brochureware, no moving the brand, none of that marketing crap, just pure SEO goodness with trackable, measurable results. If your marketing agency ever suggests it for anything other than SEO, tell them Sean X Cummings would like a word with them.
Photo credit: Auntie P (Flickr)