Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Microsites offer little value

Yesterday, I got the suggestion that I should be using microsites more.

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought of microsites for years. Mostly because other than for marketing or public interest campaigns, one doesn’t seem them much any more.

Wikipedia has a good definition of microsite, but for an example visit Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. This microsite was lauded in the press and is a fine example of the power of microsites.

Advertisers also like microsites as they can sponsor the entire site prominently and target the content to their aims. Also companies trying to improve search engine optimization are known to use them, but I'm not convinced microsites are the best way to do this.

The problems with microsites, which anyone who has been in web publishing for a few years will know, are legendary:

1) They are orphans from the parent site
By their very nature, microsites are cut off from the main site. Yes, you can put a link back to the homepage but that doesn’t usually suffice. The main site loses traffic and users do not get the full content offering and may be confused by the diminished offering.
2) The orphans are neglected
Microsites are built, possibly with the best intentions, but then attention goes elsewhere and the orphans are left to starve and grow unruly. Microsites are notorious for dead links, out-of-date content and other signs of neglect.
3) They don't look or act like their parents
Microsites are often built by a different team or different designers than the overall site. This may be as a microsite has unique goals, but from a user perspective if they are used to the parent site and then arrive on the seemingly-illegitimate child site, they have to learn how to use the new site. Usabilily suffers.

Bring the orphans home, adopt these techniques

There are other ways to get at desired goals of a microsite.

If the goal is to help introduce a topic or target audience, rather than throwing them right into the wilds of the entire website, one can use multimedia content (dare I say Flash) to present a targeted, engaging introduction to this group.

If the goal is to present unique content that is only relevant to a particular group or market segment, then you can invest in technology to allow customized dynamic content based on a profile. The solution can be as simple as showing or hiding content based on user-entered parameters (eg. Air Miles offers Gold Members, once they log in, special information and offers specifically target to this subgroup.) You could also build a "hidden" section of the main site and send the link (make it one easy to remember) directly to that group. That way these unique users can get their own content and the site’s overall content, but the entire user base does not see this and get confused by it. I’ve used this latter tactic quite successfully.

If you know of how microsites can be used effectively in a corporate way, please let me know...

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