Microsites can be beautiful and smart and funny. They can also be messy, confusing and frustrating. Especially from an SEO perspective.
For the purpose of this article, let’s just agree that a microsite is “a branded content site that lives outside of the company homepage and/or brand URL.” (Source: Contently)
The problem with microsites is that in many cases, they are created where a simple landing page or a subfolder would suffice. Or they are created for a specific purpose and then are never deleted or integrated into the main site.
Don’t get me wrong; microsites can be a good idea. When used strategically, they can benefit your brand and business. However, they can also be quite problematic.
What’s Wrong With Microsites?
- They are generally not good for SEO. It’s much harder to build authority for multiple domains than it is for a single one.
- If you have multiple websites linking to each other, it can negatively impact user experience. Visitors might not realize they are leaving one domain and entering a different one.
- Reporting on overall performance of separate properties can be time-consuming.
- You may also find yourself posting duplicate content on the main site and the microsite or having to repurpose content.
At Resolver, we’ve encountered all of the above. We decided to merge the microsite with the main site to avoid those problems in the future.
What we found was that by merging the two, we can avoid all the problems I listed above while improving the performance of our main website.
So if you’ve created or inherited microsites that you wish you could now integrate with your main site, read on.
Does This Sound Like You?
- Your main site and your microsite are related; they are targeting the same audience and are going after similar keywords.
- Your microsite is ranking and as a result getting organic traffic that is of value to you.
- You find yourself having to repurpose content for the microsite to avoid a penalty.
- In your analytics, you see your microsite as one of the top referrers to the main site and vice versa.
- You find yourself reporting on two websites separately and then adding up the numbers to see the overall performance.
If this sounds familiar, then you can use the method below to merge your microsite with the main site while gaining in rankings and organic traffic.
Why Did We Decide to Merge?
As a result of a company merger and a rebranding, we ended up with two websites that had a very similar structure and content. Since only one would become our main website, we have done an exercise of integrating both websites over the period of eight months. Why do it?
- Simplified reporting: Before the merge, we were forced to report on two domains separately. Merging them together would reduce reporting time.
- Brand consistency: Although historically we were two separate companies under two different names, today we put a lot of effort into promoting the company as Resolver. Having a microsite under a different name was inconsistent with the overall brand strategy.
- Reduce confusion: When visitors landed on the microsite, there were a lot of links pointing back to the main site such as blogs, resources, etc. Having to navigate between two domains contributed to poor user experience.
- Keyword cannibalization: Both websites had pages about the “incident management” product. As a result, both of them were competing for the same keywords and neither page had enough strength to outrank some of the main competitors.
How We Did It and How You Can, Too
STEP 1: Copy over and redirect resource pages from microsite to the main site
At first, we had two separate resource libraries, one on each site. Since one site was becoming the main one, we made a decision to move the resources to the main site and maintain only one resource library.
From that point on, we published new resources on the main site only and kept just a handful of relevant resources on the microsite.
This step saved us time by not having to post duplicate content on two sites and not having to worry about repurposing the content for both sites.
What you can do:
Review both websites for duplicate or very similar content. Are you finding yourself posting the same resources on both websites? Do you go out of your way to “repurpose” content for one of the sites just to avoid a search engine penalty?
If you see those symptoms, craft and implement a thorough redirect plan to send anyone looking for such content to your main site. Make sure you redirect each existing page to its twin and not the homepage.
If the page doesn’t have a twin, meaning the content is unique to the microsite, copy those pages to the main site, then redirect. It will ensure your visitors are finding what they are looking for and are landing on relevant content.
STEP 2: Continue posting blogs only to the main site
Almost right away we stopped posting blogs to the microsite. One of the main goals was, again, to avoid content duplication. However, this decision also proved to be very beneficial in the long run.
When the microsite was created, the content on it was pretty niche. By publishing blog posts related to that niche to the main site, we were slowly creating supporting content on the main site.
However, there was one concern about that — when visitors of the microsite wanted to read the blog, they were taken to the main site. As I mentioned above, this was negatively affecting user experience as not everybody was familiar with the Resolver brand at that point.
What you can do:
If you have blogs on both sites and the content you are publishing is related, you can merge the blogs into one. Copy over the posts from the microsite to the main site and apply redirects similar to the step above. You can adjust the structure of your blog and introduce a new category for the posts you copy over.
By doing so, not only will you save time by having to manage only one blog, you will also grow your main website with relevant content and will stop cannibalizing your own keywords.
STEP 3: Build a dedicated product page
To make sure the main site represented all the products and services we were offering, we built a dedicated product page that reflected the content from the microsite.
We wanted to make sure that when people get redirected from the microsite to the main site, they still land on the relevant page and can find the information they are looking for.
The product page included product information and invited visitors to request a product demo — pretty much exactly what the microsite was doing anyway. We launched the page one day prior to redirecting traffic from the microsite to it.
What you can do:
Prior to redirecting your product and service pages, make sure there is a place on the main site for microsite visitors to land on. If it doesn’t exist, build out those pages first. You want to make sure that those pages are of high quality, follow SEO and UX best practices, and have as much if not more content than the old microsite pages.
STEP 4: Redirect all pages from the microsite to the main site
On Day X we applied 301 redirects, making sure microsite visitors are redirected to the most relevant pages on the new site.
What you can do:
Make sure you map out all the redirects page by page. The visitors shouldn’t experience any confusion or notice that they have been redirected when they visit your website.
STEP 5: Additional step you can take
If you are redirecting the homepage of your microsite to the homepage of your main site, you can indicate to Google that the old website is now the new site using Google Search Console (Settings > Change of Address).
Since we were redirecting the homepage to the subfolder, GSC didn’t allow to perform the change of address.
STEP 6: Outreach campaign
We have also launched an outreach campaign through which we are aiming to replace as many backlinks to the old domain with links to the main site domain.
Results We Experienced
As a result of this merger exercise, we‘ve noticed an increase in rankings and an increase in organic traffic.
While these only represent the results of this particular case study, it’s a good illustration of what metrics you can track if you choose to do a similar microsite merger.
Overall organic traffic to the main site increased 24.71% month-over-month and 18.88% year-over-year.
Overall organic traffic July to September 2016 – merger happened on August 22, 2016
The graph below shows total traffic to the new dedicated landing page on the main site.
As you can see, almost right away organic search brought 45% of all the traffic to that page.
Organic rankings for “incident” related keywords have improved (GSC data).
Average position for “incident” related keywords jumped by 10 points in the first 30 days after the merge.
Right after the switch, the new dedicated page started ranking for the “incident” related keywords with an increase in rankings. The navy blue line represents the new dedicated page, other colors represent pages that ranked for the keywords before the microsite merger. We saw no gap in rankings after we redirected the microsite despite the fact that we launched the dedicated page one day before the redirects were implemented.
Summary of Results
- Month over month organic traffic increased by 24.7%.
- Year over year organic traffic increased by 18.9%.
- Organic traffic to the dedicated landing page in the first 30 days after the merger was 45%.
- Average position for “incident” related keywords jumped by 10 points in the first 30 days after the merge.
- Immediately after the merge, the dedicated product page started ranking for the “incident” related keywords.
- Moreover, the dedicated product page started ranking higher than the microsite has ever ranked for.
Why It Worked
- Content was transferred and redirected over time, thus creating supporting content on the main site. Because there was already some information on the website about “incident management,” it might have signaled to search engines that the website became even more relevant for those keywords when the traffic was redirected from the microsite.
- Traffic from the microsite was redirected to the dedicated product page. People who came to that page from the microsite spent close to 2.3 minutes on that page on average.
- 301 redirects mapping: Instead of pointing all redirects to the homepage or to the dedicated product page, all pages on the microsite were reviewed and mapped to the most relevant pages on the main site.
- As a part of the merger, we updated the title tags to include relevant keywords.
Merging a microsite is not a one-day task. But it doesn’t have to be an 8-months-long process, either. You can definitely shorten the stages and make a move in whatever time frame makes sense to you and your brand.
You saw the effect a merge like that can have on SEO. So, if you are looking for a way to merge your microsite with your main site while improving your metrics, it definitely can be done.
All screenshots by Katya Bovykina. Taken September 2016.