As a brand manager or digital marketer, you may have encountered the term “microsite” and wondered exactly what distinguishes microsites from regular websites. What expertise is needed to design and develop a microsite? Is it a good idea to consider adding a microsite (or multiple microsites) to your digital strategy?
The answer depends on whether a microsite makes sense based on your goals and the potential ROI. Before you decide whether microsites could support your own marketing strategy, let’s explore what microsites are, why various brands might use them, and what we can learn from the best examples of microsites that target different audiences in different industry verticals.
What are Microsites?
The term “microsite” includes a broad range of website applications, making it difficult to settle on one definition. A distinction is often made between a “micro website” that exists on a separate URL versus a “branded vertical” that lives on the main company website. Both strategies ultimately serve the same goal, so for the sake of clarity we will just call them both ”microsites.”
Below, we will explore the nuances of different microsite formats a bit further as we explain the potential benefits and best practices for designing and developing microsites.
Why Brands Launch Microsites
Companies have different reasons for developing and 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
Microsite Benefits and Advantages
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 several distinct ways:
1. They 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 crucial 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. They Improve SEO
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. They Increase Brand Engagement
The value of engagement is nothing new–engaged customers are better customers who are happier and more energetic about your brand. They see and believe in the value your organization offers them, which builds loyalty and makes them look forward to your brand’s future offerings.
There’s also a strong financial incentive for organizations to grow engagement. Engaged customers are more likely to be return purchasers, and they are key to generating strong word-of-mouth marketing—which is still the most powerful marketing channel there is, even in the digital world. If a microsite can energize your customers or prospective sales leads, there’s a good chance they’ll share the experience with friends.
That’s why microsites are incredible tools for generating engagement with your brand that grows your reach and awareness in ways brands typically can’t accomplish from the outside. For one, they’re highly shareable—after all, who doesn’t have a few friends emailing them an ElfYourself video each December?
They can also be designed and programmed to be truly interactive, encouraging your audience to explore features and create something new. As an example, 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 impact on the bottom line.
4. They Generate Leads
In addition to increasing customer engagement and boosting your SEO efforts, microsites 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 develop a microsite that generates the most possible qualified sales leads, it’s important to prioritize a few key best practices:
- 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.
- The addition of well-placed, well-designed calls-to-action (think “buttons”) can make all the difference when it comes to improving your conversion rate. An enticing CTA that aligns with the messaging and content of your microsite will encourage visitors to learn more about your brand, products, or services, even if that means leaving to visit your main company site.
5. They Demonstrate 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. They Help Brands Reach New Audiences
Because a microsite can exist outside of the brand’s main website, it creates more opportunities and breathing room for brands to market special content to distinct audiences with more precision, all without diluting the search performance or brand equity of the primary website.
The ElfYourself.com microsite shown above is a great example of this. The idea of gifting virtual cards during the holidays is not new, and only loosely related to the Office Max brand (because they offer cardstock paper and printing equipment that is often used to make traditional holiday cards), but the site still has incredible awareness and recognition because of its share-ability–not because it stuck to the brand standards or voice and tone established on the Office Max website.
How We Develop Microsites that Perform
Microsites deserve the same thoughtful approach as traditional websites. That’s why our process for developing microsites at DBS includes the same focus on strategy, design, and development, along with search optimization, all to ensure each microsite we build is well-positioned to support our clients’ goals and objectives. Here’s a high-level breakdown of how we accomplish this:
- Strategy & Planning – We start by identifying your primary personas, which are typically organized by their role or profession.
- User Stories & Flow Mapping – We identify the needs of your personas and map their pathways through the microsite.
- Keyword Research – We determine the best keywords to include in your microsite content so that it ranks for the right search queries.
- Architecture (Sitemap) – We develop the structure of your microsite, making sure to optimize your information architecture and URL structure for SEO and UX.
- Messaging, Voice and Tone – In most cases, we are creating content for the microsite according to a client’s existing set of brand standards and guidelines related to the messaging, as well as the established voice and tone of the brand; when clients don’t have these, or they want them updated, we do so and implement the new brand elements throughout the site accordingly.
- UX & UI Design – The microsite’s infrastructure and design is planned according to our understanding of the audience and best practices around interface design and user experience.
- SEO – Content has to be based on keyword analysis and optimized with on-page SEO according to our comprehensive market research and competitive landscape analysis.
- Internal & External Linking – Link your microsite with the parent website and any affiliated social media accounts.
- Analytics – Web analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console help for monitoring your microsite’s indexing status and for optimizing the search visibility of the microsite.
Examples of the Best Microsites
Microsites can take a number of forms, depending on the brand and their goals for the site. Here are a few great examples of different kinds of microsites:
1. Focused Blogs – Red Bull’s “Red Bulletin”
Some microsites are essentially specialized blogs that showcase industry knowledge and position brands as subject matter experts. Launched by energy drink brand Red Bull, the 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.
2. Data Visualizations – Derby LLC
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 Logistics of the Holiday Season is a great infographic that demonstrates the brand’s expertise related to shipping and logistics, but in a way that is interesting and fun for any audience to read.
3. Interactive Experiences – Adobe’s Creative Types
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. Adobe launched its Creative Types microsite to help creative people gain a better understanding of how they think, act, and see the world, based on their answers to a short list of questions.
4. Campaign Landing Pages – Adobe CXM
Campaign-based microsites like Adobe’s Reshaping Customer Experience page often serve as the central hub for a large-scale marketing campaign. In this case, Adobe wanted to lead visitors through specific journeys that compelled them to keep learning more about Adobe’s CXM and the benefits for brands that embraced and adopted its cloud-based CXM platform.
Adobe’s additional marketing channels also drive traffic to the site through content such as social media posts and email campaigns, supporting an integrated marketing strategy that is more likely to successfully attract and convert more microsite visitors.
Should You Develop a Microsite?
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. We can get you there at DBS–connect with us to get started.