Microsites are easy to create, and they’re found across all corners of the internet. But they have a definition, and a distinct purpose.
What is a microsite?
Microsites are typically small, targeted websites focused on a specific goal or campaign. They can be temporary or permanent, depending on their purpose.
The Content Standard defines microsites as a “branded content site that lives outside of the company homepage and/or brand URL.” These often exist for a shorter period of time, intended to drive conversion and connections between consumers and brands.
When to use a microsite.
- What are your objectives?
- What’s your topic?
- What’s your budget and available resources?
The third question is particularly important, because as easy as they are to create, microsites still require resources — including people, teams, and money — to keep going. Likewise, building microsites without clear answers to questions 1 and 2 could lead to a poor user experience and a lost chance to convert visitors to customers.
“Much like a chainsaw, a microsite can be a useful tool in the right hands or disastrous in the wrong ones,” writes user experience designer Paul Boag. So when is it appropriate to use a microsite?
Microsites often usually have one or a few different pieces that also make it truly unique from a parent website:
- Separate or different target audience and goals
- Separate brand and style
- Separate SEO and measurements
Strategizing the purpose of your microsite will support its potential for success.
Separate or Different Target Audiences and Goals
If your target audience and goals are different from your parent site, a microsite can be a great fit, such as a campaign for consumers to buy a new service or product.
While extremely niche, Spotify’s 2018 campaign, “Adoptify” — a campaign to help connect adoptable dogs with humans based on similar music choices — was a great example of a separate brand purpose microsite. Because it doesn’t fit with the Spotify main site, which is encouraging users to download the app or subscribe to a plan, this single-page campaign and navigation microsite is focused on the simple goal of leading users to adopt these music-loving pups.
Coca-Cola, one of the biggest (and most historic) advertising giants in North America and around the world, is constantly running campaigns, and you’ve likely seen them. For example, their Share A Coke campaign has a distinct purpose: They offer personalized products of their legendary glass bottle Coca-Cola. Notice, though, that the campaign still aligns with the parent company, using the symbolic and easy-to-recognize Coca-Cola branding.
Blogging & Content Marketing
Specific, targeted content efforts like blogs can be an important part of the conversion process as a place to inform your visitors along their journey. This “informing” role may take a different tone or style from your parent website, which may be more focused on conversions or purchases.
Melissa Lafsky, founder of Brick Wall Media, writes that besides campaigns — which are obvious cases for microsites — a site that publishes regular, ongoing content can be an effective use of microsites.
If you’ve determined you need a microsite for a separate target audience, you should also consider how users will navigate the new site.
Microsites should have a different navigation experience from the parent site. Whether it’s a multi-page site or a single-page site, the navigation experience — either by page or by scrolling — is important to consider. Making it easy to find information on your microsite, and also making it easy to connect users to the parent site, if necessary, is important.
It’s important, too, to make it easy to find your microsite from your main site – especially if you’re inspiring conversions on the microsite. Nielsen-Norman Group recommends making a universal navigation, especially if your site contains several microsites, along with other helpful tips for creating an optimal navigation.
Separate Brand or Style
While your audience may be different on a microsite, your brand may not be — and that’s OK. Microsites are still a great fit when audiences and intended goals or conversions are different or distinct.
But if your brand; like color palettes, logos, and voice or tone, are radically different, a microsite also checks a lot of helpful boxes.
Take for example Every Last Drop, an educational campaign to save water by UK-based organization Waterwise. Its look, feel, and style are very different from its parent website, but as a single-page microsite, it uses animation, fun colors, and an infographic-like approach to educate visitors of all ages, about the daily use of water.
Washington Post launched its own WP Brand Studio as a place to publish interactive journalism stories across a wide variety of topics. In fact, the Brand Studio microsite has its own look and feel, separate from the Washington Post’s straight-to-news delivery on its homepage.
Companies have engaged with WP Brand Studio to create stories with content written by expert journalists. Cleveland Clinic paired with WP Brand Studio to create Empathy by Design — an interactive experience and 360-degree virtual tour of their cancer center. Mercedes-Benz partnered with the Brand Studio for the also interactive “Rise of the Superhuman: Technology that may eradicate human error.”
While the Washington Post’s interactive microsites are mostly an educational experience for readers, it’s clear that the approach to storytelling used is different from their standard black-and-white stories, and thus a microsite presentation is deserved.
Separate SEO and Measurements
Search engine optimization (SEO) and analytics can be targeted and tracked in a number of ways across a parent site, thanks to the helpful tools in things like Google Analytics that allow admins to filter and narrow down their data.
But if your microsite will tackle separate audiences and separate styles, separate measurements to track its success and user journey is a good next step. More importantly, if you’re aiming for totally different SEO opportunities than the parent site, tracking your microsite in its own silo may tell you more about how users are engaging.
For example, if your microsite is pushing users from Facebook thanks to an aggressive social media campaign, a separate tracking or measurement goal can be a great way to measure your success.
What to Track on Microsites
Specifically with microsites, consider tracking:
- Traffic and referral channels – This is especially valuable if you’re trying to build referral traffic from online or offline sources, including direct mail or social media.
- Audience engagement — Page duration, bounce rates, exists, and user journeys are ideal measurements for information-based microsites, such as content marketing or blogging. Understanding how long people are engaging and where they’re traveling shows you what topics are engaging them most.
- Goals and conversions — Most importantly, if your microsite is aimed at a campaign for conversion, including purchases, you’ll want to track how often users are engaging with calls-to-action, purchase actions, phone calls, forms, and more.
What’s the verdict on microsites?
If you’re not actively creating a separate experience that meets the needs of a separate conversion opportunity (such as a campaign), nor meeting a new audience, you probably don’t need a microsite. Consider instead a more direct content strategy where information you’re hoping to create can live comfortably and in a place that makes organic sense to the user’s navigation experience.
As previously mentioned, microsites are an investment. Not only on design and development talents, but also on resources to help create and manage the content, and any costs associated with hosting the site. Remember, they can be temporary if needed, and if that’s the case, make sure your team and organization agree on the timespan to reap the most rewards.
Always start your microsite decision with a team discussion about resources, opportunities, and user experience angles, and make sure you have the right budget and people on board to launch a great microsite.