Inbound Marketing Strategies: Are Microsites Valuable?

are_microsites_valuable

A Microsite is a small group of pages that are linked to a larger parent website, but have a different domain name and generally unique content and design.Microsites are usually used as a marketing tactic to specially distinguish certain information, campaigns, products, etc.

Microsites have been used for this purpose for some time now with varying degrees of success. They can be great for getting focused information across to intended users and have been a part of many brands’ marketing campaigns. However, questions about the value of microsites remain and they are definitely not recognized as universally effective.

While microsites may be good at times for promoting your brand or certain products, etc., they need to be approached very strategically, since they can also have a damaging effect on your SEO. The key to determining the value of a microsite is to consider it in light of your key marketing objectives. Stick to these following guidelines and decide when a microsite is good for your longer term marketing strategies:

Not an Answer to Your Redesign Needs

You are bound to need a website revamp or refresh at some point. Maybe it’s desperate and your main website is a hideous UI/UX nightmare. Maybe it hasn’t been maintained or updated regularly. Maybe it’s disorganized and disengaging to visitors. This means it’s time for a redesign, not for a microsite. While the idea of creating a microsite as a solution can be tempting in order to avoid the trouble of going through enormous changes and cost of a site redesign, a microsite can never and shoulnever act as parking spot for your brand and foundational information.

The convenience of avoiding a redesign is outweighed by the negative consequences this has on your SEO rankings and traffic flow:

  1. Google takes the age of a domain into consideration in ranking. Older domains are more highly valued. From this perspective, your original website has value no matter what. Whether it has been neglected or has too much information on it, or is behind the latest design trends, it would be foolish to replace it with a microsite.
  2. Another drawback of microsites is that you will actually succeed in dividing your own target audience between the two sites. Given that your website was your original web presence, creating a microsite that also houses foundational company/brand information rather than a very limited and specific set of pages will spread your customers and audience unevenly.

It should also be noted that creating and maintaining a microsite is not as easy and cost effective as you may think. Even if a total website overhaul is out of budget for you right now, you can likely do some housekeeping and updating for the same cost in time and resources it would take to build a microsite.

Finally, spreading key general information across multiple domains can be a frustrating to your visitors, who expect to be able to navigate from one relevant page to another and back again without being completely relocated. This experience is not going to encourage visitors to stay and look around your site. It will likely be disorienting and discouraging to their mission, driving them elsewhere to meet their needs.

Microsites Can Hurt Search Rankings

Microsites violate a few key pieces of SEO wisdom. If you are under the impression that having a microdite will increase your page count or drive better SEO rankings, be prepared to be disappointed. While its true that one emphasis for many inbound marketing strategies is content creation and the SEO benefits of content, microsites don’t contribute to this overarching goal:

  1. As already mentioned, a microsite is a completely different page with a separate domain name. When a customer visits the microsite instead of the main website, it does not register as a visit to your site. Your website and microsite do not share the visitors. Therefore, you are not improving your SEO in any way by building traffic to your site. Google registers a microsite as a separate website, so you’re going to have to build traffic to that site from scratch. Even piggy-backing your microsite off of your main website traffic results in redirecting traffic away from your own site.
  2. Duplicate content is another problem that can arise when using microsites. Fresh, unique content is another indicator of relevance and trust for Google. Any content that is repeated on your microsite from your main site will result in a lower ranking.
  3. If you are targeting the same keywords on both sites, you are essentially pitting your website against your own microsite for SEO rankings, which should really be considered in the context of a firmly established overarching strategy.

Even if your ranking does improve, the microsite will require regular maintenance and will need to have updated information to keep the ranking. Because most microsites are created for temporary purposes and are supposed to contain limited information, the race to keep the ranking up may cost more than you initially thought.

Ok, so we’ve established that having a microsite can hurt the health of a website instead of improving it. Now when, if ever, is it a good idea to have a microsite for marketing purposes? As long as you’re aware of the costs in SEO rankings, etc., discussed above, you may make a strategic call to build a microsite as part of a big campaign or product launch push. And, done well, under the right circumstances, this can be great.

Short-term Promotional Activities

Microsites can come with higher benefits than costs for short-term promotional activities in your marketing plan. For example, if you have a temporary or seasonal offer/product/campaign that does not mesh exactly with your website’s content and has a highly specific message, you can use a microsite to inform the customers about it. In this case the microsite isn’t out to extend your brand’s image. Instead, it’s focused on something unique and limited in scope that needs its own context. This is one huge plus of a microsite: focus. There’s little opportunity for a visitor to get distracted from the message and “next steps” of a campaign by content of a different nature.

Additionally, for your internal tracking and analysis purposes, collecting uncorrupted data about certain marketing campaigns or efforts can really inform your strategy.

Creating a New Market Segment

Microsites can be effective if your company is introducing a new product geared toward a new target audience or market segment. It can challenging to incorporate this move into your main website without creating an anomalistic break in organization, direction, and target.

A microsite build for this purpose can focus your customer’s attention on the new product and make the product stand out. For example, Unilever uses microsites for its separate brands such as Dove and Axe, which have very different targets and branding in themselves. In fact, the branding for each is so unique that, unless you’re looking into the higher level corporate ties, you aren’t likely to know that Dove and Axe are made by the same company. You can see why Unilever has opted to give each of them their own web presence.

Additional Effective Microsite Innovations

Here are some other companies that are putting microsites to effective and interesting use:

AYGO 360 was introduced by Toyota in style by creating a webpage that could only be opened on smart phones. The microsite took advantage of the Gyroscope sensors in the phone to get a 360 look of cars by moving around. The microsite by Toyota is representative of one stunning and delightful use of microsites.

Toyota_Aygo_Mobile_Site

Coke is another example of the way microsites can be used to achieve effective results. Coke released more than 50 microsites, all with highly interactive interfaces. Coke keeps adding more microsites to its already large database to keep customers engaged and reminding them why Coke is “so awesome.”

One item to note across the above examples: we are talking about huge companys that have veritable highway systems of traffic and plenty of SEO capital that they can experiment with. The costs to them are not as likely to outweigh the benefits

In short, microsites can be beneficial, but shouldn’t be implemented without deeper consideration of the impacts they are likely to have on your longer term marketing efforts.

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