Should I Downgrade to a Mini Website?

April 16, 2014
by Conor Treacy

    Website Design_Big Red SEOEarlier today we were presented with an interesting proposition by one of our clients. We’ve worked with them for 2+ years in SEO and they’re getting great traffic organically, their domain name is 17 years old, and their marketing team just recommended they launch a Micro Website and dump their existing website. As we heard the sentence come to an end, the client could hear a gasp from us. What ensued was a productive dialogue over the next 15-20 minutes on the power of micro websites, while at the same time, the negative impact they’d see as a result of changing the website.

    It all started with a redesign

    Before we start to evaluate the impact of changing the website, we’ll let you in on a few details of how this decision started to come to light. Big Red SEO has been performing SEO for the client over the past 2 years. During the time the organic rankings have increased, and exposure for the business as a whole has also increased. They don’t run any Pay-Per-Click campaigns, they have a press release that they publish once per month, and their Social Media scene is limited mainly to Facebook.

    A few months ago, a new director took over in the business and wanted a fresh new look for the website. This was a great opportunity to present WordPress as a Content Management System (CMS) so that their team could manage things a little easier. Their existing system is a closed loop CMS that requires the originally contracted designers to make the necessary updates on the site – and even then, it’s at their leisure and pay rate.

    A request for proposal (RFP) was sent out to a number of different agencies regarding the direction of things and while Big Red SEO didn’t suggest changing the website into a Micro Site, a media company did – and so began the discussion.

    The devil is in the details – lots of details

    There are just over 200 pages in the website, so it’s not considered a small website, but it’s definitely not a huge one either. That being said, the thought process was to drill the website down to 10 important pages and create a new website for sales out of those 10 pages, essentially removing the rest as they’ve been online for years. On the surface, it sounds like a pretty good idea, but what will happen to all that organic traffic that has been coming to the site? The suggestion from the “marketing professional”? Just ignore it.

    The domain is over 15 years old, and there are not only several thousand visitors per month, but also over 40,000 backlinks from 700 domains too! Hold your horses there, buddy, we’re not going to start deleting things just because someone came up with an idea–this requires a little more evaluation.

    There are two locations for the business, and just over 84% of the traffic that comes to the website is customers looking to log into the billing section of the website–so they really don’t navigate around the website anyway. Those billing users are also redirected to a subdomain. Some of the site visitors are looking for the schedule of webinars and sessions that are held either online or in a classroom. So we’re really only talking about 15-16% of the visitors on the website who are new visitors. This changes things dramatically.

    The power of micro-websites

    Niche websites still work. You’ve probably stumbled upon a few in your travels around the internet. Whether it’s a small website for an auto mechanic, or a website that sells those small flying helicopters and only have one or two pages, these types of websites still work! Niche websites have received a pretty big target from Google as so many people used them for spamming and creating links that point to websites.

    Done correctly, micro-websites are a great starting point for websites. Done incorrectly, or with Black Hat tactics in mind, they create their own nightmare both for Google and visitors. Too often I’ve found myself searching for “chew toys for dogs” (my dog goes through toys like crazy, but that’s a story for another day), and while searching for dog toys I start finding links in the article that point to “get out of debt” or “get an auto loan.” These are spammy links–this is exactly what Google wants to find and delist–not only the link, but the person providing the link.

    As an overview website, Micro-Websites are wonderful. They give almost a brochure feel to the website. You can navigate to several different areas and expand your search much easier. But when it comes to SEO, these can be hard to rank for, and as a result, the traffic gained through natural linking will take a long time to accumulate.

    What will they lose when they change domains?

    Changing a domain name on the fly can result in dramatic changes to visitors, search engine traffic, and authority. Authority is how Google, and others, gauge a website on where to rank someone. The more knowledgeable you are about a subject, the more authority you receive. If you remove all the substance from the website and drill it down to only a couple of pages, you’ve just lost your entire “knowledgebase” of information to share with a visitor – not a good thing. Google can’t reward you!

    Think of it as your friend who always has the answer on what to do this weekend. They know all the hot spots, they know the places to stay away from, and best of all, they have first-hand experience with nearly everything they talk about. This is a huge wealth of information. Of course, along comes Facebook, you post your thoughts about something online, and overnight, your friend no longer wants to talk to you. This is what you essentially do when you delete a website online. Many times have I searched for something, found a relevant page in the search engines, and then landed on a website and received a 404 Error (page/site deleted).

    If your visitors receive 404 Errors, they generally don’t try to poke around the website for more information, they usually just go back to the search engine and try someone different. A lost site visitor, is a lost sale–and nobody likes to be losing money like this, especially if they were a repeat customer!

    The better alternative

    While we don’t agree that the website needs to be downsized, the navigation can certainly be cleaned up. Visitors probably don’t need 60 choices on the home page navigation–but the content that they link to is all valuable information. Cross linking from one section to another, guiding a site visitor, is perfectly acceptable.

    Since the idea of a Micro Website has been placed in the client’s head, and upper management loves the idea (no matter the consequence), a better alternative would be to create a mini website on the existing domain name (the one that’s 17 years old and gets tons of organic traffic), and then from there, you can direct other repeat visitors to the separate website (either domain name or subdomain). They can use 301 Redirects to help point visitors to the information they want, and over time, they’ll update their bookmarks to the new locations. Still, even then, you won’t want to delete the 301 Redirect.

    The power of the organic listings is the big thing that we’re trying to save. There are hundreds of press releases over the years, various organizations and charities that have linked to the main domain name–to lose all of that easy traffic would be a terrible thing to do. Converting the domain name to a brochure site for sales and then pushing others to the new website is a much better alternative. They can spend the next year or two building the organic traffic to the new site location, and it won’t have any immediate impact.

    There’s more to SEO than just links and traffic

    Clients come to us for solutions to their organic traffic issues, but at the end of the day, Big Red SEO is more of a marketing and business consultant than just your regular SEO Company in Omaha. We have to look at things from the big picture and what the impact of those decisions will carry into the future.

    When it comes to SEO, links, traffic, website design, content creation, and even social media via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, all are important, but you must have a detailed plan ahead of time.

    RFPs can also be a huge time waster as people request them to get ideas, a company can spend several hours developing the ideas and then the potential client just hires someone else to implement it–but that’s a story for another time, which you can read about here.

    When it comes to Micro Websites, they have their place, but in this client’s case, I don’t think it’s a wise choice. My own personal opinion is that the website should receive a facelift and restructure the navigation, keeping everything on the main domain name.

    Conor Treacy

    About

    Conor Treacy has been in the SEO game since the mid-90's when SEO hadn't yet come into full fruition. He spends most of his days performing website audits, reading and writing SEO blogs and industry related material. The rest of his time is consumed with correcting people on their invalid and blackhat ways. The SEO world has changed in recent years, there's a lot of disinformation on the web!