September 04, 2008
Are you a victim of microsite creep? A multitude of dedicated URLs for specific campaigns or product lines make it hard to coordinate search activities and present a unified brand.
But consolidating those sites into one URL poses its own risks – you don’t want to lose the search placements and keyword coverage those microsites have carved out over time. Here are top tips from a marketer who unified multiple sites and got an 83% lift in organic traffic.
Microsites are a great way for marketers to segment their online audience, support specific campaigns, and provide targeted content for different divisions and product lines. But microsite creep can limit those benefits.
A proliferation of microsites can create a variety of problems:
- Maintaining the same brand message across multiple sites
- Frustrating Web searchers who aren’t sure which site is right for them
- Overlapping content and keywords that point to those sites
- Varying levels of SEO
- Using different metrics to gauge the success of each site
Joelle Patten, Manager, Web and E-Business, Johns Manville, faced that scenario. The building products company had more than 20 microsites aimed at different audiences and supporting varied product lines.
“Every time someone launched a new product, or had a new promotion for a line of products, microsites kept bubbling up without any real tie to each other,” says Patten. “They looked a lot alike, but each had their own campaign and their own universe.”
Patten wanted to consolidate those microsites into a master site. But many of those microsites ranked high for key industry search terms. Any consolidation effort had to include safeguards that ensured they wouldn’t lose the search engine visibility they already had.
Patten and her team undertook a painstaking process to benchmark their existing search-engine visibility, map those pages to new locations within a consolidated site, and ensure keywords were pointing to the right place. The result boosted search traffic 83%.
Here are Patten’s eight tips for consolidating multiple microsites into one location:
-> Tip #1. Benchmark existing sites and search coverage.
Analyze your existing Web presence first. Examine each microsite to determine:
o Content it contains and what might be redundant with other sites
o Audience it addresses, such as consumers, a specific industry vertical, or a job description
o Keywords that drive traffic to that site
o Organic placement for each site, and past or current PPC campaigns
Then marry that observational data with Web analytics data, such as:
o Traffic rates
o Visitor demographics and online behavior
o Clickthrough and conversion rates for calls-to-action
o Keyword rankings and top competition
For this task, Patten and her team used a combination of in-house tools, such as their Web analytics platform, and external tools, such as online keyword research programs.
-> Tip #2. Analyze keyword strategy to develop comprehensive approach.
Each microsite likely employs its own list of key terms related to the product line and industry or demographic targets. As you benchmark each existing site, compile a list of all keywords being used, and highlight:
o Top performers
o Overlapping terms
o Success of past SEO efforts
Next, analyze those terms in the context of a comprehensive brand strategy:
- Patten worked with product managers to ask whether they were covering all the key terms their prospects would use in searches.
- The team also looked for terms that were specific to particular product categories and needed to be broadened.
For example, the company’s “performance materials” division sells insulation for various functions. The team compiled a list of specific insulation-related terms, such as “pipe insulation” and “mechanical insulation” to make sure those searches would be sent to the right locations.
Patten says the analysis was actually a good opportunity to look again at words they were using to make sure they were optimizing around top terms and dropping under-performing terms.
-> Tip #3. Choose an existing URL to host unified site.
What master URL do you use? That’s one of the biggest considerations when consolidating multiple sites.
Search engines tend to favor sites with longer track records and established quality scores. You can see better results by adding content to those sites, rather than creating a new URL.
Johns Manville had a relatively restrictive policy around its corporate URL. This police led to the habit of marketers creating microsites for specific initiatives. That policy also meant consolidating microsites into the corporate URL wasn’t an option.
Instead, the team chose to expand one of its best-performing sites, SpecJM.com. That site already had the most inbound traffic, most external links, and the widest array of search-optimized content.
“Instead of coming out of the blue with something brand new, we tried to leverage as much as possible what was a strong URL.”
-> Tip #4. Index existing pages and create map for new site.
With benchmarking complete, the team began the time-consuming process of indexing each microsite page and mapping them to a location in the new site architecture. The team examined each page to determine:
- Role for potential visitors, ranging from top-end, contextual information all the way down to detailed product information, such as product specifications.
- Enterprise taxonomy to put that information into relevant context for both search engines and visitors. By analyzing page text and metatag information, they determined how to organize pages according to contexts:
o Audience target, such as engineers creating specs for a new building
o Construction concepts, such as “green building”
o Product lines
- Whether additional, high-level information was needed to direct people down an internal navigation path. For example, product-specific detail pages might need to be linked to a broader, overview page outlining the full breadth of the company’s products in a category.
“We’re not just trying to redirect everyone to the homepage or right down to product page.”
After the mapping, the team undertook a manual process to tell search engine spiders that a page from a microsite had been moved to a new location:
- The team added 301 redirects to existing page URLs to point search engines to that page’s new location in the consolidated site.
- They used redirects to point inbound links to the master site.
-> Tip #5. Create new content to bridge gaps between microsites.
Microsites are often written with a specific audience or task in mind. Moving that content onto a new site often leaves gaps in your content or navigation strategy.
Patten’s team found that many of its building product microsites were aimed at a specific audience or focused on one piece of a building project, such as roofing or air ducts. None of the content had been written to address the entire commercial construction market, or to represent the Johns Manville brand as a whole.
“Because we were aggregating around a broad market, that content had never been written,” says Patten. “We had to create new content and find those terms that are much broader.”
They tailored content for:
- Broad construction concepts – such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program and sustainability.
- Target industries – such as solutions for the health care construction market.
- Brand attributes – such as the company’s full range of products and services.
-> Tip #6. Connect forms and calls to action to the right product group.
Many of the team’s existing microsites contained contact forms, download registration forms, and other communication channels that provided a direct communication channel to a specific division. When they consolidated those microsites into one URL, the team had to make sure all contact forms were still directing prospects to the right group to answer their questions.
- Visitors who came to a registration form from one of the site’s new, general information pages were asked a series of qualifying questions to help route their query to the right customer-support team.
- Product information requests were directed to each division’s sales support or marketing team for lead management purposes.
“The worst thing you can do when you combine a site like this is have a bunch of roofing questions go to the insulation person.”
-> Tip #7. Communicate proposed changes internally and externally.
Communicate your plans and progress because you are making dramatic changes to the company’s online presence. Patten involved product managers in the site consolidation process and worked with customer service personnel who deliver information and answers to prospects.
Also, they used external communications to tell customers about the site changes. Tactics included:
- Speaking with customers about the new site at industry events.
- Email messages to house mailing lists of contacts that had downloaded product information or used other online tools.
They sent those prospects an email telling them that the site they previously visited had moved and the link to the new page location within the consolidated site.
-> Tip #8. Use Web analytics to test and monitor new site.
As soon as the consolidated site went live, the team began monitoring its Web analytics program each day. They looked for any problems with site redirects, traffic flow and keyword performance.
Constant monitoring and frequent reports on website performance helped identify:
o Navigation changes
o Pages that needed additional content or keyword coverage
o Areas where new pages were needed
o Overall traffic patterns and lead-generation rates
The change allowed the marketing team to develop a comprehensive approach to its online marketing strategies. It ensured that all product divisions were monitoring the same series of metrics to gauge site effectiveness.
“Some of these microsites were only getting 100 visitors a month, because they had very specific content,” says Patten. “Now that we’ve broadened the audience were talking to, we’re getting thousands of people looking at the site. If I’m a product manager, that’s the piece I’m interested in.”
Useful links related to this article:
Faction Media helped plan and execute the site consolidation:
SpecJM.com, the consolidated site they created: