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Microsites vs. One Large Site: an SEO argument

01/30/12 – 7:14 am | Posted By: Lienna

This question still roams around the web and we had an old article that was in need of an update. Business owners want to know whether they should distribute their products and services among microsites, or, if they should just have one big site containing it all. Aside from focusing on the user-experience, let’s walk through an SEO argument for each.

Microsites vs. One Large, Authoritative Site

Microsites: for this example, I’ll loosely define microsites as multiple websites created by the same owner based on the same niche. Microsites can include as little as three websites or as many as thousands of websites.

Pros

  • Having keyword rich domain names.
  • Almost immediate rankings (due to specific keyword(s)/phrase in domain and targeted copy in site).
  • URL links acquired have more value due to keywords in the domain. This also helps with rankings be achieved easier and faster.
Cons
  • Potential duplicate content issues if content is similar (just different keywords) across multiple domains.
  • Multiple domain registration fees.
  • A lot of unique content generation needed per website.
  • Possible limitation of ranking for any additional keywords not present in domain name.
  • A lot of site maintenance.
One Large Site: I’ll loosely define one large, authoritative site as a website containing all content on one domain. The domain name may or may not have a keyword in it, depending on your business.
Pros
  • More in-depth site architecture, internal linking and page optimization.
  • Higher chances of having a section including frequently updated content (like a blog or news/article section).
  • More links pointing to one site or pages on one site, increasing authority.
  • Easier to rank for multiple keywords/keyword phrases.
  • One domain registration fee plus consolidated site maintenance.
  • Less risk of duplicate content issues or being marked as “spammy” by search engines.
  • Little risk of site effectiveness being depleted due to ranking algorithm changes. (For example, if search engines stopped giving value to keywords in domain names… then what?!)

Cons

  • Harder to acquire desired rankings.
  • Link building is more difficult without keywords in domain name. [update: see comment section for thoughts on why I initially put link building is more difficult. To better reflect my thoughts, not having a keyword(s) in the root domain in an overall "con" for an SEO campaign. It's not necessary; but would be great if it "made sense" to include.]
  • Content creation needed to generate traffic and links.

Which is best?

I will almost always say building one authoritative website is better than having microsites. Not only do I believe that it’s better for search engines, but more importantly, it’s usually better for the user. As always, there isn’t one answer that fits all businesses and business models.

About the Author: Lienna

Lienna
Lienna is the Web Marketing Specialist at DKS Systems. She is an expert in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Social Media, Online Marketing, and building a positive online web presence.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted 04/13/12 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Courtney, great article. I like the argument & given that I’m a search agency myself, I come across this topic frequently with my clientele. Though I agree with your conclusion, I was interested in asking if you would expand on one of the cons for the “One Larger Site.” Specifically, the bullet point stating: “link building is more difficult without keywords in domain name.” I’m assuming you mean link building efforts & in their underlying value. However, do you really think that it makes a difference when the keyword is in the domain? From experience, the page title & underlying body content have determined relevance. Would you mind expanding on your thought? I will note that with regards to ranking, it is very apparent that keywords within the URL, namely the root URL (and since panda, sub-domains also) have greatly influenced underlying site rankings and have made it easy to hop right on the front page of Google within a matter of only weeks. Lastly, I would like to say that I found this article on the front page of Google for the query “one main site vs. multiple smaller sites.” Keep doing what you do!

  2. Posted 04/13/12 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for stopping by our blog! I would be happy to expand my thought on that. What I meant was, when people link to your website, they’ll usually link using the domain: http://www.keywordindomain.com. If a keyword is in the domain- that’s a bonus. I definitely think that having keywords in the URL is awesome for SEO, combined with optimized on-page SEO elements including the page title, content, etc. I definitely wouldn’t say that not having a keyword in the domain makes it “difficult” for link building- because there are so many forms, so maybe I used the wrong descriptor there. In general, I would say it’s a “con” in regards to overall SEO if you can’t have a keyword in the root domain- but it won’t make or break a campaign. And, I wouldn’t try and fit one in if it didn’t make sense; optimize for users first, engines second is our motto.

    Hopefully that cleared things up as far as what I was thinking! I’ll make an edit to the article to better reflect my thoughts!

  3. Posted 04/13/12 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Nicely put Coutney.
    The ultimate solution to my opinion is to have a large site *as well as* micro sites targeted to specific sub-niches. That’s how you get both authority _and_ minimized risks. So if your main site gets hit on SERP (from any reason), you won’t have to close down your business.
    Also, I’d suggest building the micro-sites as branded, as it will allow far more possibilities, minimizing footprint and encouraging build-up of communities.

  4. Posted 09/15/12 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Courtney,

    Nice article! I agree with what you have stated and would like to add a few comments. Creating a microsite can provide a little ranking insurance against competitive pressure and quirky algorithm changes. I also think that a new company can use microsites to expedite earning competitive ranking for key terms while the “main site earns its stripes”.

  5. Posted 09/17/12 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Hi Jim, thanks for your input!

    While I do think you’ve raised some good points, I do still think that putting efforts into one main website is better to build rankings, trust and authority. Even though a microsite might be able to rank well for some selective key phrases, they are not only competing against your competitors but your website as well (if your main site is “earning its’ stripes”). Also, the time and efforts to get microsites to rank well should be put into your main site. There are always exceptions to the rule, though and these opinions are just based on the types of microsites I’ve worked with!

    Thanks again for stopping by! :)

  6. Posted 09/28/12 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Great article. The only thing is, it seems that the answers given for one site as opposed to microsites are always the same and lack the option of linking all microsites together. Is it really not recommended for SEO? After all all my sites have a similar theme which is insurance and mainly life insurance. It would allow me to improve visit experience too but am afraid that SEs will penalize me. Your thoughts! Thank you!

  7. Posted 09/28/12 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michoel,

    My fist reaction is that’s not recommended. Reasons being is that Google has changed their algorithm to crack down on over-optimization, spammy backlinks and excessive anchor text linking (high generalization, here). However, I don’t know your strategy or how you are inter-linking. There are always exceptions to the rule, but my thoughts are that optimizing one website (which takes a lot of time and effort) is better than having many sites because all your content is hosted in one place and it has a chance to build trust and authority. I wish I could give you a better answer, but not knowing anything about your microsites/content/visitors/etc… my thoughts are optimize one site and put all efforts into it. Hope this helps!

  8. Aaron
    Posted 04/04/13 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    How can i USE Micro Pages in Website for SEO Ranking.

  9. Matt
    Posted 01/31/14 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Courtney,

    I have 100 sites based out of CA that I would like to slowly link into my main site using the banner at the top. Is that a bad idea or could it be beneficial?

  10. Posted 02/17/14 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Matt, without knowing any the details of your sites or authority metrics, it’s hard to say. I noticed you didn’t say redirect, but only link. I think first, you need to look at it from a branding/user perspective. If it’s for your brand and user benefits then yes, link to your main site. If it’s just for back-links, I’d have to know the authority and traffic metrics to comfortably make a recommendation. Hope that helps!

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