Building, Using and Marketing Microsites
Although your website is the central hub of your digital marketing strategy, it’s not well suited to all techniques for promoting your brand. Specialized campaigns, targeted selling, and other tactics are more effective when they have their own space on the web.
Microsites are a viable option for many brands trying to publish differentiated content or create platforms for specialized campaigns and products. You can host them at unique domains or subdomains to keep them separate from your primary website.
This article will shed light on designing and marketing microsites. We’ll also discuss how they work in conjunction with other strategies, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), email marketing, and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. Let’s go!
Microsite Definition: What Are They?
By definition, a microsite is an individual web page (typically with its own domain) or a small cluster of web pages that acts as an online platform for a brand separate from its main website.
If you run in marketing or web development circles, chances you’ve heard the term “microsite”. Microsites are becoming increasingly relevant in today’s online landscape. As the attention of the average web page visitor continues to shrink, the need for more focused content increases.
Microsites vs. Landing Pages
Fundamentally, microsites and websites are very similar. However, websites generally stick to straightforward information about a standard set of topics, such as the brand’s identity (an About page), its products or services, contact information, and resources such as a knowledge base or blog.
Microsites, on the other hand, often target a specific market through the use of in-depth, clutter-free information and a singular, actionable goal. Creating microsites can be advantageous for launching a new campaign, testing a new brand experience, promoting special events/contests, or experimenting with new audiences and digital channels.
When faced with the decision to create a microsite, it might be wise to compare and contrast this solution with landing pages, in order to decide the appropriate way to showcase your project, campaign, or product. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between microsites vs. landing pages:
What is a microsite?
- Separate domain or subdomain from the main website.
- Has its own navigation, design, and content.
- Highlights a specific topic, product or campaign.
- Usually 2-3 pages.
- Requires significant time and resources.
When should I use a microsite?
- When building brand awareness while telling a larger story.
- If you want to create a custom URL for a product or service.
- When you need a custom experience or User Interface (UI) that wouldn’t be feasible to include on your main site.
- You have a franchise business or store that wants a separate site targeting its location.
What is it a landing page?
- Lives within your main website.
- Created for a specific topic with a specific goal: lead generation.
- Same overall brand cohesion as your main website.
- Single page.
- Quick to set up, relatively cheap Set up for users to perform one action.
When should I use a landing page?
- When promoting a very specific product or offer.
- If you have a limited of amount of information to provide.
- When you want to test the demand for a product.
- If you’re looking to highlight a Call to Action (CTA) or collect information in a form.
Building & Designing Microsites
The process of creating a microsite is a hybrid of launching a website and designing a marketing campaign. You’ll need skills related to both in order to make your microsite successful, so brush up on your WordPress knowledge as well as your marketing know-how before you dive in. It’s also important to understand the differences between a microsite and a multisite.
Step 1: Define Your Microsite’s Objectives
Like any solid marketing campaign, launching your microsite starts with outlining what you hope it will achieve. Having a clear goal in mind will help you design your microsite effectively, so it can accomplish what it’s supposed to.
We’ve already briefly mentioned a few possible objectives for your microsite, such as:
- Tapping into a new audience or demographic
- Driving sales or building awareness for a specific product or service
- Increasing engagement through an enhanced UI that doesn’t fit into your website
- Promoting a special event or contest
Just as there are many different types of marketing campaigns you can run, there are many reasons to create a microsite. Keep in mind that this is meant to be a highly-targeted platform, so your objective for it should be more specific than that of your primary website.
Step 2: Acquire a Domain or Subdomain
As we’ve pointed out, microsites typically live either on their own domains or on subdomains. In either case, you’ll need to set up your microsite’s address before you can begin designing it.
If you’d like to use a domain that is entirely separate from your main website, you’ll need to register it just as you would any other web address, and add it to your hosting account.
To use a subdomain for your microsite, you can simply turn on WordPress’ native multisite feature. WP Engine customers can easily accomplish this with a few clicks via their User Portals.
However, if you’re not hosting your site with us, you can still enable WordPress multisite by editing your wp-config.php file. Simply access it via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and an FTP client such as FileZilla, and add the following code above the line that reads “That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging”:
/* Multisite */
define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );
Then, navigate to your WordPress dashboard and go to Tools > Network Setup. Here, choose the Sub-domain Install option, fill in the necessary details, and click on the Install button:
A third solution is to set up a multisite network and use native domain mapping to add a custom domain to your subsite. We’ve explained how to do this in detail in a previous article.
Step 3: Design Your Site
When dealing with hyper-focused content like what is typically found on a microsite, there’s no one perfect design plan. This type of platform is not defined by a common universal technique, size, or technology. However, microsites are first and foremost marketing tools, and should be designed accordingly.
Often, you’ll want your microsite design to mimic that of its parent site, to maintain your overall branding while targeting a specific client base or highlighting a new product. For example, if you’re launching a new product, you’ll want to create a separate promotional campaign via a microsite, which gives all the information about the item. It makes sense to design the microsite according to your brand’s style, with elements that highlight the product’s features.
Other times, you’ll want a microsite that is completely different from your parent brand site. Say for example that you want to differentiate your franchise location site from the company website, by highlighting unique characteristics about your store’s brand identity via your microsite marketing.
This might be a site that publishes regular, ongoing content. In these cases, you’ll want to take a risk with microsite design, and create something based on how customers view your brand.
Beyond the branding and look of your microsite, you’ll also want to carefully consider its scope and size. It may be anywhere from one to a few pages. Either way, you’ll need to decide what information is most important to include, as well as how you’ll address standard web design User Experience (UX) concerns such as navigation.
Ultimately, the design is up to you and the goals you want your microsite to accomplish. However, some popular features of microsite design include targeted CTAs, gamification, and media such as videos, which brings us to the next step.
Step 4: Create Content for Your Microsite
There may be some overlap in the content of your primary website and that of your microsite. However, you’ll have to create some new content for it related to your new product, target audience, or other campaign.
The content of your microsite will also likely lean more towards marketing copy in style. Some elements to consider include:
- Your brand identity: Determine whether your microsite’s ‘voice’ will match or differ from your primary website’s.
- A clear directive: Make sure your microsite’s visitors know what action they’re supposed to take, and create engaging CTAs around that goal.
- Your audience’s pain point or problem: You have a short space in which to convince visitors to convert, so make sure you explain how your brand addresses your target audience’s most pressing concerns.
In addition to text, you might also consider creating video content for your microsite. You can easily embed it from YouTube to keep your microsite’s performance fast, and it won’t take up much space so the design shouldn’t feel cluttered. Plus, video marketing is highly effective.
Step 5: Connect Your Site to Your Preferred Analytics Platform
Monitoring analytics is a best practice for both website management and marketing campaigns, so naturally it’s important for your microsite as well. This will enable you to test and refine the site over time.
You may already be aware of what you can track with website analytics. In short, this technique provides a way for you to see how many people are visiting your microsite and how they’re getting there, as well as the platform’s conversion rate. In other words, it tells you how successful your microsite is at achieving its objective.
You can refer to our guide for connecting Google Analytics with WordPress if you need help setting up an analytics tool for your microsite. However, you’ll need to create a separate property for it, so you can track user behavior for your microsite separately from your primary site.
To do so, log into your existing Google Analytics account and click on the Admin tab:
Then click on the Create Property button:
On the subsequent screens, fill in the required information regarding your microsite’s name and URL. Your new property will have a unique ID and tracking code for you to use when connecting your microsite to Google Analytics.
Microsites can be a smart approach for niche campaigns, specific products, and other unique ideas. They can offer many benefits to your business, including new ways for visitors to find your site, the ability to experiment, increased conversions, and the chance to cultivate a highly-focused message.
However, marketing your microsite can be a tricky business. You’ll want to promote it in a way that both draws visitors to your site and functions as a supplement, rather than as a competitor to your parent site.
To that end, it’s important to follow certain guidelines so your microsite is built in a way that does not hurt the SEO of your main website. Optimizing your microsite with SEO best practices can also be a crucial part of making sure it gets seen.
Incorporating microsites into email marketing can be another effective way to generate leads and promote sales. Microsites can also give brands greater flexibility, targeting, and user engagement when used for PPC advertising.
Microsites and SEO
Since they’re often dedicated to a specific niche, microsites can drive SEO by establishing a highly-targeted domain name and keywords, without becoming bogged down by the more complex strategies already in use on your main website. However, there are important SEO elements to consider when creating your microsite.
For example, sites for large brands often have highly-authoritative domains. Placing a microsite on a separate domain prevents the opportunity to leverage that authority. Additionally, if you have any repeated content on your microsite, or even content that just uses similar keywords, your two sites are splitting resources. This could result in a drop in search rankings, as your two platforms will be competing against one another.
For those highly concerned with SEO, creating microsites on a separate domain may not be advisable. A new domain means you need to commit the time and resources to marketing and SEO for a completely new site.
Subdomains, however, enable you to split your existing search authority between the two sites. You won’t have to optimize your subdomain microsite from the ground up, and you can avoid creating competing content. Regardless of your chosen strategy, however, the best ways to optimize your microsite for SEO are to populate it with excellent content, employ best practices, and leverage your existing site’s authority via cross-linking between your main site and microsite.
Microsites for Email Marketing
Microsites are a focused way to turn direct leads into sales, because they give users exactly what they’re looking for in an easily-navigable way. This makes microsites perfect for incorporating into emails. Thanks to strategically-placed content, they can provide customers with everything they need to know conveniently in their inboxes.
Microsites are much more effective for marketing than static messages when used in emails. With the ability to incorporate cool features such as product and content browsing, navigation, and videos, microsites sent to your subscribers via email will likely be more engaging and generate more leads.
Plus, when you build your microsite with WordPress, there are a variety of easy-to-use email plugins to simplify and scale your outreach efforts.
Microsites for Pay-Per-Click Advertising
If you’re looking to promote a short term promotional campaign or project and have sufficient time and resources, microsites can work in tandem with paid ad campaigns to drive traffic to your main site. While the more well-known way to use PPC ads is to send clicks to a relevant landing page on your site, microsites can be a better way to take your campaign advertising to the next level.
When ads are migrated to your main website, you often have to worry about slow loading times, visitors being exposed to an overwhelming amount of irrelevant information, and the stress of being limited by the design of your main website.
Microsites are compact, straightforward platforms that can generally load much faster, have simple navigation, and use pointed messages to cut out distraction and boost sales. Additionally, microsites are small and fairly easy to build, allowing for versatility and experimentation you wouldn’t be able to get on your main site.
Don’t forget to set up conversion tracking on your microsite with helpful WordPress-compatible plugins! When paired with the Google Analytics tracking we mentioned earlier,this will provide you with lots of information about what is and isn’t working on your microsite.
WP Engine Microsite Case Studies
At this point, hopefully you feel like you have a decent grasp on microsites, their uses, and how to use them alongside other marketing strategies. However, seeing one in action may be helpful, so we’ve pulled a couple of case studies from our archives.
First up, Network Rail has been using WP Engine to host its eight microsites for several years now. This company is responsible for building and maintaining railroads in the UK, and has multiple projects and campaigns to juggle as well as a range of stakeholders to address, including consumers, businesses, and government authorities.
For example, Network Rail used a microsite to keep the public informed of developments in the ThamesLink Programme, which worked to enhance the quality and speed of North-South travel in London. Passengers could see where work was currently being done, as well as a timeline of planned construction and improvements.
As we mentioned earlier in this post, microsites aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, when working with the Right People freelance consultant agency, we decided against using them. The motivation behind this choice was largely SEO-driven, for the same reasons we discussed above.
WordPress & WP Engine for Microsites
Given that microsites are often extensions or separate entities of a parent site, you’re going to want a Content Management System (CMS) that is flexible, easy to use, and offers the scalability you need for experimentation. Chances are you’re going to want to publish content fast, while also having the freedom to make changes and try out new things on your microsite. WordPress offers a platform so user-friendly that even someone with no previous technical experience can learn to use it effectively.
WordPress is the best CMS out there. Even if your main site is currently hosted on another platform, WordPress might be the perfect option for your strategic campaign or product pitch.
WP Engine’s digital experience platform expedites, simplifies, and optimizes the process of creating microsites with WordPress. We offer top-notch page speed, highly-scalable architecture, and page intelligence to give your microsite a leg up.
Plus, as you may have noticed throughout this post, WordPress includes many handy features and plugins for microsite managers. We can simplify your administrative duties and make maintaining all of your sites much simpler.
Expand Your Site With WP Engine
When it comes to helping you discover unique ways to take your brand to new heights, WP Engine has your back. Whether you’re looking to enhance your existing website or want to create an entire platform dedicated to a new product or service, our library of resources is here to help.
If you’re ready to launch your first microsite using WordPress, make sure to check out our managed hosting plans. We’ll keep your pages loading fast, so you can focus on refining your content and driving conversions!