when should you use a microsite?

Microsites aren’t bad intrinsically – they’ve just often been a lazy (sometimes expensive) way to avoid integration considerations when delivering a campaign. Fortunately it seems the needless spawning of microsites has very much slowed as many brands have realised the same aims through social media and better use of their main sites. In fact it feels a bit old school to write about them but a recent experience has made it quite fresh for me.

While at BHF I worked very hard to streamline a vast number of microsites during my three years working there ( I think we went from around 30 sites to 6). I was really quite chuffed to have shifted the culture so much and saved vast amounts of money in doing so. But before I left we broke my no microsite policy for a campaign. So why did we break the rule?

Here’s a summary of the questions that made it happen. They might be useful as a decision discussion tool if you find yourself in a similar situation.

  • How distinct is the audience we’re trying to reach when compared to the main site?
  • Would the audience be distracted by other main site ‘furniture’ so much that the activity effectiveness is at threat?
  • Would the standard brand risk the effectiveness? i.e. put the target audience off? Or not fit with a big reveal tactic?
  • Is it jointly branded and not solely owned by the organisation?
  • Do we want to distance ourselves? And not get our existing audience engaged?
  • Do we foresee selling / passing on the activity to an outside agency / organisation in future?
  • Would the technology or messaging compromise the main site?
  • Would it be more cost-effective to use a different platform but stop being cost-effective when integration is considered?
  • How long will the website need to be available?
  • Are we prepared to accept the following impacts:
    • Burden of build and maintenance
    • Potentially less exposure over longer term
    • Establishing search footprint from scratch
    • Fragmentation and potential for confused user journeys
    • Potential reduced capitalisation of existing ambassadors.

So what happened after the campaign?

Exactly as expected, the microsite traffic plummeted, but we’d planned ahead and had our exit strategy ready. We’d purposely had assets designed with the main site in mind too – so we migrated the useful stuff to the main site, redirected the domain and called it a day.

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