It’s a common misperception that the “micro” in microsite is related to the size of a site or the effort it took to build it.
“Micro” actually refers to the focus of a website. A microsite, in other words, is about a very specific topic. Don’t let executives, clients, stakeholders, or dumb developers tell you otherwise. A microsite is hard to do effectively and takes no small effort to produce.
What Is a Microsite, Anyway?
The Oxford Dictionary offers the following definition of the word “microsite”: “An auxiliary website with independent links and address that is accessed mainly from a larger site.”
In other words, a microsite is a site that exists outside of a company’s main website and that is dedicated to a single topic or purpose and is meant to focus attention on specific content or a specific goal. It can be a single page or a small group of pages. Microsites usually live on their own domain, but are not required to do so.
There are really no hard rules or set specifications regarding functionality, size, or anything for a microsite other than its micro-focus on a goal or content.
A Small History of Microsites
Microsites began appearing around 1999 when marketers wanted to publish web pages to support traditional advertising campaigns and IT departments were too busy or slow to accommodate them.
The microsite solved these problems by enabling a separate web experience not tied to existing site standards and platforms. This afforded marketing departments greater control and often easier and quicker build schedules.
Benefits of Microsites
Your main website traditionally has to conform to assorted agendas. Often, this results in a broad approach to audience and goals. A microsite, in contrast, can focus on a specific topic, audience, or goal without adhering to the framework of the main site. This can be useful since most marketing experts agree that a focused message is more effective.
A microsite can often be built quickly and does not have to be on the same platform as a company’s main site. The focused content and freedom to build without existing technical restraints all contribute to quicker development times. However, if a microsite requires complex functionality, all bets are off when it comes to this benefit.
Since it is decoupled from the main brand site, there is more room for experimentation on a microsite. This can facilitate the extension of the brand in ways not possible on a larger corporate site.
Things to Watch Out for When Building a Microsite
A microsite is still a website. As such, it still needs to go through the complete design process, development process, and be hosted — everything a full site needs but on a smaller scale. Often, the process of arriving at a successful “micro-focused website” is quite an effort.
Users landing on the microsite from advertising campaigns will not see the main site and only need to interact with a single user interface. However, a user browsing a corporate site and then clicking a link to a microsite may become confused. The new site will likely have a different design, the navigation will be different, and often there will be no clear way to return to the main site.
It takes discipline to keep the scope of a microsite focused. Be wary of an ever-expanding scope, which can quickly turn a site with a “micro focus” into one with a broad agenda.
Marketing Uses for Microsites
Now that you know what a microsite is, let’s take a look at some examples and discuss how they are used.
The most common usage of a microsite is for a marketing campaign. These microsite are hyper focused and designed to drive conversions of the campaign audience. It can be easier to center an audience’s attention on the main goals of a campaign when you don’t have to include the main navigation, corporate address, etc.
This is arguably the most famous microsite of all time. Originally this microsite promoted BK’s TenderCrisp chicken sandwich and reinforced the “Have It Your Way” tagline with a chicken that would respond to your requests.
Now the site is an homage to the original version with a social sharing component. This is an evolution of a very famous microsite.
This microsite explains and promotes home security with a scrolling experience that reveals layers of possible defenses in a typical home as you scroll down the page. A unique experience like this would just not be possible on SimpliSafe’s main corporate website, but is perfect for inbound advertising efforts.
Another common use for a microsite is a product launch. A microsite can be a good way to promote product launches or champion existing products independent of main site efforts.
This site introduces visitors to the Domino’s ultimate pizza delivery vehicle — the DXP. This site has TV commercials, a making-of video, and an interactive driving experience all focused on the custom pizza delivery vehicle. The Domino’s main site could not easily support such a customized experience.
Highlighting Blendtec’s industrial strength blenders in a fun way, this site shows off content marketing in a “portal” for the 100+ viral “Will It Blend?” videos Blendtec has created. The sparse top nav allows access to different video categories. Most of the other links are to the main corporate site for learning more about products and the company.
Other Uses for Microsites
Sometimes a microsite exists as a promotion, tool, or service on its own. These can take the place of an advertising campaign, grow a subscriber base, or serve any other marketing purpose. Remember: There is no standard spec for a microsite.
This site allows you to upload photos of yourself (and occasionally friends and family) to produce an amusing video of yourself as an elf or other holiday personas that you can share with others. This site is seasonal, but during the holidays it gets a ton of engagement due to heavy social sharing. Each of the shared videos contains links driving traffic to OfficeMax’s campaigns.
Linda Dong built a microsite to gain support for the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act) and warn people about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. Users follow a drop of water as they scroll down the page. The drop journeys from the sky to an underground drill pipeline, highlighting facts and stats about the fracturing process and its dangers along the way.
When to Use Microsites
Deciding to use a microsite instead of adding content and functionality to an existing site is sometimes a tough decision. A microsite will add to your overall technical debt and is never less work than adding a page on an existing site.
However, if you need to focus attention on content or goals, or encounter political or internal forces that limit your options, it may be the way to go. Just remember: Microsites are still websites that needs to undergo all the processes that full sites require to get built — but hopefully on a smaller scale.
Making the decision to use a microsite can also point to a problematic corporate site. If your corporate site is too poor to effectively promote an initiative and you are repeatedly electing to use microsites, perhaps it is time to reconsider the effectiveness of your main site.