Let’s Talk About Microsites & Dips In Traffic: Ask An SEO
Today’s ask an SEO question comes from Kate in Louisville, who wrote:
“I work for a company that builds microsites for clients.
What factors do I need to focus on when there’s a dip in organic traffic?
In Q4 2021, for example, we did a rebrand and meta data was altered.
Would this have a massive impact on traffic going forward?”
Strictly speaking, there’s nothing different when it comes to how search engines treat a microsite versus a regular website.
They still look at URLs, links, titles, content, and hundreds of other ranking factors so the same SEO best practices for diagnosing a rankings drop will apply to microsites, too.
Let’s First Talk About Traffic Drops
I want to share some thoughts on microsites in general, but before we do that let’s look at how to handle that traffic drop.
The specific answer to your metadata question is: Maybe.
If you drastically changed the title tag from being relevant to your page to, say, “home” – then you’re probably not ranking as well for your query nor getting many clicks if you do rank.
(Gentle reminder: meta descriptions and keywords are not ranking factors in major search engines. However, a description can have an effect on your click-through rates – when Google decides to actually show the one you wrote.)
The good news is, that changing it back and seeing what happens is a really easy and quick test to perform.
The first thing to do when there’s a dip in traffic with any site is to understand where the traffic dip occurred.
Is it a specific query or set of queries? is it a specific page or group of pages? Is it sitewide?
Look for patterns. It might be one “style” of the keyword (for example, keywords around a specific section of the site) or it might be a certain page template.
This information can steer you where to look.
Once you figure out where the traffic drop is, search for that query/page and see what happens.
If you aren’t showing up at all, check your site for a technical issue.
If you are showing up, did somebody else jump your position?
If you have lost rankings, you should first ask what changes were made to the page.
Often an unwanted title tag or content change or random technical issue could be at fault.
Assuming there’s no change at fault, the next step requires some soul searching.
Ask yourself: “Is this really the best result for a user? if I was searching this query, is this what I would want? Is it better than what’s outranking me?”
Often times as SEO pros we think in terms of push marketing – ” how can I get this page to rank for this query” but true success comes from a pull marketing mentality of understanding what the user is trying to do and creating something that accomplishes that.
We’re seeing this a lot lately with the Google core updates.
Search queries that used to return product description pages now return recommendations and curated lists of the best products in that category.
Google has decided that these pages better serve the user than a single product page.
If something like this is happening in your area, the only solution is to re-evaluate your content in the context of the query and what the engines are showing.
Usually, this isn’t quick or cheap, but it’s the best way to succeed.
Okay, Let’s Talk About Microsites
Except for a few rare cases, I’m not a big fan of microsites.
Big brands love them because they can hire a cheaper/faster vendor to come in for some smaller project and keep it separate from their main website’s codebase, budgets, processes, etc. – but there are many drawbacks.
I’ve seen companies implement microsites to the point where the user flow became: enter on the main website, click a promo to go to the microsite, and then click another call to action back to the main website.
That just seems like a lot of unnecessary overhead that introduces more jump-off points for conversion.
It can also be an analytics tracking nightmare.
From a strictly SEO perspective, a microsite is starting over without any of the PageRank, link juice, or domain authority of the main website.
Whether you believe in such metrics or not, links still matter – and often microsites have fewer links to their pages than if they were placed on the main domain.
The other issue is competition. Too often a microsite done by another agency doesn’t collaborate with the agency doing the main website, and they end up competing for the same keywords.
In some spaces that can be a good idea, to own the search result and push down other pages – but the key here is to have a plan and collaborate with the main site.
Owning multiple search results or pushing something else down for ORM (online reputation management) could be one of the reasons why you’d want a microsite.
Paid search could also be another reason.
Google and Bing won’t let you serve two ads from the same domain, but if you have a microsite you could place 2 different ads on the same query.
In general though, if there isn’t a good reason for a microsite, I’d recommend just creating a new page or section on the main website.
When in doubt, let the user experience dictate the decision, not SEO.
If it’s going to be branded differently or there is a good reason to keep users apart, do a microsite.
If not, you’ll have stronger rankings and more success by including it in the main domain.
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