To Microsite, or Not?

March 24, 2015 | Mara Low

Shakespearean character holding tabletIt is a question every digital strategy team must confront at some point—to microsite or not to microsite?

At an organizational level, it is common for companies—particularly large organizations—to change tides between centralized and decentralized governance structures, particularly in the wake of leadership changes. Website strategy is subject to these same forces, and digital marketers often must succumb to political pressures and create a web of unnecessary microsites or mini-sites that may ultimately confound users, dilute the organization’s brand, and become maintenance headaches.

This is not to say that microsites are inherently bad. In fact, the popularity of content marketing—a marketing tactic that employs the creation and multi-channel dissemination of shareable content—has led to a resurgence of the microsite model and the creation of many beautifully designed, successful mini-sites and campaign landing pages.

These highly targeted Web experiences function as discrete Web properties, whether as a single page with in-page navigation as in the case of campaign landing pages, or as multiple pages that exist outside the main corporate website, in the interest of providing a more streamlined user experience to a specific subset of the business’s overall users.

For the University of Pennsylvania Health System, we leveraged Sitecore’s multisite management capabilities and developed a set of templates and a federated content architecture in Sitecore that allows their marketing team to quickly spin up microsites and campaign landing pages that are integrated into their overall digital strategy.

Penn Medicine Screenshot of Never Settle

Microsites: the Good

Unlike traditional corporate webpage templates which must be designed to fit a variety of content and to meet the needs of diverse audience groups, microsites provide highly streamlined user experience to maximize conversions. Mini-sites and campaign landing pages should be designed with minimal navigation (generally no external links), a clear primary call to action, and highly targeted content—all of which should directly support users’ decision making processes to drive a desired conversion.

Beyond content marketing campaigns, microsites may be your best solution to support foundation and fundraising efforts, foreign language content offerings for international customers, new product launches, and advocacy efforts. Microsites also provide a great platform for selective market testing and other experimentation, as well as clarity from a basic Web analytics tracking perspective.

Microsites: the Bad & the Ugly

Along with the good, comes the bad. While microsites are great for delivering high-impact, relevant content, they can be expensive to create and difficult to maintain. The potential for content reusability is diminished when microsites are created outside of your main CMS platform.

In the worst case scenarios, your organization’s digital content can become a silo, creating a fragmented (and frustrating) user experience for users trying to navigate your content. When not implemented properly, microsites may also have a negative impact on your organization’s search results ranking, particularly when no URL relation exists. If large amounts of content get split off into microsites with no URL relation, the SEO juice produced by content and traffic is lost.

These potential pitfalls can be mitigated through careful design and a well-thought-out Web governance strategy, including but not limited to: implementing and managing the microsite within the same CMS as your corporate site or making the microsite part of the same top level domain as your corporate site.

To Microsite or Not: Key Considerations

1. Who is your target audience for this content?

Who are you trying to reach? Microsites are appropriate for targeting a very specific audience group with narrowly focused content.

2. What are the goals for your content / campaign?

What do you want users to do once they get to your content? Marketing campaign microsites may have a single primary Call to Action. A microsite for a fundraising campaign or another longer running effort should have unique goals that are not already specifically targeted on your corporate site.

3. How will you get users from your target audience to your content?

Search engine marketing (SEM), both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC), and multi-channel marketing play a key roles in driving traffic to mini-sites and campaign landing pages. Sending users back and forth between your corporate site and microsites can create confusion for users who must learn a new navigation scheme with each property they visit.

4. How does this content/campaign integrate with your unified digital strategy?

Marketing campaign mini-sites and landing pages generally have a life span of six months or less. More “evergreen” microsites (such as a website for a fundraising campaign) may exist alongside your site for longer. Either way, you need a plan for governance and maintenance of your microsites.

Managing your mini-sites and campaign landing pages in the same CMS as you use for your main site allows you to leverage established roles and workflows for site maintenance, and to reuse and reintegrate content once a campaign is over.

While there is no magic formula to help you decide whether or not a microsite is the right solution, asking yourself these key questions before diving off the proverbial microsite cliff can help you make an informed and strategic decision.

About the Author

Mara Low

I am the Manager of Digital Strategy & Optimization with TBG. When I’m not crafting user experiences, you’ll  likely find me fire hula hooping, hiking, or creating up-cycled art.

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