Think Small -> Act Big

A step-by-step guide to a successful microsite

What is a Microsite?

The first thing to remember is that it’s called a micro-site for a reason. A microsite should be used to accomplish a purpose that cannot easily be accomplished with a corporate website (or campaign landing page).

How do I know if I need one?

A microsite is a tool that should be used for a very specific (and often single) purpose. Microsites are recommended for initiatives that are

  • short-term
  • narrowly-focused
  • limited in content and/or audience

Microsites are not recommended for initiatives that are

  • long-term (with ongoing resources devoted to content and creative support)
  • comprehensive (with messaging for multiple business purposes and audiences)
  • content heavy (10 or more pages)

Why are microsites useful?

Why Are Microsites UsefulThe theory behind microsites is pretty simple: provide a focused, clear, and cohesive message to the customer and they will respond. Do you want more conversions? Increased awareness for a new initiative? Do you want a cohesive platform for clear messaging? Do you want to have the control and flexibility to execute your initiative with the technology that you want to use, on your schedule, with the ability make changes as you go? A microsite, implemented correctly, can give you all of the above.

How do you build a successful microsite?

There is no shortage of strong opinions about microsites. The research suggests that a microsite’s success can be as dramatic and memorable as its failure. Most microsite failures result from two strategic missteps: (1) a microsite is the wrong tool (2) and/or it was used improperly. Think Small -> Act Big is a step-by-step guide to help ensure that (1) a microsite is the right tool for your needs and (2) you know how to use it properly.

Microsite Guide

Step 1: Assess Your Needs

1. The first question to ask yourself is: “Do I really need a microsite”? The fact is, there are some projects better suited to a landing page on your existing website. Review the check list to see if a microsite fits your needs.

Assess Needs for Microsite

Step 2: Identify Purpose of Microsite

1. Why do you want a microsite? Here’s a hint: You should be able to answer that question with one sentence. Whether the purpose is to generate awareness, introduce a new product or service, or test out new messaging that may not quite fit the corporate site—your task is to clearly identify the intended purpose of your microsite. In the end, even if your site doesn’t perform as you’d hoped, there’s a lot of value in the experience if you are prepared to learn from it. It should be noted—it’s hard to succeed or fail convincingly if you didn’t know what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Purpose: Example Sentence I want to drive awareness for a product that’s being released next quarter.

Step 3: Establish Your Objective

1. Quantify your purpose. Now that you have clearly stated the purpose for your microsite, it is time to quantify that purpose into an objective. An objective may sound something like this: “I want people to watch this video about our new product.” When you quantify your purpose you should end up with a measurable action for your customers to perform on your website.

2. A measurable objective. With any objective, traffic and engagement metrics will play an important role in helping you understand the success of the microsite. For instance, if you are trying to generate awareness by encouraging visitors to watch a video, make sure that you will be able to actually measure video starts and video completes.

Step 4: Draft your microsite story

1. Decide on a specific call-to-action. Take what you have learned from clearly stating and quantifying your purpose and use it to create a call-to-action for your microsite. Take care not to fracture the user experience by asking your customers to do too many things. A corporate website may need to serve a diverse audience—a microsite gives you the luxury to focus on something specific.

2. Propose a life-time for the campaign. Tailor your microsite life-cycle to your overall marketing strategy. If you are driving awareness for an initiative that lasts for three months, you likely won’t plan to operate your microsite for a year. Once you have set the life-cycle for your microsite you can tailor your budget and demand generation strategy to it. (In rare circumstances, there can be sufficient business rationale to operate a microsite indefinitely. The decision to continue to support a microsite indefinitely should be made on a case-by-case basis).

3. Set performance goals. How will you know if your site has been a success? Well, if the purpose is to generate awareness, and your objective is to encourage visitors to watch your video, then the number of video views is a good place to start. Consider the number of video views you would need in order to consider this initiative a success. Is 500 a success? How about 50,000? Or, do you need more than 500,000 for success? Setting a measurable goal will help you understand how to allocate your budget, and will guide how you manage your microsite.

The most encouraging conclusion that we reached was one that didn’t surprise us: web experiences finish most gracefully when crafted in tight spaces. The construction need not be complex. The result was lightweight, though content-rich… [Visitors] don’t need another user name and password to misplace—they just need more graceful web experiences. —National Park Foundation Microsite

Step 5: Nuts and Bolts

1. Understand your budget. A simple rule of thumb is to let your goals guide your spend. A site that will reach 5K people will likely cost less to build and maintain than a site designed to reach 500K. Likewise, a site that will live for a few weeks, should be more economical that one that will last for six months.

2. Get a domain.

3. Staffing requirements. Your microsite will likely require some or all of the following (assemble a team of inside or outside agency personnel to handle these requirements):

  • Marketing and Demand Generation
  • Content Creation
  • Design (and technical assistance for web implementation)
  • IT support

Step 6: Make the connections before you make the connections

1. Choose your channels. Once you’ve identified your audience and focused your message, you need to choose advertising channels that your customers know and use. Remember, there is no “the best channel”. There is, however, a best way to generate demand. And that is to meet your customers where they’re at…literally. Don’t waste time advertising in channels your customers don’t know or use. Part of knowing your customers means knowing their preferred channels of communication. Here are a few examples:

  • Links from your corporate site or other company online properties
  • PPC
  • SEM
  • Television
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Trade shows
  • Social Media

2. Know your customers. Who do you intend to drive to your shiny new microsite? The best way to maximize its potential is to spend the time to narrow the focus of your messaging and creative. You’ve got technical control, you’ve got creative control, you’ve got license to focus on accomplishing just one thing—make sure that you are delivering the right message to the right audience.

3. Use your channels. The surest way to fail at demand generation is not to do it at all. It is important to choose your channels wisely, it is also important to use your channels. Develop a demand strategy that compliments the life cycle of your microsite and have the support staff and budget in place to implement it.

Step 7: Make the Connections

1. Leverage your knowledge of your customers. As you design your microsite experience, locate the design creative, content, call-to-action, and advertising within your customer target. Build your site for the sake of your audience and focus it around your objective.

2. Finalize, test, and implement. Before you launch your marketing plan or go live with your site, it is important to finalize your content, design, and site functionality to make sure your initiative has the look and feel that will make your site a success. Once you have finalized your microsite story, it is time to test it to see if the site actually works and can be tracked.

Step 8: Manage your microsite experience

1. Measure. Develop an analysis plan that will help you understand the success of your microsite.

2. Tweak. Understanding how customers interact with your site will help you understand how to make the experience as successful as possible. Now that you have data, follow the insights from your data to improve the site.

Step 9: Document your microsite experience

1. What worked? What didn’t work? Why? Understanding the answers to these questions can make your future projects even more successful.