Microsites are everywhere. A cursory look around the net reveals that many eMarketers believe no campaign is complete without a temporary, often flash-rich and content-starved site perched atop its own domain name.
The tide of microsite growth is accelerating due to the rush to jump into the social media bandwagon: corporate blogs are typically outsourced to an agency and run separate from an organization’s website, sporting a different look and feel, content architecture and their own domain. And now, companies are flocking to Facebook to create presences there, away from their branded site.
Microsites, the agencies’ favorites
For years I have heard the praises of the microsite sang by many. Apparently, campaigns have a personality and therefore demand their own distinct address and a very unique (mostly overwhelming and unusable) look and feel. During my time at Nokia I heard those arguments made to me on a daily basis by an army of agencies eager to dip into the Finnish behemoth’s notoriously loose coffers. Microsites never really went away but recently the noise has increased a few notches, driven by a new horde of social media agencies extolling the virtues of corporate blogging and implying that using WordPress -always the best choice for this type of activity- demands its own URL and distinct visual identity.
Microsites represent the worse option any eMarketer could take, except in very particular occasions. Very particular indeed -through my extensive career I have only adopted the microsite strategy twice, both times setting up communities sponsored by, but not commercially related to, the business I was running at the time. If business results are what you’re after, you’d get better returns if you were to throw your investment in a pond and walk away. The only goal for a microsite is to win the agency who built it an award from their peers that they can use to raise their rates. Business results rarely come from microsites.
Microsites weaken businesses
Some of the downsides of microsites are obvious, like the difficulty to build any search relevancy on a new domain, the risk of the site being perceived as phishing or an unrelated affiliate, the experience interruptus feeling a visitor hits after finishing with your microsite and finding herself unable to engage any longer with your brand and the dilution of your brand equity across a number of equally branded, equally official non-hierarchical destinations.
Others may be less obvious: the unnecessary growth of branded URLs amount to a polluted Internet, making it increasingly difficult for everyone to find their way. Fragmentation sets in and customers looking for your products fall through the cracks. Temporary hosting setups devoid of security or performance guarantees leave you open to attacks and crashes from high traffic. Technology is exposed (your URLs often tell more than you think about the platforms you use), leaving your business in a state akin to driving with your bonnet open. This last type of microsites, the technology made us do it ones are the worse. As an eMarketer you have the responsibility to sufficiently understand technology so you can ensure IT choices serve the business needs and not the other way around. If you don’t, you should get up speed quickly. Or let someone else have your job.
Driving with the bonnet open has another uncomfortable side effect, you can’t see where you’re going. Analytics tools will struggle to follow your visitors as they move across the maze of URLs that microsites strive in. So you don’t get to find out how your digital properties are being used, whether they help or hinder your business, where your visitors engage or abandon nor how much revenue did the campaign generate. Exactly like throwing your marketing money into a pond, and walking away.
Kicking the Microsite habit
Solving the microsite problem is too easy: any CMS, even the most basic one, will allow you to create sections for your campaigns, complete with analytics, your site’s global navigation to enable customers to engage deeper, even a custom look and feel if you really, really must have one. Merging a network of different platforms (your eCommerce platform, your CMS, your WordPress blog) behind a single URL and information architecture is also easy. Your IT guys have most likely done it already integrating your CMS and eCommerce engine. Virtual folders and load balancing proxies are but 2 options to achieve this in the time it takes to down a cup of tea.
The biggest problem to solve is weaning eMarketers off their microsite addiction.
I’ve rarely seen a microsite that solved a problem that couldn’t have been better addressed within the main branded site. What do you think? Do you use microsites for your campaigns? Is the new tendency to flock to Facebook and away from brand sites the latest incarnation of the dreaded microsite?