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When does it make business sense to use a microsite?

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Most current marketing and SEO advice centres around focusing your attention on your main business website. For very good reason.

So when does it make strategic and commercial sense to develop a separate microsite? What are the drawbacks? And what makes an effective microsite? 

What is a microsite?

Wikipedia defines a microsite as “an individual web page or a small cluster of pages which are meant to function as a discrete entity within an existing website or to complement an offline activity. The microsite’s main landing page can have its own domain name or subdomain.”

Ken Gaebler in his article “5 Reasons Why Microsites Make Sense” defines them more simply as “additional sites that promote your products or services.”

In reality, however, what is and what isn’t a microsite is not always that clear. For instance, is the website of a sub brand of a parent brand, technically a microsite? Or its own website? Consider for example, Unilever and its sub brand Dove

For the purposes of this article, we will define a microsite as a site held on a separate domain, with custom navigation, design and content.

When would you set up a microsite? 

There is no definitive reason or algorithm to follow when deciding whether or not to use a microsite. 

However, it can help to ask yourself questions such as how long will you need the site for? Microsites lend themselves well to short lived campaigns – which also helps keep maintenance costs down too.

You may also want to consider how you intend to market the microsite. It is less than ideal, from an SEO point of view, to redirect traffic off your main business website to another website entirely. So it helps if users can find the site directly, rather than just relying on signposting them from a parent or primary website. 

Microsites allow the flexibility to tailor a brand to a specific or niche audience, which may not be as easily achieved with the main website.

Consider, for instance, a Kent based holiday cottage company with a wide portfolio of properties, which wants to reach out to golf fans because The Open in 2020 is due to be held at the Championship golf course in Sandwich. 

Accommodation for this exclusive event comes at a premium and is, of course, bookable on their main website. But it also makes sense for them to create a time limited microsite, which specifically reaches out to golfing fans. And which has a design that is very much more tailored to this audience. 

A microsite is therefore the perfect solution here. 

What are the benefits of using a microsite? 

Paul Boag, in his article ‘The Microsite: A Definitive How-to Guide for Their Effective Use’ comments that “There is no doubt that microsites do offer some compelling benefits, especially in larger, more marketing driven organisations.”

Boag sees 3 main benefits of setting up a microsite: 

1.     Greater design control

Rather than be constrained by look and feel of the main business website, a microsite offers complete design control, ensuring that it mirrors the offline marketing materials for a product. This may necessitate a design that is wholly different from the main site. 

2.     A more focused experience

Having a separate microsite means that the user is not distracted by having to navigate the main business website, which can be huge and complex and time consuming to browse. 

With a microsite, all irrelevant information and navigation is removed and the user experience enhanced by ensuring that they get the information they need in as short a time as possible. Users are therefore able to focus purely on the campaign and any associated call to action – which has to significantly improve the likelihood of conversion.

3.     Clear definitions of responsibility

Companies often prefer microsites as they can be easier to manage, as an exclusive entity, within the business. Which helps define clear lines of responsibility and ownership?

What are the downsides of setting up a microsite? 

Microsites aren’t for everyone and it’s important to understand the downsides of setting one up, before you plough ahead with a build. 

Microsites can confuse the user

For a start, microsites can confuse the user. And as humans, we are creatures of habit, who don’t like change. Which is something we have previously written about in our article “How to use psychology to improve your design.”     

So anything that takes a user out of their comfort zone, from a web design they have become accustomed to, to one that looks and feels completely different, has to be done with a great deal of caution. Not least because it flies in the face of good user interface design

Microsites cost to create

Whilst on the face of it, a microsite might look pared back and simple, especially compared to the main business website, the cost to create is still likely to be significant. And it’s a cost that has to be weighed up against the likely return on investment. 

Why? Because like all websites, serious thought still needs to be put into the design and development process, including the actual build, testing, hosting and CMS. Along with any additional functionality such as ecommerce and email signup.

Microsites cost to maintain

Not only is there the cost to create, a microsite, like all websites, will cost to maintain. Whether it is ensuring it remains technically up to date and compatible with all browsers, or optimised for the latest developments in SEO, it is imperative that these sites are not just created in addition to the main business site and then cast aside or forgotten. Only to reflect badly on the main brand.

Microsites bring their own SEO challenges

As Ken Gaebler warns, “In the eyes of Google and its algorithms, your microsite must legitimately add value to those who will visit it, and the microsites cannot constitute gaming of the search engines. To that end, a misguided microsite strategy might involve buying keyphrase-laden domains and building out shallow websites with mediocre content; that’s a microsite strategy that is destined to fail.”

There are a number of SEO pitfalls you can fall into by creating a microsite, which not only relate to the microsite but also the business’ main website too.  These are well covered by Linchpin SEO in their article “SEO Advantages and Disadvantages of Microsites” and merit serious consideration before you commission a build.

They include concerns around building up the domain authority of what is essentially a new website from scratch. As well as issues such as duplicate content and the time it will take to populate content across two (or more websites), rather than spending all your time and resources on improving the primary site. 

What makes an effective microsite? 

If, having considered the pros and cons, you decide a microsite is for you, what then makes an effective site? 

Paul Boag suggests that an effective microsite is one with:

  • a limited lifespan
  • a well-defined audience 
  • a clear focus
  • a well-defined sales funnel 
  • no need to integrate with a broader site

He advises that since the microsite is a part of a broader campaign, “it needs to tightly integrate with that in both visual language and written style. In other words, going from a Facebook advert to your microsite needs to feel like part of a consistent experience.”

We can help you make the right decision for your business websites – contact us for a chat about the options.

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