A topic that seems to keep cropping up on a fairly regular basis is that of microsites so I thought it might be helpful to try and briefly explain what they are and some of the pros and cons of using them.
Microsites, by definition, are small Web sites, usually comprising of just one, or a few pages, which are dedicated to one specific niche topic. Often, they are only used for a short period of time, perhaps for the duration of a specific marketing campaign although some last longer.
Microsites do have their uses and, like any marketing tool, need to be assessed on a case by case basis. Much has been written about these over the years, both good and bad and they also have had their turn in being used to try and fool search engines from an SEO point of view (not recommended).
I’m sure if you ask a number of marketers you will get quite different opinions but a common perception in the industry that most seem to agree on is that microsites can be useful for marketing a specific topic, product or service in a campaign separate from the main website.
They allow you for example to have the flexibility of a different site design to your main site that suits the topic, target audience or marketing campaign better. They also allow you to optimise the microsite content around that one topic in cases where it may not be so easy to do so on the main website where there may be a much broader range of products and services etc on offer.
Keep it separate
When adding new marketing channels, you need to think about how using separate sites could affect your brand – having two separate sites that look very different but have the same name could be confusing for your visitors.
If the sites are quite separate and operate independently this might not be an issue. For example, if the visitor accesses the microsite directly and the complete process is handled there, then that is probably not an issue but if the process takes them (via links) on to the main site for further information or to complete the process this could be confusing. Alternatively, if they enter via the main site and then are taken to a very different looking microsite for the product they are interested in, it again could be confusing as they no longer recognise your brand.
In such a case, there might be an argument to remove the product from the main site and just have it on the microsite, otherwise you could run into duplicate content issues with the main site. You could even find your microsite competing directly with your main site and taking traffic away from it.
Microsites & SEO
A common “trick” used in the past to try and fool search engines was to optimise a microsite for a specific set of key terms to draw in links and then link this back to the main website in an attempt to benefit the main site rankings. Cross linking of multiple sites is not a recommended practice (by Google) and is considered “spammy” and likely to result in penalties in the search engines. Generally it would be more beneficial to spend the effort getting such links directly to your main site.
Creating a new site with a new (keyword related) domain name means that it has no search history or trust so you have to spend time and effort to start optimisation and getting rankings from scratch. This does not happen overnight so you have to allow time (typically months) to develop organic rankings.
You could of course use the microsite with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to drive traffic to it, in the same way you would use a dedicated landing page, to obtain paid results in the mean time.
Other points to remember
Adding a microsite to your marketing portfolio obviously means you will incur additional costs (e.g.hosting, domain name, development, maintenance) and you also now have an additional website to manage, maintain, promote etc so you need to take this into account when planning.
This is only a very quick overview of the topic but hopefully it will help you understand the basics and some of the things you need to consider. As always, you need to do your homework and research to ensure you are using the right tool for the job and how it fits into your marketing strategy and plan before diving in.