Microsites for Affiliates and SEO

Microsites can be immensely useful for generating additional traffic to your main web site. They can also help affiliates rank and even get around certain Google rules with no black hat SEO involved. But you have to know how to use them correctly to make this work. Keep reading to learn more.

In the past, microsites were not something many people knew about or used, and those that did use them, used them for completely different reasons than we do today.

If you were launching a new product or running a seasonal promotion, microsites were the way to accomplish this. If you had a need for an area separate from your public website, such as a secure area within your website, then a microsite sometimes on a subdomain was usually the way to go.

These days microsites have been re-purposed for many different things.

In my position at Stickyeyes, microsites have evolved into a blessing in disguise. You see, many corporate website owners, especially those in the banking and gaming industries, do not want any outside party to have access to their servers…for any reason. So microsites can be set up and full access given to agencies or affiliates to incorporate everything from search engine optimization to paid advertising, or to track an email campaign or offline advertising.

Microsites add tremendous functionality and opportunity to agencies, but they also offer a very under-utilized technique for affiliate marketers. In the United States, where I moved from last year, microsites on subdomains are used more heavily. Affiliates are beginning to understand the power of microsites. You can gain ground here in Europe!

Just a little while back, if you were an affiliate you had two choices; get a pre-made landing page from a vendor to send traffic to, or use an affiliate tracking code. Both of these options were unattractive because you had no control over the content (on or off page), and the tracking code option was not only easy to identify, but also unfriendly to the search engines. To top it off Google said that their algorithm will now be devaluing affiliate sites.

Can you guess how Google finds affiliate sites? I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the URL. At first they searched for "id=" within the URL string. In these days of mod rewrites, Google has become much more intelligent and looks for other elements like duplicate content.

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Thankfully vendors are loosening the cuffs and allowing affiliates to do more and more. They see that the value of the affiliate being able to create their own unique content far outweighs the added tasks created by allowing this access.

The problem I see, and am guilty of myself, is laziness. Why create an entire page when I can just write a template and populate my store via an XML feed? Why can’t I just cut and paste or import their product descriptions? Why can’t I just send Super Popular Additional Mailed offers? (Of course they are double opt-in-opt out!)

Well the truth is you can, and probably do, because it’s human nature; it’s the Path of Least Resistance, and my favorite technique. I mean let’s face it mates, if there were robots that could do those painful, daily tasks like brushing teeth, shaving and haircuts, we would all have one.

Microsites are an incredibly HUGE tool for affiliates. You can have one website, but 20 microsites that have different offers and will attract your target markets. That’s the minor benefit. The MAJOR benefit is that you can SEO the site, plus create your own communities that will grow your loyalty and viral marketing.

For those that slept through the last year or two, viral marketing is basically like Napster Bookmarking without Metallica’s Lars whining in the background. You share your favorite places, via social bookmarking sites like Digg and Technorati, or a simple post on a community forum. The difference is that the forum is yours, and the bookmark is for your website.

In addition to these benefits, you have the opportunity to optimize your website for the search engines.

If I had a nickel (here I go again quoting my grandfather) for every time I contacted a vendor to offer them FREE SEO ADVICE only to have them shoot me down, I could afford that tooth brushing/shave-and-a-haircut robot.

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Spend a day to build a microsite, optimize it for the search engines, and your traffic will grow exponentially. A microsite can cover various topics, but since I discussed this recently at a Gaming Conference I will offer a few suggestions related to this industry.

First off, I need to consider the audience demographics. Well, since these are all over the board I will need to look at several different angles. I will need to add elements that will create a desire for my end-users to revisit, or even better, bookmark my site or send a link to a friend.

I would probably build the page to resemble my vendor’s page (with their approval of course), but I would add different areas that might instill loyalty like a community forum or blog. These areas serve "double-duty" as they will also create fresh, unique, keyword-rich content that will attract the search engine robots and add "trustworthiness" (per Google) to my site…Wow!

Next I would add a daily contest that will invoke bookmarking and viral marketing that people will tell their friends about — especially if they win! After all, if you won £500, would you brag about it? To whom would you brag about it? Other gamblers, of course!

I would also add a section for the winners to post their stories on what led up to them winning. Technique? A dream? A fortune teller? This will keep people on your site, and bring them back to read more. I mean who doesn’t dream about winning or maybe learning a special technique that a winner used?

Then I would add an area for Daily Tips and Tricks. I would also add an email notification option for these tips and tricks, as well as the daily contest with CAN-SPAM Act compliance built in. This will grow my email list and offer future opportunities for creating new traffic sources as well as additional money-making opportunities utilizing the email list for alternative offers.

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Other areas I would look at would be my pay-per-click campaign if I am using one.

You can create microsites in order to bypass regulations that Google has implemented to prevent gambling advertisements within their results. These can be in the form of free games or guides that offer valuable information; the traffic can be given incentives to visit the regular web site to play. I can’t give you an exact recipe because although I love to give information that reader can actually use, I don’t want to give away the house, so to speak.

Here’s they way I would handle the technical side of it though. First create your subdomain and add your content. Then create a sitemapsfile.xml in your robots.txt file. It should look like this: Sitemap: http://yoursite.com/sitemapfile.xml. All of the search engines are now accepting .xml as the universal file type for their spiders to crawl for indexing. Even Ask has gotten into the mix as they explain here. When you are creating your normal sitemap for the main site, you must be sure to exclude any path to this directory/subdomain as you do not want the two associated.

Next, create another sitemap.xml file and manually submit it through Google’s Webmaster Central and the other search engines.

Another great benefit of doing this is that Google will see the subdomain as a totally different web site. So if you are ranking great already, this will possibly give you another traffic-generating page in the search results.

Did everyone read that? I said, this will possibly give you another traffic-generating page in the search results!!

I currently have clients ranking twice in the same search and in the top 10-15 twice.

This additional listing has resulted in an additional 5-20% added traffic.

At the end of the day the opportunities are endless using microsites. The SEO aspect alone makes it priceless to me. Spend a few days and a few dollars/pounds/euros to try microsites out. You won’t be disappointed.

Gary R. Beal
Director of Search and Training

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