SEO Q&A: suggested links and microsites

If someone emails asking you to add a link to your content, what should you do? And should you let a division of your company have their own website?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

People spend a lot of time worrying about technical SEO, which is a complex and expansive subject. However, I often find that simple editorial and process decisions can have far more impact than playing around with metadata, and worrying about, say, crawl budgets. (If you don’t know what they are — don’t worry. You almost certainly don’t need to know.)

So, I’m going to do something new: a reader Q&A. Why? Because I’ve had a couple of interesting questions from a reader and from a course attendee that I thought it would be worth highlighting. Both of these questions look technical, but are actually much more about the human side of SEO: doing things in a way that is sustainable, by making smart, informed decisions, and not making bad decisions that make your life harder down the road.

Both questions have been lightly edited for clarity and to disguise their origin.

We occasionally get emails from people suggesting that we insert particular links in certain articles. Occasionally, these are clearly from people working as consultants for companies trying to promote a page or product, but other times they appear to be legitimate sources of information on the topic at hand. Would you advise against adding in any links that are suggested by people we don’t know, in the sense that we’ve never interacted with or heard from them before, or am I being too suspicious?

A: Probably not

The danger here is that the request may be coming from an SEO link-builder. Building links to your site is still important in search, but as Google has clamped down on some of the more obvious ways of doing it, people are getting wilier. If you misjudge this, there is a risk you get penalised by Google for participating in link-building schemes. (You will be warned about this in search console, though.)

My own approach is to be hyper-sceptical about these forms of request. I get two or three of them a week, and I think I’ve added a link maybe once or twice in the past decade. Almost always these requests are SEO hacking, unless:

  • they come within a couple of days of publication
  • they’re from somebody who genuinely appears to be connected with the work
  • the website they’re proposing you link to is clearly in your field.

For example, when I did my list of podcasts worth listening to, I did get a few people requesting to be added, who were genuine podcast producers with good products. So, I added them, after a quick listen to a couple of their episodes.

A rule of thumb would be, perhaps, if the page they asking you to add a link to is a resource directory or similar, then consider the request on its merits. If it’s a news story that’s missed a really obvious link to something useful — for example, if you’ve written about new research, but not linked to it — you’re probably OK.

If it’s a random older article, be very, very wary.

Q: One site or many?

I work for a unit within a university, with many subunits within our unit. The subunits often have their own funding and goals, and it is a challenge to work with them on a cohesive content strategy. My question is this: what happens to SEO when an entity has its own website versus setting up a sub-website on the university’s content management system? Does it have a better chance at visibility? Does it have a worse chance?

A: Keep it simple — as simple as you can

The answer to your question is… depends. And this depends less on technical SEO than on editorial and IT practice.

So, yes, we could dive into how SEO ranking accumulates. It accumulates across the site for particular subjects, sometimes called subject or domain authority. But it also accumulates to individual pages.

Broadly speaking, if you have the subunit’s site as part of the university’s site, served off the same CMS, you gain all the benefits of the main URL’s “default” ranking for a particular subject. And you benefit from all the technical things, like all the URLs being submitted to Google in one sitemap. As long as it’s within the same URL structure, and on the same platform, Google will see it as being part of the bigger site, even if it looks visually like it sown site.

Once you move to running something off two CMSes, you make your own life complicated. I can speak with some authority on this. On this site, the two operate areas — and — are served from different CMSes — Ghost and respectively. That forces me to keep on top of some technical issues might arise, like submitting two sitemaps to Google, for example.

If you go even further, and launch a site on an entirely different domain with different URLs, then the subunit will be at a disadvantage compared to the main site. It will be building ranking all on its own, and won’t benefit from, for example, the general subject authority of the university nor the in-bound links to the main site.

And it just stores up longer terms problems. Ate some point in the future, you will move CMSes. And the more different systems your site is split across, the more complex your life will be. And the more likely it is you hose your search ranking by doing something wrong in the move.

In summary, I’d generally try to keep everything together on one site, under one domain, to benefit from all the collaborative work that goes into it. If the subunit really feels the need for a distinct identity, may I suggest that perhaps a newsletter would be the way to go?

If your hunger for SEO insight is not yet sated, please consider joining us for a run of my Essential SEO course kicking off next month.

If you have a question in the audience engagement and strategy field you'd like to me tackle, do drop me a line.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.