Are SEO microsites still a legitimate link building strategy?

Editor’s note: Today we have a guest post for you from Gary Taylor, Digital Director at TMW Ltd, a media buying agency here in the UK. Gary is a really smart guy, incredibly experienced in the fields of SEO and domains and a genuinely nice bloke. Gary has been a guest speaker at some of the top online marketing conferences in the UK and Europe including SMX, SAScon and Think Visibility. You can follow him on TwitterLinked In and Google+

We are all tired of the cliche that quality and content is king. Google has evolved more in the last 12 months than it has in the last decade in terms of determining “quality” and cleaning up the SERPs from link farms, blog networks and other so-called “link schemes.” However as every SEO who reads too much into Google’s Webmaster Guidelines will notice they state the following, “Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site…” Well that’s it; we may as well pack our bags and hang up our hats because according to this statement the entire practice of SEO could be considered a link scheme.

Details, details, I hear you say…and I agree. In my personal opinion, and this is coming from 10 years experience in the SEO and domain name industry, the quote “If you build it, they will come” from the film, Field of Dreams (yes the baseball one with Kevin Costner in it…) can’t ring any more true. So why wait for the next authority site or expert blog to give you a link. Why not build those sites yourself, in your niche and become what they are, YOUR OWN link prospect.

I often see SEO’s going after guest posts and spending time trying to get a link back from sites with what I would call average authority in exchange for some sort of content. It’s all quite an effort. Here’s a concept I shared on Acorn Domains not so long ago to keep it all in-house.

Finding a high authority / quality aged domain for a microsite

  1. Search web directories for web sites which no longer resolve
  2. When you find one, check if the domain is available or not
  3. If it has expired/is available, use OpenSiteExplorer.org or something similar to check back links
  4. Then use Archive.org’s Way Back Machine to check how long it has been a live website in the past. Re-map the sitemap of the old pages.
  5. Recreate the site on a something like WordPress, with new original content on the old page URLs – make sure you reuse all the old URLs to ensure you capture any other link juice.
  6. Wait for Google to re-index.
  7. Enjoy some nice PR!

The beauty of this is that if it was an old site it will regain trust straight away after being indexed and effectively only costs you some time and the registration fee…I’m a big fan of Siteopia.com for registering the domains and setting up hosting because they offer cheap .uk domain registration and 4 months free web hosting on annual packages (with 1-click install for WordPress.)

I have my own PHP script which I built to do the first 3 steps automatically for me. I can input the URL of a page within a directory (or any site for that matter) the script checks the status code of all outgoing links on that page. If it finds any links which return 400 or 500 codes it then queries the whois to see if it is registered or not. If not it queries a link checker API and confirms authority/PR of domain (if any).

Test Microsite Examples

An example of a micro-site (albeit an incomplete one) is Winchester-furniture.co.uk.

Winchester-Furniture.co.uk Vital Stats

  • Reg’d in April 2012
  • Live online since 2001 – see Archive.org
  • PR1, DA12 and PA25 – see opensiteexplorer.org
  • Ranks 1st position for “winchester furniture”
  • Gets 200-300 organic search visitors per month

Another example of a potential micro-site ready to go live for a client (no links inserted yet or graphic design done) is GoldBuyers.org.uk

GoldBuyers.org.uk Vital Stats

  • Acquired in August 2012
  • PR2, DA25 and PA37 – see opensiteexplorer.org

Can They Be Considered Legitimate?

The best micro sites I have developed using this method include a web hosting portal which had an instant Page Rank of 4 and Domain Authority of 37 when I reg’d it. It is a .co.uk domain first registered in 2002 and has a really great link from a DA84 .ac.uk domain.

I have even found one with a PR5 Harvard.edu archived backlink, some with a combination of DMOZ, BOTW and Yahoo Directory links (all PR3’s) and all with clean link profiles and a long history in Archive.org.

Now who can tell me that Google wouldn’t consider this good quality? This method simply re-instates historically trusted sites and puts them back to good use. This isn’t spammy; the microsites we create are unique, with fresh content and are genuine authority sites for their niche. I think where SEOs fall down is by trying to cut corners. Making poor quality microsites with little effort and spamming the heck out of the link profile – treating it like nothing more than a feeder site when in reality it can be a valuable “outpost” for your main website.

So, to summarise, treat your microsites the same way you would a client’s website. Ask yourself what incremental traffic do they bring and do they add value to the overall user experience? If you can answer both of these questions with a “yes” you are onto a winner.

I’m really looking forward to putting Winchester-Furniture.co.uk to good use when the right opportunity comes along; simply to put the natural traffic it receives to better use (which many historic sites benefit from.) If you followed this method your clients could benefit too.

Please let me know your thoughts on microsites in the comments below and feel free to add any questions you might have (and I’ll help where I can!)

8 Comments

  1. avatar
    Mark Porter October 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Nice post.

    Although I am not a fan of this method (it’s quite dated now), one plugin that use to work great for when you are recreating the sites is http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/link-juice-keeper/. Haven’t tried it for a long long time now so not sure if it’s still functioning correctly.

  2. avatar
    JR Oakes October 20, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    James,

    Great post. Check My Links is an awesome tool (if you use chrome) to check all the links on a specific page for 404’s in one click. Looking for niche sites to reclaim and building “neighborhoods” around your clients sites is a great way to go. It helps to have great writers though, to build the authority even more.

    JR

    • avatar
      James Agate November 9, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      Thanks JR – although you have Gary T to thank for this post :-)

      Check my links is a cool extension for Chrome though!

      Thanks for reading!

      James

  3. avatar
    Joash Boyton October 20, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Great advice here, I’ve recently jumped on the ‘old domain’ bandwagon and have had a decent amount of success, but you’ve mentioned some great ideas here (Particularly step 4 and 5) to create a strategy that will take advantage of every bit of link juice the site already had.

    What about 301’s on the new site? Redirecting all older pages to the front page and creating a landing page optimized for the particular keyword with 1-3 links to your focus site. As well as an additional few about/service/contact pages. But otherwise, if the old site has 600 pages, using a “catch-all 301 redirect” to forward all link juice to the homepage could be a good option as well I imagine?

    Thoughts on this?

  4. avatar
    Gary Taylor October 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    “What about 301?s on the new site? ”

    Hi Joash, I think it’s about getting the right balance of links and re-directs. Of course not all 301’s pass all the authority across, certainly from a text link perspective. I’m not a massive fan of re-directing all pages to the home page. My personal preference (if I was re-directing) would be to do each individual page to a new corresponding URL. Too many re-directs from old domains will look unnatural and probably have a detrimental effect on your SEO.

    Best

    Gary

    • avatar
      Mark Porter October 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      Out of interest, do you see any moral complications involved with scraping existing content that belongs to someone else for this process? Granted, the content may no longer be ‘live’ on the web but it’s essentially still an act of plagiarism.

      • avatar
        Gary Taylor November 9, 2012 at 1:35 am #

        Hi Mark

        No moral complications as we don’t recommend scraping existing content… see point 5:

        “Recreate the site on a something like WordPress, with new original content on the old page URLs”

        You are right however, if someone was to re-use the old content that is against copyright law. Duration of Copyrights law can be found here – [http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p01_uk_copyright_law]

        Best

        Gary

  5. avatar
    Fernando Veloso October 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Good to see a personal approach I’ve been using for years labeled as “smart”, instead of “spam” or “expensive”. :)

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