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Matt & Vanessa Don't Hate Me…

By Larry Bruce on Mar 10, 2012

But you couldn’t be more wrong about microsites!

I have had a few dealers reach out to me lately on Microsites being a bad idea and even one of the largest industry providers asking me if dealers using them will be “Black Listed” by Google…REALLY?!  

In this video Matt Cutts from Google explains his OPINION on microsites and calls out a post by Vanessa Fox “Microsites A Bad Idea Most of the Time”.



Before I break down some of the miss-guiding in the video by Matt and the post by Vanessa let me say I have tremendous respect for them both as SEO Practitioners and Marketers in their own right and I can certainly see their points for poorly designed, built and executed microsites / landing page strategies.  

Therein lies the first point.

“A well designed, well executed microsite / landing page strategy will outperform your website with targeted channels & campaigns every time.” However as with most strategies if it is not well designed, thought out and executed properly it won’t work…duh!

You lose brand identity and audience engagement

Ok let’s get real here… Most businesses don't really have a “Brand Identity”, they do not define the brand they sell as Coke defines soft drinks and Google defines search, so brand identity isn’t our goal when we advertise on Google and it isn't the main reason or even a secondary reason we want to be found on Google or any other search engine.

Why we advertise…Why we want to be found… is to sell something!

To be quite honest with you most of the time the reason a visitor gets to us is because they want to buy something NOT because they want to “Engage with us as a BRAND” So sending a visitor back to your RANDOM ACCESS WEBSITE where they get entangled in the web of everything other than what I was searching for is well… in a word “SILLY”.

Where I am going to promote “audience engagement” and “brand identity” is in my blog first and foremost then use social media for support and conversation on my brand topics, NOT in my site.

Vanessa there is no doubt brand awareness and credibility go a long way toward getting the click and the visitors perceived value goes a long way to getting the conversion, but when they are in the mid and lower funnel to buy I want to provide them relevant information, easy, quick access to that information not drop them on the Encyclopedia Britannica the is my main website, especially if I am making a specific offer.

You lose the ability to leverage your audience

“Let’s say you launch an awesome site with a fantastic user experience, great products, and unrivaled customer support. For instance, let’s say you’re Zappos. Someone writes up a positive article about you in say, the NY Times. Readers start clicking over to your site. They see you sell running shoes. They just read about how great you are, so they feel confident about purchasing some products from your site. But maybe those same readers also need some clothes to go running in. If you had a separate microsite, you’ve just missed a great opportunity to reach a targeted and motivated audience.”

The example above is absolutely what I mean by a poorly designed and executed microsite strategy. If they would have done it right the ad campaign would have targeted keywords “running shoes” and that would have dropped them on to a microsite that would have asked “What kind of running do you do” the choices would be under men or women and had links like “Sprinting, Long Distance, Cross Country etc.” that would have taken the visitor to a specific page for each shoe type and maybe even deeplink the visitor into the main website after the microsite has qualified them. In the end when the running shoe transaction is done the site should suggest running apparel and link them to another microsite or into the main site (depending on the situation) about running apparel.

The main point here… Don't confuse the visitor from what they were looking for in the first place with other offers or links for them to get lost, help them get what they came for quickly and easily then suggest others.  

I can’t begin to count the number of sales I have missed over the years not staying focused on what the customer wanted in the first place and muddying the water with other products.

The moral of your example… don't launch microsites for the sake of having a microsite, HAVE A THOUGHT OUT PLAN.

Let me add to this “NEVER BUILD MICROSITES AS A LARGER NET TO SOMEHOW GET MORE TRAFFIC” that is the biggest “BS” for the use of microsites propagated throughout our industry.

You confuse people and search engines

Here again Vanessa is confused by the poor microsite & landing page strategy. Mostly because I would not allow a microsite to ever be featured in the NY Times in the first place. If it was over your main website then you really need to take a look at your main site because you have bigger problems than microsites. Microsites are never used as a substitute for your main site and should never be what a media company like the NY Times wants to feature unless they are doing a story on the effective use of Microsites!

Let me add here Microsites are not built or meant to rank, they are meant to have a traffic driver like PPC or Email and convert. Therefore that “Loving Touch” as Matt puts in the video is done for the offer not the site, nor do you worry about search engine indexing because SEO is not your traffic driver here.

Bottom line this confusion has nothing to do with microsites and everything to do with poor microsite strategy or a poor main website design, in either case it’s bad.

You may have to spend substantial additional resources

“As you build out the content of both sites, you have to decide which content to put where. And decide how to spend marketing, PR, and advertising resources. When you issue a press release, which site do you talk up? All of them? What if you have 20? And you likely are doing social media. Do you now maintain 20 Facebook pages and 20 Twitter accounts? I’m tired just thinking about it.”

C’mon Vanessa really?

  • How do you decide Marketing, PR and advertising resources? – Based on if your marketing or advertising is making a specific offer and how you want to track that channel.

PR well if your “Press Release” is about a specific product send it to the microsite for that product, even better send it to your blog with more content about the specific product and use links and banners in your blog for offers on the product that go to microsites that convert that traffic into sales or leads.

  • Do you maintain 20 Facebook pages and twitter accounts? – Surely Vanessa you realize that Facebook and Twitter just support & distribute content, what would make you think you have to have a Facebook page and/or Twitter account for every microsite?

Again the above examples are functions or a poor microsite / landing page strategy not of microsites themselves.

“It’s a poor carpenter that blames his tools”

You cobble your search acquisition efforts

If you are trying to rank microsites then you are using them wrong. I think I have explained that enough in this post.

It can be difficult to match promotions to search visibility

“The trouble comes in when that promotion sparks search interest (which it undoubtedly will). I’ve observed this with the Super Bowl commercials in both 2009 and 2010. In 2009, several sites, including Hyundai and Sobe advertised taglines that had corresponding microsites, but those domains redirected to the main domain. Advertisers expected that viewers would type the URL into a browser address bar, but instead, many people typed the tagline or domain into a search box. Since the domain didn’t actually exist, the advertiser didn’t show up in search results. You can see this, for instance, with Hyundai’s Edit Your Own campaign.”

Here again a Poor Microsite Strategy having nothing to do with using microsites for what they are supposed to do. If the agency that did this promotion for Hyundai would have understood a good microsite strategy and knew what they were doing they would have done the following.

Built a true “Edit Your Own” Microsite with the goals of the visitor in mind who saw the ad, instead of a URL and splash page just to see how many people saw the ad and acted which is what I am sure was the agency’s and Hyundai’s goal there.

Their goal should have been to provide good information in the microsite aligned with the ad and the visitor intent then collect leads based on an offer of more information to come or special incentives or discounts, then distribute a content marketing campaign designed to follow up nurture those leads and distribute the high quality leads that bubble to the top to their dealer body.

Secondly it was a big mistake not to integrate a good Search Campaign with this ad. As Vanessa effectively points out in her post most of the off line advertising you’re doing is sparking more searches for the offer than the URL you put in the add if you don't have an integrated search strategy with that offline campaign you are missing business.   

Vanessa here again you have an example of a poor strategy and a misunderstanding that microsites need to rank, not a problem with microsites. Microsites don't rank, they’re highly relevant & they convert.  

You don’t get the search engine value you think you get

This is a really long explanation about how keword rich domains don't carry the search engine value you think and I agree with Vanessa 1000 percent. Google is on to the keyword domain thing and it carries very little weight now, no matter what anyone in the auto industry tells you… IT DOESN’T there is too much data to support that.

But I will reiterate I DON'T CARE about the search engine value! If you have the right microsite strategy the only search engine value you do care about pertains to quality score, that’s it. SEO is not the traffic driver for your microsite strategy if it is YOUR DOING IT WRONG…STOP!

So let me wrap this up…

  1. Your microsite strategy is NOT based on SEO
  2. Microsites focus your visitor on the offer and logical path to conversion
  3. If you are going to support offline advertising with microsites make sure you integrate PPC with it

 “A good strategy including the above, well designed microsites will out convert your main website every time”

Finally - Good microsites are closely tied to your keyword, to your ads and to your visitor landing making them highly relevant…what Google is all about! Any knucklehead that tells you that you will be black listed for doing that is a provider you need to stay very far away from as they are clearly clueless.

I hope my opinions here clear up some of the misgivings on microsites and help you think about them and your entire web advertising more clearly.

For more information on where to use microsites and landing pages see these links

Where Do You Use Landing Pages

Microsites & Landing Pages For Auto Dealers

About OnlineDrive:   

OnlineDrive is a Search to Show web marketing agency, helping auto dealers:

  • Be found more in the right places
  • Engage and convert more leads
  • Get more leads to show at your store


Amazing explanation! Thank you Larry.

Mar 10, 2012

Matt gets caught in his SEO bubble sometimes; you're dead on Larry when you mention that landing pages aren't/shouldn't be part of your SEO strategy. Their "scoring" is entirely different as you simply need them to convert well and play nice within your PPC efforts.

Besides, Matt is usually referring to low quality pages that crop up from spammers that have a shelf-life of days vs. being part of an integrated digital strategy.

I see absolutely no reason why someone shouldn't be using landing pages/ long as they're effective for the dealership and helpful to the consumer.

We don't hate you Larry:)

Mar 10, 2012

Larry, can you address how duplicated content from your main site on your micro-site might impact the ability of your main site to optimize as well as it should? I know you don't care how well the micro-site optimizes, but I assume you still care about having a main site that ranks well on the search engines.

Mar 10, 2012

@Ed - duplicate content won't impact the main site's ability to rank as long as proper attribution to the original source is provided. (If someone was in fact too lazy to create new content for a landing page:)

Mar 10, 2012

@ED & Eric
What Google doesn't want you to do is fragment you site into a bunch of site with artificial back links back to the main site (basically manufacturing back links) and that is where microsites end up like Vanessa points out in her post.

If you are using microsites right you are not duplicating content you are enhancing, matching it back to the keyword and user intent and there for making it more relevant to the visitor and that's when it works.

When done right it works really, really well.

Mar 11, 2012

Larry, I agree that when done right, it can work really, really, well. I'm simply trying to point out that if you had, say, an extended warranty micro-site, that site should absolutely not duplicate content from the extended warranty page on your main site.

Your focus is on the power of mico-sites and paid search marketing. But if done wrong (as Eric says, lazy) it could have a negative affect on your main site's ability to rank. I think this is part of what Matt and Vanessa were saying last year.

At minimum, any duplicate content needs to be tagged, so as not to index.

Mar 11, 2012

Agreed Ed, I cant think of any reason you would duplicate the content on a microsite from your main site except to Spam and create back links and that's bad.

To use your example of a Warrany Microsite, We would create a couple of sites that may target customers that bought a car and decliened a extened warranty.

One site would offer a discouned warranty special the other would offer terms to pay for the warranty over time. Then see which offer got us more warranty conversions.

This is how microsites are used effectively at least we think so.

Hope that helps,

Mar 11, 2012

Larry, This is an amazing and well thought out post. One of the "Traps" many get caught in is that they hope to optimize a micro-site for page one visibilty. While that may be nice it is not necassary in order for a MS to be effective.
To put it simply: I often tell people that they can call me the Janitor as long as I have the opportunity to earn a decent wage. Micro-sites can help you clean-up as well even if they don't "rank" highly. :)

Mar 11, 2012

Awesome post Larry, great thought process behind the strategy.

Like most things online if not executed correctly it will most definitely backfire. Makes me think of PPC, there are so many that just throw money at it and have these gigantic list's of keywords which in return weighs down your ROI. If executed correctly with precision the return can be substantial.

Mar 11, 2012

@Bryan agreed, I think the problem comes in when people see the video and read Vanessa's post and make poor assumptions, the spread that misiformaiton accross our industry I was hopeing to clear some of that up with this post.

Mar 12, 2012

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