All About Microsites

The hub of any sales and
marketing effort.

Microsites were invented around 1999 when marketing departments wanted to exert more control over an organization’s online presence. They quickly grew in popularity and have been in wide use ever since, primarily as a marketing tool, managed by marketing and sales experts.

What is a Microsite?

Definition: A Microsite is a website, distinct and separate from an organization’s main site, that delivers more focused, relevant content about a specific topic or to a targeted audience or even just requiring a defined action.

Example uses could be for a product, a service, a timely promotion, or an upcoming event – among many other possibilities.

The most popular Microsites of all-time include: Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, Office Max’s ElfYourself and Blendtec’s WillitBlend.

In business terms, a Microsite is a marketing tool. Used by companies of all sizes to help meet sales and marketing objectives.

For most organizations, it is not your main website – which probably took years to build, created an irreparable schism between your marketing and IT departments, and needs to accommodate many objectives and stakeholders, from H.R. and recruiting to customer inquiries and legal.

A Microsite can have a stand-alone vanity or promotional web address (called a URL) like subservientchicken.com. Or it can be hosted in a subdomain on a company’s main website like this one for Bud Light’s Up For Whatever campaign: http://www.budlight.com/up-for-whatever.html. (The sometimes temporary nature of Microsites means that once wonderful URLs can become dead-ends like this one.)

A Microsite can be any size and use any technology. It can be a lot of things, but first and foremost, it is a marketing tool. And that has substantial consequences for the way it’s designed, built, and managed.

History of Microsites

I
t’s generally accepted that the first Microsites were launched around 1999 when marketers were looking to put up web pages quickly to complement traditional advertising efforts, and IT departments were reluctant or too slow to accommodate fast-moving market conditions.

 

Our story of how it all began.

microsite-historyIn 1999, we were helping Sony launch a new Handycam camcorder model. We had planned on using the internet for promotional purposes and were short on time. Making changes to the main Sony U.S. site was quite challenging. Plus, we wouldn’t be able to put any messaging on the home page.

So we convinced the Handycam team to build a separate site with its own web address that would reinforce the promotion’s name. We could build that site quickly and not involve any Sony IT personnel. Plus the marketing team would have near total control.

It would obviously have fewer pages than Sony’s main site or even the Handycam section. We justified its independence to Sony’s upper management by calling it a “Microsite” and describing it as a promotional tool similar to a print ad or brochure.

Certainly, the Microsite had many births across the Internet around the same time. And many defined it differently for their own business situations. But there is no mandatory specifications, functionalities, size – anything – that a site requires to be a Microsite.

About the only thing you can say is that a Microsite is not your organization’s main website. The rest is however you define it.

 

How Microsites evolved from the marketing department

It’s generally accepted that the first Microsites were launched around 1999 when marketers were looking to put up web pages quickly to complement traditional advertising efforts. When their internal I.T. departments proved too slow or resistant to accommodate their needs, marketers found it simply easier to build a separate, standalone site that would be under their complete control and meet their accelerated timetables.

Many consider Burger King’s Subservient Chicken Microsite the first true breakthrough success. Launched on April 8, 2004, to promote BK’s TenderCrisp chicken sandwich and to reinforce the “Have it your way” tagline, the site featured a man dressed in a chicken costume who performed a wide range of actions based on commands typed in by people visiting the site. The site garnered more than 750,000 unique visitors in its first three months and became the talk of the marketing community.

Other major advertisers quickly jumped on the Microsite bandwagon and produced such wildly popular sites as Philips’ shaveeverywhere.com (no longer active) for its body grooming products, Blendtec’s willitblend.com highlighting the power of its industrial strength blenders, and perhaps the all time king of Microsite traffic, OfficeMax’s elfyourself.com, which as far as anyone could tell promoted elves.

While these sites were experiencing traffic in the millions and dominating the headlines in the trades, hundreds of thousands of marketers across the country were launching much simpler sites to deliver more focused, relevant content to targeted audience segments.

Some sites were set up with vanity or independent web addresses, like Procter & Gamble’s beinggirl.com, while others were hosted in subdomains of primary websites, like Stride Gum’s savethearcades.stridegum.com (no longer active).

Benefits of a Microsite

1. Focus
A company’s main website traditionally has to meet the agendas of disparate groups within the organization. As a result, it becomes too broadly focused and contains text that resembles corporate-speak more than marketing and sales language.

A Microsite can focus more easily on a specific topic, audience or action. This becomes critical especially for organizations promoting more than one product or service. Most marketing and sales experts agree that a tightly focused message communicates best.

 

2. Speed
A Microsite can be built quickly and with less internal friction between the marketing and IT departments. (See our solution as an example of speed-to-market.)

 

3. Nimble
The internal IT department typically manages a company’s main website. For many reasons (including job security), the IT group builds a sphinx-like infrastructure for a website that requires a great deal of time to update and revise. Since a Microsite functions as a marketing tool, it needs to react quickly to changing market conditions with updated content. Speed is not a typical attribute of most IT departments. With a Microsite, marketing and sales folks can quickly change offers, introduce events, and switch text and images.

 

4. Niche Marketing
A Microsite lets you extend your brand in ways not previously possible on your main website. You can tailor narrow segments of your offerings for specific market niches.

 

5. Hub
A Microsite can serve as the hub of your marketing campaign where you control the information as well as the data – something distinctly missing if you use Facebook or any other third-party destination.

 

6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO or Natural Search Results)
Because a Microsite is typically dedicated to a narrow product or service, it can come up higher and more frequently in search engine results than your main site would under the same searches. What’s more, a Microsite will also often look more relevant to people shopping in a specific category, so they will be more likely to click on that search result.

While this point can sometimes be argued by SEO experts, if you treat a Microsite as a subdomain with its own design and navigation, you can enjoy the benefits of a Microsite and the authority and depth of your main website, which aids in SEO rankings.

 

7. Higher Conversion Rates
Test after test confirm that because a Microsite is more focused, it typically produces higher conversion rates than a company’s general site. This is one reason why Google and others recommend landing pages be used in keyword campaigns.

 

8. Testing
A Microsite also allows a company to test brand extensions and experiment with merchandising and brand positioning in ways you wouldn’t have dared attempt back in the days of print-only. For an online retailer, you can test a new navigation scheme or a new way to emphasize products or product categories. A Microsite helps you understand the dynamics of those things before you make the investment to do a complete site overhaul.

Of course, a Microsite can also be ideal for testing marketing messages for new products and services. If you haven’t nailed down the marketing message, you can create a Microsite to test options before going full tilt and committing to a road on which it will be difficult to do a U-turn.

 

9. Viral or Word of Mouth
A Microsite can more easily encourage word-of-mouth. 
Successful viral campaigns tend to have content that’s entertaining, irreverent, and unexpected. Content like this tends to be acceptable on a Microsite, but not so much on a corporate website.

 

10. Firewall to Protect Your Company
A Microsite can create a sense of community. While creating a community among loyal followers is a good thing, opening up your organization to honest public feedback can have its uncomfortable side. A Microsite creates a nice firewall between the community and corporate.

 

11. Not Perishable
A Microsite exists in a non-perishable medium. Unlike a print or television ad that loses most or even all of its value after it runs, a Microsite remains online, accessible, and easy to update.

 

12. Achieve Marketing and Sales Objectives
Because it can be a focus, testable communication vehicle that can generate leads, engagements, trial, demos, sales, and referrals, it can help organizations achieve their stated, measurable marketing and sales objectives.

Why not just use Facebook?

Why not just create a Facebook page? One word: Control.

Facebook Pages offer a great many benefits, but you don’t control it. Facebook does. And you are therefore subject to the whims of that organization. Facebook controls the medium, the data, even access to your own information. And what may be good and working for you today may be changed or gone tomorrow. “Hey, what happened to my database of customers?”

Think this is unrealistic, check out this story: Facebook In Control

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