In many ways, the automotive retail industry has made huge leaps and bounds in digital marketing since I got into the car biz in 2008. But every so often I see a product being pitched that is so outdated, so backwards and just so wrong that I can’t help but shake my head in bewilderment.
I’m talking about you, Microsites!
If you’re an automotive digital marketing aficionado like I am, you probably just said to yourself, “wait…didn’t microsites go out of style circa 2011?”.
Yes…yes they did.
So imagine my surprise when it was brought to my attention that there are still vendors out there today, in 2017, trying to sell microsites to car dealers.
Look, I get it. Companies need products to sell their clients and all that jazz, “because money”. But to tell a car dealer (with a straight face no less) that they need a microsite “because SEO” is not just ridiculous, it’s bordering on ridonkulous!
Before I get into my (overly) wordy, yet passionate reasoning for why microsites are a bad idea, I want to set the record straight on something first just so we’re all on the same page….
There are no shortcuts for good SEO.
When it comes to SEO, there is no silver bullet or set of magic beans that will instantaneously improve your organic search rankings. Link farms won’t do it, spammy duplicate content won’t do it, keyword stuffing won’t do it and neither will a microsite.
Good SEO takes time, solid strategy, discipline and patience. Those who understand the modern concepts of SEO are the ones who will succeed for the long term. Those looking for the quick fix will probably end up doing themselves more harm than good.
With that being said, let’s take a deeper look into why I just can’t recommend building a microsite for your dealership.
1. Respect Your Website’s Authoritah!
If your dealership has been around for a while, then odds are you’ve had the same website URL for many years. Over those years, your website has become the most authoritative subject on the web about your dealership. Google has watched your domain blossom into a relevant resource and rewards it accordingly in the search results when anyone searches for your dealership, the makes and models of vehicles that you sell in your city, brand specific service, or other related sales and service queries.
Assuming you’ve consistently been doing all the right things on your domain, there will never be an web entity with your dealership’s name on it that will rank better than your website. Your dealership’s Facebook Page, Yelp Listing or Cars.com Dealer Profile could never knock your own website off its rightful place at the top of the SERP.
Your dealership’s website is the #1 subject matter expert on YOU. Respect that, and don’t forget it. Ever.
2. Content & Backlinks
According to Google, there are hundreds of signals that determine where websites will rank for any given search. While Google doesn’t always divulge algorithmic secrets, they’ve been clear over the years that quality content and links to your website are the two most important factors.
Once again, if your website has been around for any length of time, it has a history of delivering quality content to real people. Also, it’s more than likely that you’ve earned your fair share of links to your website over time (even if you didn’t know it). Links from your local media outlets, local charities that you support, local schools and teams that you sponsor, and so on. Having a seasoned and natural backlink profile is a huge benefit to your website from an SEO and Local SEO perspective.
But what about a microsite? More than likely it’s going to be built on a brand new domain that has zero history with search engines. The only content on the microsite will consist of boilerplate core pages along with new and/or used inventory – nothing new and original there. And who’s going to link to this microsite when there’s nothing useful or original to link to?
And if you were in position to earn a link from a local business or community partner, wouldn’t you want it going to your dealership’s primary website to build upon what’s already there?
3. What’s it Going to Rank For?
The idea behind having a microsite back in the day was about “dominating search results”. Meaning that for any given search, if you could have one or more websites ranking for a particular search phrase in addition to your main website then you could (in theory) drive the competition off of page one and increase the likelihood that a user would click on one of your websites.
I won’t lie, ten years ago you could pull that off. But today it just doesn’t work any more (and hasn’t for a while).
If you’re reading this article about microsites because you’re on the fence or leaning toward building one, I want you to pause and think about this for a second.
If the content on the microsite is virtually identical to what’s on your main website (about us, specials, new & used inventory, etc.) how is it going to rank for keywords that your main website doesn’t already dominate?
The reality is that a microsite will ultimately only rank for the same subset of brand related and inventory related queries that your dealership’s website does, and it won’t rank as well because of #1 and #2 above.
4. Stay on Target
Most dealerships today run some kind of retargeting campaigns tied to their website that helps them stay in front of consumers after they leave your website and browse the web and social media. If a customer was to magically land on your microsite, once they left you’d miss out on the opportunity to keep your brand and message in front of them as they went about their lives.
5. It’s One More Thing To Manage
A marketing manager at a dealership has no shortage of dashboards and web presences that they’re tasked with managing and keeping updated. With the limited time and resources that you have available, why add one more thing to the mix when there will be little to no return out of it?
6. Brand Confusion
At best (and this is a stretch) the microsite would ultimately end up competing on the same SERP’s as your dealership’s website which could lead to a poor user experience and brand confusion. Does Apple have separate websites for iPhones and MacBooks? Does Netflix have separate apps for Movies and TV shows? No, they have one cohesive experience for their users. Why should it be any different for your dealership?
Are Microsites Good For Anything?
To sum it all up, from an SEO and UX perspective, a microsite isn’t going to deliver previously undiscovered keyword rankings, it’s not going to deliver incremental organic traffic, it won’t bring you new customers, it won’t be authoritative, it won’t be linked to and it won’t have original content.
That being said, you might be asking yourself, “But Jason, are there are ANY cases where a microsite might be useful?”.
I suppose under certain circumstances, I can make the case where a microsite can have its uses – but not for any reasons related to SEO.
For example, let’s say your dealership is hosting a community or charity event and you want some resources on the web to direct people towards leading up to the event. However, when you tried to build out some landing pages and custom RSVP contact forms on your dealership’s website, you just weren’t able to get the look, feel or functionality that you were hoping for. In this example, you could certainly partner with a vendor to build a one-off microsite with all the information needed while giving people the ability to RSVP to the event.
The difference here is that this microsite is for a specific event – not about SEO or “dominating” search results – and once that event is over, the microsite has fulfilled its purpose. But even though I’d consider this an acceptable use case for a microsite, I’d still recommend that you build out the content on your dealership’s primary website if possible.
So please, if the idea of a microsite sounds like a good idea, ask yourself – is it because you feel that your own website has issues? Whether it’s design issues, lack of flexibility or unhealthy SEO our team at Dealer Inspire is here to help you along the way so you can achieve all your goals!