The 7 most important principles about Microsites

Microsites have been around for some time, but I still encounter quite a few people who either don’t know what they are — or how they can be a powerful addition to an advertising and marketing campaign.

This microsite was developed as part of our “Memorial ER Stories” campaign. The campaign was designed to extend the lifespan of the core message that Memorial’s ER was the number one choice of Springfield, IL residents.

For the uninitiated, microsites are exactly what they sound like: small websites that exist at a separate domain from your corporate website. They’re similar to landing pages in that they help with tracking and analytics, you can choose clever domain names and fun graphics — but there’s more.

Let’s take a look at the seven most important principles of microsites.

1. Each microsite should have a single purpose
Microsites tackle a specific segment of your overall market, a specific message, a particular important event, product or service, advertising campaign or geographic location. Basically they can help deliver a set of information quickly and more compellingly than your larger corporate website. The best microsites have a simple and engaging design, a highly focused message and no more than about a dozen pages (here’s a great example of a very small microsite.  So small it’s called a landing page). They’re an important spoke in the wheel of your overall herding (what’s herding?) campaign — which may involve print, social media, radio, TV, PR and online banner advertising.

2. A microsite should improve confidence
When you’re wading though search results and information online the water tends to get a little muddy. Sending people directly to your website doesn’t usually help either. Microsite visitors aren’t distracted with complex navigation choices and information that’s not directly relevant to why they’re there in the first place. By delivering only the most pertinent information — in an easily viewable way — you can promote confidence in your potential clients or customers — leading to higher conversion rates.

3. Microsites should be small but meaty
One of the biggest mistakes some marketers make can make with a microsite is making it too light and fluffy. Microsites should be meaty — but lean. In most circumstances there should never be any teasers. Without enough information to satisfy a visitor they’re likely to leave.

4. Microsites should provide instant gratification
Build it for speed. After all, you’re creating a microsite so that viewers don’t get bogged down in the wealth of content on your full site. Give the viewer what they came there for, only what they came there for — and do it fast — but never in a Flash.

5. Microsites should allow users to find information on their own
Don’t be so controlling. Unless you have a very specific story or message to tell, “guided flow” site architecture can seem a little suffocating. Provide clear navigation choices to allow a user to explore on their own terms and at their own pace. This type of navigation has a secondary benefit. Studies have shown that users who discover things on their own through information foraging can develop an information scent trail. When users feel that they have found information on their own they take ownership of it, building an affinity with your brand and less like you’ve sold them something.

6. Microsite navigation should be intuitive
If there’s one tenet of a microsite it’s simplify. Offer a few simple, quick choices on the landing page, followed up with highly targeted information. Breaking your information into several subtopics makes it easier for people to consume what they need. Each navigation link should allow the viewer to explore and learn more — without forcing them to dig for the information they really want. A big, long, scrolling page of content isn’t useful.

7. Microsites should be economical and agile
Creating a microsite shouldn’t be an ordeal. Designing one should be only a little more work than a simple landing page. Because they’re part of your marketing message and not directly tied into your corporate website they can be deployed quickly, hopefully without committee after committee tangling it up in red tape. You can even create two microsites with  A/B versions so you can conduct multivariate testing to experiment with different content, presentation and conversion offers.

If there’s an 8th principle, it’s that microsites shouldn’t be reserved for special occasions. Much like that champagne in your refrigerator, what are you saving it for? Microsites can be created for just about any purpose, quickly and easily. If they’re created on an open platform they can be changed easily and updated at little cost.