Definition of a Microsite

Microsites are hard to define, and they can cover a broad range of media. Contently defines a microsite as “a branded content site that lives outside of the company homepage.” Some marketers will distinguish between a “microsite” and a “branded vertical.” They say microsites exist on a separate URL, while branded verticals live on the main company URL.

To us, the differentiation between microsites and branded verticals isn’t important. Both ultimately serve the same goal, and the strategies behind microsites and branded verticals are nearly identical. For the sake of clarity, we just call them all ”microsites.”

Microsites can take a number of forms:

  • Some microsites are essentially specialized blogs that showcase industry knowledge and position brands as subject matter experts. Red Bull’s Red Bulletin is a specialized blog that effectively positions the brand as adventurous and fun. It began as its own microsite, separate from Redbull.com––but as you can see, it has now been merged under Redbull.com as a branded vertical.
  • Infographics can be a form of microsite, especially if they are interactive and function independent of the main website and navigation. They can draw attention to an issue, cause, or topic relevant to the sponsoring brand. Derby LLC’s “Visual Guide to the Kentucky Derby” is a great infographic that ties in with the brand name and the region in which Derby LLC operates.
  • Some microsites are interactive experiences that follow gamification trends in marketing. The game design can be tied into a relevant product or industry, or merely offer an “added value” associated with the brand. In 2014, Coca-Cola purchased every URL from ahh.com to a[-with-61-hs].com as part of an elaborate microsite strategy.
  • Campaign-based microsites often serve as the central hub for a large-scale marketing campaign. Additional marketing channels (like social media, and even television ads) drive traffic to the site in hopes of converting visitors.
Screenshot of the Red Bull microsite shows how a specialty blog can succeed

Why Companies Make Microsites

Companies have different reasons for investing in microsites. Microsites have the advantage of opening wide out-of-the-box thinking and strategy. Main company websites sometimes feel limited, with a pretty standard menu bar. Think of how many medium-sized businesses have the same four links in their navigation bar: About Us, Shop, Careers, Contact.

To be fair, this standardization of company site navigation is actually a good thing––it makes for a better user experience internet-wide, as first-time visitors to new websites can still feel familiarity and comfort with the site’s navigation options. Still, this format often limits the ability of companies to experiment, be creative, and more importantly, to engage specific, targeted audiences that bring them value.

If you choose to build a microsite, focus on creating an experience that drives the specific business goals you have in mind. Some of these goals might include:

  • Reach a new, targeted audience demographic.
  • Lead users to perform a specific, valuable action (like signing up for emails).
  • Build brand awareness around a new product launch.

When microsites are designed, executed, and rolled out properly according to your business goals, they can be an extremely strong marketing tactic that provides value in six distinct ways:

Benefits of Microsites

1. Build brand awareness

Microsites that are highly engaging, interactive, and shareable promote your brand across multiple channels. Microsites that are informative or fun––but not necessarily tied to a product––keep your brand prominent in the consumer’s mind. Microsites devoted to products or product lines can do this in an even more tangible way, allowing customers to discover the value your business can provide them.

Growing this kind of brand awareness is a key first step in driving sales, regardless of your business model or industry. Before you can convince customers to purchase your product or service, you have to make them aware of your brand and the value you provide. As consumers become more social purchasers (looking for reviews online, asking friends on Facebook for purchase advice, and sharing sales with their network), having an established brand presence is critical to your company’s growth potential.

2. Create SEO value

Search engines still dominate user behavior online, and so SEO and SEM practices are still an important part of a marketing strategy. Microsites can boost your SEO efforts in a number of ways. Popular, high-quality microsites tend to be shared across the web. Depending on your project, there are advertising and marketing blogs, gaming sites, and even local bloggers who might find your microsite and feature it. A strong link building campaign can lead to further external links.

Links back to your microsites from trusted websites and blogs are a huge boost for your search engine marketing efforts. If your microsite is hosted under your own URL (e.g. www.yourwebsite.com/microsite)––again, this is what some marketers call a “branded vertical”––you can expect strong, measurable SEO benefits. External links are still considered the number one source for determining your site’s ranking in search engines. The more people share your microsite, the more search engines will view your entire website as credible and trustworthy. This can help boost your rankings on all your targeted keywords.

If you choose a separate URL for your microsite (e.g. www.yourmicrosite.com), you can still experience some SEO benefits, although these are a little harder to measure. It’s fair to assume your microsite will link back to your own website in some way. As your microsite is shared, it becomes a trusted link pointing back to your home URL, adding link equity to your home site.

Beyond website benefits, some companies may choose to build a microsite that’s built around one or two highly-prized (and frequently-searched) keywords. By building a site dedicated to these keywords, it can improve your SEO by ranking your site higher against your competitors and their keyword campaigns.

3. Increase customer engagement

This is nothing new–engaged customers are better customers. Engaged customers are happier and more energetic about your brand. They see the value your organization offers them. There’s a strong business incentive for organizations to build engagement, too. Engaged customers are more likely to be return purchasers, and they also are key to strong word-of-mouth marketing (still the most powerful marketing channel there is!). If you can enthuse your customers or leads, there’s a good chance they’ll share their experience with friends.
Graphic of elves for Elf Yourself Microsite Example from Offie Depot
That’s why microsites are incredible tools for engagement. For one, they’re highly sharable (who doesn’t see a few friends share an ElfYourself video each December?). But they also have the chance to be truly interactive. Our holiday card is an interactive snowman builder that encourages people to spend time on our site and then share their creations with friends. By building microsites that encourage users to meaningfully interact with you and your content, you can establish a level of loyalty and engagement that will have a real dollar impact.

4. Generate new leads

In addition to increasing customer engagement and boosting your SEO efforts, microsites can serve as an excellent resource for generating new leads and adding prospects to your sales funnel. The simple design and straightforward approach of these sites make them incredibly effective at engaging new audiences you otherwise might have failed to reach.

In order to generate the most leads possible, it’s important to consider a few key things:

  • The site you create should be useful, fun, and simple to use for your prospects.
  • Your site should have a clear purpose, so avoid adding unnecessary information or features that might make it cumbersome.
  • While your site doesn’t need to be revolutionary with its features or design, understand that you are generally looking to attract and engage a larger audience. The more leads you can add to your sales funnel, the more conversions you’ll be rewarded with in the end.
  • Finally, the addition of a well-placed, well-designed call-to-action (think “buttons”) can make all the difference when it comes to improving your conversion rate. An enticing CTA that compliments the content of your site will encourage visitors to learn more about your brand, products, or services.

5. Demonstrate knowledge and subject matter expertise

Many microsites showcase a company’s expertise in a particular industry, or with a particular product or service. Using your microsite to educate potential customers can position you as a subject matter expert in your field. Positioning your brand as having expert knowledge not only establishes your company as being credible, it also presents opportunities for new partnerships in the future. Credibility matters more than ever in today’s highly connected and networking world–vendors, investors, reviewers, and customers all care about trustworthy, honest brands, and they know how to find background on your reputation and history of delivering value. With that in mind, a well-designed microsite can build brand credibility that will pay off down the road.

6. Clearly explain your business and brand value

Microsites can also serve as excellent platforms to better explain your business and the value you offer without coming across as pushy or sales-y. The specific nature of a well-crafted site results in a focused, detailed approach to brand storytelling and makes it easy to highlight products or services in unique, fun ways.

This also goes a long way towards helping visitors better understand your brand messaging. You might be surprised at the impact a small one- or two-page spotlight can have on revealing the value of a specific product or service you offer. Bigger brands especially can benefit from microsites targeted to serve specific demographics or promote individual products.

Why We Built a Microsite

Our own microsite builds SEO strength, brand awareness, and spreads holiday cheer!
For the past few years, our agency has celebrated the holiday season by launching an interactive holiday card. Our snowman builder is a fun tool for all sorts of people to share holiday cheer (and stay out of the cold!). It may seem like an odd sell for a digital marketing agency–why would we spend time on a time consuming internal project we weren’t hired to build? Our internal strategy pinpoints a number of reasons it made sense, many of which you just read above:

  1. SEO strategy. We followed our launch with a strong link-building strategy that increased the credibility of our website. We’ve seen strong referral numbers historically. In addition, achieving higher rankings for our targeted keywords has been an important factor in generating new leads for us.
  2. Showcasing our expertise. Simply building the site demonstrates that we have the web development chops to create complicated interactive web applications. Not only does the site serve as a strong portfolio piece on our website, but also our client services team uses it as an example of the kind of work we can do for clients (yes, this is a shameless plug).
  3. Logo and brand recognition. We recently redesigned our chevron (the arrow in the middle of our logo you see at the top of this page). By featuring this new logomark prominently in the top left of our microsite (and by subtly incorporating it on some wardrobe options for the snowman), we build awareness of our brand.
  4. Spreading holiday cheer. We value kindness around here (it’s the most important quality we look for in any new team members). We like to share that with our clients, our friends, our community, and the whole internet. Because who doesn’t love wintertime?!

Is a Microsite right for you?

Microsites aren’t for everyone. If you’re on a shoestring marketing budget, you probably don’t have the resources to build a fully-functional, uniquely branded microsite. However, microsites can still serve a variety of businesses in a wide range of industries. With plenty of preparation and strategy, a microsite can effectively serve your marketing goals and overall business strategy.