Microsites for Local SEO: the Pros and Cons

Image credit Stephen Chiang (stephenchiang.com)

Image courtesy of Stephen Chiang Photography

Some business owners think the best way to rank in many cities in the local search is to have many websites.  That’s a losing strategy.

They build microsites – by which I mean a bunch of small, usually almost identical sites with names like:

            PlumbingCompanyCambridge.com

            PlumbingCompanySomerville.com

            PlumbingCompanyWatertown.com

            PlumbingCompanyMalden.com

            PlumbingCompanyCharlestown.com

            PlumbingCompanyWinthrop.com

            PlumbingCompanyLynn.com

            PlumbingCompanyChelsea.com

            PlumbingCompanyRevere.com

There are two main scenarios where business owners feel tempted to use microsites:

Scenario 1.  They’ve got a single-location business that serves customers in a wide area – like within a 50-mile radius.  They know they probably can’t get visible in Google Places across that much terrain, so they want to pick up organic rankings in all those neighboring towns.

Scenario 2.  They’ve got several locations – using addresses that Google considers legitimate – and want each Google Places page to lead to a website that has the city in the domain name.

Microsites are a bad wager in both situations.  (They’re even a dumb move for ecommerce.)

That’s not to say some businesses don’t grab some OK local visibility with them – and maybe even some customers.  But it’s relative: I can’t think of a situation when those businesses wouldn’t be better off using fewer sites.

Here’s my assessment of using microsites for local SEO:

Pros

  • You can stuff the same city name into every greasy little crevice of the site, including the domain name.

 

Cons

  • You’re spreading your content thin.  Let’s say you have 8 sites and you bust your hump to create great info.  Either you kinda-sorta help 8 sites, or you give them all boilerplate content, or one site gets all the benefit.  Your desire to build good sites is caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
  • It’s a similar challenge with any links you earn.  (Not that you can create a bunch of sites with identical link profiles, unless they’re garbage links.)  You’ll have multiple sites with mediocre link profiles, rather than one strong lineup.
  • Even if all your sites saw an equally good boost from the content and links, you can’t help but imagine how much one site (or even a couple) would have benefited.
  • If you only have one location it’s hard to figure out which site – if any – should get a crack at Google Places.  Let’s say you’ve got 10 microsites.  That probably doesn’t correspond to 10 physical locations or separately registered businesses.  It’s more likely you’ve got just one location, in which case Google insists you can only have one Google listing.  (Although there are a few exceptions).
  • If you only have one location, you’ll be able to put your address info – an important ranking factor – on only one of the sites.
  • If you do have multiple locations, there is no good reason you can’t just have location-specific landing pages.
  • It’s easy to overdo the interlinking between your sites.  You’ll always be tempted to add one more keyword-rich link from one keyword-rich URL to another.  That’s a bad idea because…wait, quiet…I think I can hear Penguins waddling over to you.
  • Higher costs: More domain names, hosting, and development expenses.  That also makes you more likely to skimp on important investments – like help with local SEO, which you may need bad.
  • It’s harder to manage all the sites.  If you make a mistake, chances are you’ll end up needing to fix it 8 or 9 or 10 times.  Sometimes pain has a purpose.  Then there are those times you step on a Lego.
  • You’re probably creating a bad user-experience.  Your content likely will be thin.  Or you’ve “geotargeted” your content with cutting-edge techniques like repeating 15 times on the page that your company is the leading “plumbers Dallas TX.”  Would-be customers will know you’re just paying their city or town lip-service.
  • It’s harder to tell people you talk with offline which website to check out.
  • Are you really going to have 7 Facebook pages, 7 Twitter handles, 7 Google+ pages, etc. – that you don’t simply build, but also develop?
  • What if you already have one “main” site that all your customers are used to going to?
  • With nothing to differentiate your site other than a possible small advantage in the name, you’re one Google algorithm update away from the fiery pits of page 37.

 

My rule is simple: Have as few sites as possible.

Even if you think that number will end up being more than a handful of sites, figure out your exact reasons for having that many sites.  If your reasons begin with “Because Google…” then you’re probably headed for trouble sooner or later.

Ideally you have one site that you grow into a beast, through focus and sustained effort.

But however many sites you have, you’ll get out of them exactly what you put into them.

What’s been your experience with microsites?  Anything you want to say in favor of them?  Leave a comment!

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)

 

Your landing page matters if you want to be visible in the local search results.

The landing page – also known as the URL you enter into the “website” field of your Google Places page (or Google Plus listing if you’ve “upgraded”).

Most businesses use their homepage for this – which is usually fine.

(No need to read any of this if you only have one business location and know that you want to use your homepage as the landing page for your Google listing.)

But if you have several locations or just want to use a different page as the landing page for your Google+Local listing, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what to name your page.

Or if you’re trying to snag some visibility in the organic rankings for local businesses, you still have to figure out what to name your page(s).

It’s easy to pick a page name that helps your rankings.  But it’s even easier to pick a lousy one that hurts you.

Here are my tips for how to name your page in a way that doesn’t get your site penalized, doesn’t mess up your citations, doesn’t annoy people who visit your site, and does help you rank better:

 

Tip 1:  Make sure the entire URL of the landing page for your Google+Local page is 40 characters or fewer.  The first reason is that Google will cut off your URL after that, and show an ellipsis in the search results.

The second reason – and the-more important one –is that you’ll run into problems with your citations if the URL (without the “http://www”) exceeds 40 characters.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdateUSA.com won’t allow URLs longer than that.

If ExpressUpdateUSA doesn’t give your URL the thumbs-up, the sites it feeds – AKA a bunch of your citations – won’t use the correct landing page, either.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that can hurt your rankings.

It’ll also be a problem at Yelp, where long URLs usually aren’t allowed.

 

Tip 2:  Realize that you don’t need hyphens in your page name for Google to recognize your search term(s) in it, and to display it in bold letters in the search results.  It recognizes that “carpetcleaning” is the same thing as “carpet-cleaning.”  You should still use hyphens if possible, simply because they make it easier for people to read your URL.  But if you’re pressed for space, you can get rid of them.

 

Tip 3:  Don’t repeat elements of your domain name, like location names or keywords, in your page name.  It’s a waste of space and looks spammy to Google and to humans.  Either your domain name or page name should contain a search term you’re going after, and maybe even the name of your city.

 

Tip 4:  Consider using two-letter state abbreviations.  They’re a good use of space, because they may help you snag rankings for search terms that include state names (e.g. “lawyers Orlando FL”).

 

Tip 5:  Triple-check for typos when you create your landing page.  Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people mess this up – and I’ve done it a couple times myself.

 

 

Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.

 

Tip 7:  Don’t worry too much about what to name your subdirectories.  If your page name is relevant but your URL is more than about 40 characters, Google will show an ellipsis in place of the name of the subdirectory.

A few notes

Page names don’t matter quite as much in Bing Places, at least from a “user experience” standpoint, because URLs aren’t shown in the local search results.

You won’t see spelled-out URLs if you’re looking at the Google+Local results on a smartphone.

The only way that I know of to get Google not to show “www” in the 7-pack search results is if you specify it with rel=“canonical” on your landing page.

(There seems to be another way to get the “www” not to show up; see comments below.)

But I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to use rel= “canonical” on your landing page; if your landing page is a duplicate of another page, then you’ve got bigger problems to deal with than the length of your page name.

By the way, I’d also recommend all the above tips except #1 if you’re going after organic rankings and want to get the most out of the names of your city pages.

Any suggestions for how to name your “local” landing pages?  Leave a comment!