What is a microsite?

A microsite is a single webpage or a small cluster of web pages that exist separate from a brand’s main website and is used for specific marketing campaigns. A microsite will have its own domain or unique URL and the branding of it may differ from the brand’s usual one.

This baby was built by SMACK for RS Components

In rare cases, a microsite may be incorporated into a brands main website using a subdomain website address. For the purpose of this piece, focus will be on a microsite built to exist on its own domain. Whether you’re a big, worldwide-known brand or a sole trader, this microsite guide will help you build the right microsite for your business. But before we get into the actual building, it’s worth asking yourself…

 

Why are we building a microsite?

This is a vital question to ask when deciding to build a microsite. Whether you’re aiming for improved brand positioning or launching a new product, the only way clear marketing objectives can be set is if you know why a microsite is the best option as a marketing strategy.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of microsites is that brands can be very specific with what they are trying to achieve with them. Unlike larger websites whose purpose is to service every type of customer and can have dozens of metrics for measuring success, microsites are more targeted, filtered, and refined so that messaging is more precise and clearer objectives can be set.

 

Step 1. Set the objectives of your microsite

There must be a reason why you feel your main website is not the platform for whatever marketing campaign you’re building a microsite for. That reason should be what informs the objectives of the microsite.

Say you have just created an in depth piece of content that incorporates an interactive/engagement element. Being the visionary you are, you decide placing it on a microsite is the best way to get as many eyes on the content as possible, circumventing the possibility that it might get lost amongst the hundreds of pages on your main website. From this reasoning of why you need a microsite, the objectives of your microsite begin to emerge.

But before making the objectives concrete, first analyse which section of your audience you wish to target. Using customer persona profiles – their interests, demographics, desires, pain points, behaviour, stage of customer journey – and other data sources such as your CRM software, you can get an idea as to who this piece of content would be of the most interest to. This can be an objective in itself e.g. We want to reach women between the ages of 21 to 31 who own their homes and have shown prior interest in the content’s topic.

Once you’ve decided on your target audience, you can begin to set objectives. I’m a huge fan of using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) process in deciding goals and objectives.

Specific – The whole point of placing content on a microsite is the specificity factor. In the example above, your overall objective could be to raise/maintain brand awareness. However, it’s not enough to simply say you want eyes on the piece of content. Set out an exact number of unique visitors you want. You could say you want at least 20% of the women in your target group to visit the microsite. Going wider than the example, other specific objectives for placing content on a microsite can include:

  • Increase user engagement by 40%
  • Capture 1000 email addresses
  • Achieve 500 downloads of a white paper
  • Increase traffic to main website by 20% via the microsite
  • Increase lead generation for a product by 30%
  • Gain 50 organic links from reputable websites to improve link profile
  • Increase quarterly revenue by 7.5% through leads/sales from microsite
  • Double the number of listeners to your podcast

Setting these specific objectives will help you with all the other processes involved in building a microsite including design and how to measure ROI. Speaking of which…

Measurable – Your objectives have to be quantifiable in order to gauge how successful your microsite will be. Being specific with objectives makes this easier, as can be seen in the bullet points above. Setting objectives with predetermined metrics in mind will make not only measuring success easier, it will help when deciding the elements that need to be built into the microsite. For example, a form may need to be included on the microsite to measure how successful it is in capturing email addresses.

Achievable – Setting a high benchmark for what you want to achieve is not so much a terrible thing as it is a factor that could lead to a negative trickle down effect on other factors. Objectives too high to achieve could lead to budgeting issues or resource allocation problems, for example. Make sure the objectives of building a microsite are achievable.

Realistic  “The sky’s the limit.” “Reach for the stars”. “If the mind can perceive it, the person can achieve it.” But they also say “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” This is still business so setting realistic goals and achieving them is a step towards winning the race. Setting unrealistic objectives for your microsite will affect factors like ROI measurement and outreach strategy to name but a few.

Timebound – One of the things that differentiates standard websites from microsites is the fact that the latter are usually temporary. Microsites are built to serve a purpose and once that is done, they are taken offline. So by its nature, a microsite requires a time limit to achieve its objectives. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. Most marketing campaigns last for a given period and a microsite is a marketing tool that works best as part of a campaign. Setting a time limit will also allow you to set specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic goals and objectives.

 

Step 2. Decide on a domain name and purchase it

At its core, marketing of any kind is communication. Because your microsite exists away from your main site, therefore reducing automatic brand recognition in the form of your domain name when a user sees it on Google or elsewhere, it’s vital that your choice of domain name for the microsite truly represents what you’re trying to say or achieve with it. Some of the best examples of microsites have catchy, memorable, or idea driven non-brand domain names or URLs that emphasise what the content is trying to communicate. Do not overlook the importance of this.

Others may beg to differ, but it’s the author’s belief that registering a domain for a microsite should be sorted out as soon as possible for the obvious reason that all around the world people are registering thousands of domain names everyday. There’s nothing more disappointing than building a campaign around a slogan, theme, idea, or motto only to find out its domain name has been taken by some cyber squatter who can’t be contacted or wants you to pay through the nose to purchase it off them. You wouldn’t put the cart before the horse so why build a house (microsite) without a foundation (domain name)?

 

Step 3. Have an SEO strategy

Any sort of content that exists online should have a search engine optimisation plan. A microsite is no different, as it is a mini website. If you want your microsite listed in Google’s and indeed any search engine results pages, there is a minimum level of SEO work that has to be done for it to be picked up by search engine crawlers or robots.

In order to make sure the microsite doesn’t end up in the abyss that is page number 3 and onwards on the results page however, you have to do more than the minimum. Having your objectives and your domain name sorted are important clogs in creating an SEO strategy for your microsite. In fact, you might even have to start thinking about SEO before registering a domain name as keywords in a URL is a major factor in rankings on search engine result pages. Speaking of which…

 

Keywords

Keyword research is, well, key. It can not only help in optimising content, but also be the reason you decide to build a microsite in the first place. For example, you might have a certain keyword that you want to rank better for or gain more brand recognition/association for and decide building a microsite is the best way to achieve this because it’s great for specific targeting.

Knowing what your target audience is searching for and how they are doing so will help you build a microsite that the crawlers pick up as relevant to a search phrase and that satisfies the user’s intent. Google is very stringent when it comes to SEO best practice. You don’t want your microsite to fall foul.

Other SEO-related factors to consider are meta tags, inbound and outbound links, domain name, URL structure, choice of CMS (Content Management System), mobile friendliness, responsiveness, design elements such as images and videos which can affect load speed.

 

Step 4. Look at microsites competitors have built

Like any sort of marketing process, building a microsite requires a bit of competitor analysis. This should apply to setting objectives but also the actual delivery of the final product. If you’re new to microsites, this is an especially useful step. Looking at what others have done and how they’ve done it will paint a much clearer picture of the online marketing possibilities of a microsite.

Built by Red Bull for ultrarunner Karl Meltzer

From information driven microsites, to ones that are more focused on interactivity and engagement, to sales driven ones, no matter your marketing objectives, there is an example of a microsite out there that has been built to achieve the same. Use these microsite examples as a template or canvass to start brainstorming microsite design ideas.

 

Step 5. Make a decision on your microsite’s design

You’re now at the stage where you have a clear picture of the purpose of your microsite and the foundation it should be built on based on objectives, SEO, and examples of other microsites. It is now time to come up with an actual, concrete design. Aside from the aesthetics of the microsite, some important elements to consider during the design development stage include:

  • Number of pages – Is the objective better served by having just one page or several?
  • Navigation – Will the microsite have the traditional navigational functionality using clicks or is it more scroll-driven or will it be a combination of both?
  • Gamification – is there a gameplay element to the microsite? Some of the best interactive and engaging microsites have this functionality but they require a very precise design.
  • CTA (Call to Action) – Where on the page(s) will your call to action or instructions go? What colours will make them stand out and be attention-grabbing?
  • Media – Will the microsite contain videos, images, audio, animation? Answering this question will have a noticeable impact on your design plans.
  • Social media – How and where does this fit into the microsite?

This is the best time to bring in an agency such as SMACK (hey, one plug isn’t so bad) that specialises in website development and design with particular experience in the building of microsites. The agency’s knowledge will help you in understanding what is possible, what works best for the elements listed above, as well as bringing in additional ideas.

It’s worth mentioning again here that a microsite is not bound by a business’s usual branding elements. Depending on objectives, you may consider doing something completely different to make the content stand out or you may decide to only make minor changes in order to keep some sort of continuity and brand recognition. It really depends on what you’re aiming for. It makes sense to keep most of your branding elements if the microsite is part of the marketing campaign for a new product launch, for example. For a microsite built to show another side to your business, going for a radical change of branding to further emphasise this point could be a better option.

 

Step 6. Create the content

“Content is King” is a slogan that might be overused but it’s used often for a reason. Content is the bottomline of any marketing campaign no matter what guise it takes.

Work can start on this step as early as after step one i.e. after you’ve decided on the objectives of the microsite. The analogy of putting the cart before the horse also applies here; you don’t want a beautiful machine without an engine. You should at least start creating some sort of draft early on.

As you go through each stage, tweeks can be made to content in order to facilitate SEO strategy, competitor analysis, and design. With all those elements fully realised, you can now create the final content the microsite will host.

It is key here to have a perfect idea of:

  • Tone of voice
  • The user intent or pain point you want the microsite to satisfy or cure
  • What you’re trying to communicate
  • The actions you want the user to take
  • What you want them to take away from their visit
  • The interaction between the text content and any other elements such as video, audio, images, animation

 

Step 7. Connect the microsite to analytics and marketing tools

The easiest way to measure the success of the microsite is by connecting it to the analytics tools your main website is connected to. Google analytics and other such platforms will allow you to track the performance of the microsite so you can monitor the objectives you set based on specific metrics.

If the microsite has an email marketing element, you can connect it to your marketing automation platform or customer relationship management system.

These tools can also help you when it comes to testing the microsite. They are particularly helpful for A/B split tests whereby you publish two different versions of the microsite randomly (preferably to a test group) to see which performs better. Based on these results, a decision can be made as to what the final version you publish to the general public should look or function like.

 

Step 8. Launch the microsite

Now that all your hard work as culminated in the building of a fantastic microsite, it’s time to unleash it to the world (or your target audience). But the work doesn’t stop there. A separate step that covers outreach and promotion could be added to this guide, but suffice to say the same sort of effort you put into promoting your main website should also be put into the microsite, albeit with variations that suit the target audience and what it is you’re communicating. Internet marketing platforms such as social media, blogs, content distribution platforms, PPC advertising, display advertising are ways you can get eyes on your microsite.

The process of building a microsite might seem daunting but it can prove to be very educational in further understanding your customers and digital marketing as a whole. Contact SMACK creative digital agency (okay, I lied, two plugs isn’t so bad) if you’re interested in creating a microsite and need assistance. We can support you from any of the stages in this guide.


Mark Crutch

At the age of 12 Mark purchase, an old at the time TRS-80 loving known as (Trash-80). They would spend many knights programming stick figures to move on the screen.