Stop Building Microsites?

IStock_000003700121XSmallMany brands will use a microsite – a single-purpose li’l website – to serve as a landing page for a new advertising/branding/marketing/social media campaign.

This FEELS like it makes sense.

Most brands are too “big” to allow a one-off campaign of any sort to dramatically affect their official corporate website … yet, corporations spend enough $$$ on such initiatives that they want to maximize the investment; and, for fans of the newly rolled-out campaign, a microsite is a handy, utilitarian place to show off more multimedia assets, aggregate conversations related to the campaign, etc.

Why it might NOT make sense?  It’s rare to see a microsite with any real traction.

Have a look at Stride Gum’s “Save the Arcades” microsite.  As an avid (if rusty) gamer who’s plunked down far too many quarters in my day, you can count me as a booster of neighborhood videogame arcades.  But does a site like this have anything more than niche appeal?

Maybe I’m having a curmudgeonly morning, but are we so swept up in our belief in the Long Tail that we’re willing to spend thousands upon thousands of marketing dollars using a nit-comb to find a new brand fan?

How many visitors must a microsite get to make it worthwhile?  Would just a few thousand visitors be considered a success, for the money spent on ideation and creative execution?  These microsites don’t tend to get millions of eyeballs.

On the plus side, Stride Gum did think enough of the “Save the Arcades” campaign to prominently feature it on its Facebook Fan Page, which counts over 350,000 fans… but I don’t see anything more than the static microsite image, and no “discussions” of the arcade-salvation campaign across this vast user base.

What I did see on the Facebook page was plenty of consumers willing to engage on quick & simple stuff they’d spotted in their Newstream, e.g., when Stride asks, “What’s Your Favorite Flavor?” plenty of folks leapt to answer.  It’s quick.  It’s simple. It’s free.  Yet it reminds thousands of Stride’s known fans of the brand loyalty they originally expressed when they first tapped the “Become a Fan” icon.

When DOES a microsite make sense?  I need to answer this because a) it’s not always a bad idea and b) we are building one for a client!

I think a microsite makes sense when you are part of a highly regulated industry, e.g., Financial Services or Pharmaceuticals, which need to be scrupulously careful about content, disclosures, and consumer engagement.

If Pfizer creates a Fan Page for Viagra (there are some on Facebook that one can be pretty sure were fan-created), and some poor guy posts about his gruesome episode of priapism, Pfizer personnel need to scurry about reporting adverse events to the FDA, wondering about whether it is kosher to delete that guy’s post from the Wall, etc.  And what happens when a far happier customer graphically describes how he’s being intimate with his wife for the first time in years?  Good message, but inappropriate details.  “Do we delete?” types of questions arise.  And so on.  A microsite can tame these tricky issues.

A microsite also makes sense if the brand is willing to Go Big.  If the advertising campaign is gonna be HUGE, long-lasting, brand-changing, then yea, you can rightfully expect a million+ consumers are gonna tap some keywords into Google, and you want them to find “a separate place” where they can interact with additional content.

Dos Equis’s “Stay Thirsty, My Friends” campaign is a great example.  A microsite for such a compelling campaign is appropriate.  Only problem is that this particular site is bloated with Flash, boasts terrible navigation, and doesn’t feature The Interesting Man!  Still, my son and I laughed over the several additional commercial-grade videos that found their way to YouTube (like this one: The Most Interesting Man in the World: on “Rollerblading).  A well-designed microsite that promoted additional content like these “minisodes” would have been sought-after and well-received.

At the end, all I am really suggesting to brand marketers is that they think long & hard about developing microsites.  They absolutely have their place, but given a likely dearth of eyeballs, the pay-off for most consumer brands will often be hard to determine.

But maybe the best way to conclude this micro treatise is with the alternate title I’d considered for this post.

Microsites: Go Big, or Go To Facebook.

Posted on: November 2, 2009 at 7:20 am By Todd Defren
77 Responses to “Stop Building Microsites?”


  • LinkJuicer23 says:

    I must say i think an effective backlink building campaign is essential for the optimisation of your website. Infact I rekon that a good backlink building campaign is much more essential for your rankings than optimize your blog itself…..

  • Julia Pflaum says:

    This post is exactly what I was trying to get at in a recent review of State Farm’s new “Thank you” social media campaign ( If there aren’t long-term plans utilizing the microsite, why build it? Just integrate everything into a Facebook page. It’s a lot easier on the users.

  • I agree. With the tools, traction and capabilities of Facebook fan pages and applications it doesn’t make sense to build microsites unless they are going to become a destination in their own right.

    The viral nature of Facebook can be extremely effective for companies branding efforts.

    Doug McIsaac

  • Anna Talerico says:

    I love this blog post — not sure why we don’t talk more about this as an industry.

    So, I think that campaign-specific landing experiences – like landing pages, microsites and conversion paths – are very useful if you have identified objectives in advance and work towards achieving those objectives.

    The problem is when companies invest heavily – time, resources and dollars – in creating ‘the ultimate micro-site’ only to find it gets little traffic or isn’t effective and reaching the goals established.

    I favor campaign landing experiences that can be built in minutes, hours or days — NOT weeks or months — and easily tested. Campaign specific experiences are transient, not meant to stand the test of time, but only to stand the test of the campaign traffic funneling in during the campaign. They can be very effective at helping organizations achieve high conversions, but the return needs to be balanced by the amount of resources invested.

  • laurenf says:

    Yea it may FEEL like building a micro site is the right thing to do, but seriously how many people have sought out “Save the Arcades”? The niche is so small, and did you notice that “Save the Arcades 2″ will kick off in 2010?! Stride advertising is great, print and tv ads, but how many people even seek out a gum site, let alone an off-shoot like this one?

    It makes sense that huge corporations might create micro sites because yes, they can be easily discontinued if the campaign fails or ends. To create a new line extension and slap it on the established, trusted main site could be scary. The new product could fail or even worse, it may take over the brand entirely.

    One brand that’s willing to GO BIG is Coca Cola with Coke Zero. In that case, I think a micro site is a smart idea. The site is still very brand identifiable, but the sleek design is an appeal to the line’s target market. Big companies don’t have time to worry about a negative wall post, yet who knows how many eyes read that every day. Micro sites create a more close knit consumer community than main brand sites, especially if they have blogs.

  • RACHEL says:

    Great insight Todd, I think it is valuable to get marketers to think of ways to change up the old go-to’s and think of what actually makes sense to 1) promote your brand and 2) to your customer. Similar to the Dos Equis example, I remember the Old Spice microsite featuring Bruce Campbell, I went back to that time and time again because I thought the commercials were hilarious! It was totally entertaining and if I were a man, I would have purchased Old Spice – too bad they don’t make products for women ;)

  • I think there is definitely a time and a place for the use of a microsite, but just like any other communication, there has to be a solid strategy to back it up. The “if you build it, they will come” approach just doesn’t work. The agency I work for implemented a successful microsite a couple of weeks back at a major trade show event. The programs was a success because we used the event to promote the site, the call to action and offer, and the fact that our target audience was all in one place at one time.

  • CHris Clark says:

    I love the World’s Most Interesting Man campaign too and it highlights the number one problem I see with microsites – all Flash, no brains – as you noted in the post. Nice work!

  • LAUREN fISHER says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever really understood microsites, as it seems like you’re making twice the work for yourself, essentially working to promote 2 sites within Google. I’ve certainly seen examples of great microsites, but don’t see why all the information needs to be contained within a separate site. In terms of SEO I know you can pass on the link benefit of a microsite once the campaign is over, but again, why not just make one site authoritative and remove the barrier for people to connect with you?

  • Microsites seem like a great idea as we move towards the hyper-niche/local web environment. In my experience, the most focused and direct you cna be with your website/advertising/PR, the more successful it will be. Users will be able to search and find their most desired idea.

    • Todd Defren says:

      And yet so many of these microsites are, really, hard to find. Their limited depth and popularity hinders effective SEO. You’ve built something for a tiny minority – which I’d applaud, if it were free to do in terms of corporate resources.

      My bigger concern is that advertising agencies, etc., sell the client on these sites without thinking about the longer-term brand implications or ROI. Which, again, speaks to the “campaign thinking” that marks many marcomm industry silos.

    • Todd Defren says:

      And yet so many of these microsites are, really, hard to find. Their limited depth and popularity hinders effective SEO. You’ve built something for a tiny minority – which I’d applaud, if it were free to do in terms of corporate resources.

      My bigger concern is that advertising agencies, etc., sell the client on these sites without thinking about the longer-term brand implications or ROI. Which, again, speaks to the campaign-thinking that marks many marcomm industry silos.

  • amymengel says:

    I think a microsite can work when there’s a need or want to distance a brand a bit slightly from an issue – I’m specifically thinking of FedEx’s “Brown Bailout” microsite. They wanted to influence public opinion about proposed legislation that would have hurt FedEx and helped UPS, and they wanted to create some interaction such as having constituents e-mail legislators, sign an online petition, etc. The microsite made it appear that the Brown Bailout Web site was devoted to the issue and the FedEx “branding” was very discreet. Hosting the content somewhere on FedEx’s branded Facebook page or on the FedEx page itself certainly wouldn’t have had the same effect.

  • Lee Traupel says:

    Great post and we concur wholeheartedly. One of the biggest downsides to microsites is the standalone web sites requires another layer of marketing and IT costs, without providing any long term benefit to the core web site. Much better to develop an “island site” ( that has some link association with corporate site to drive long term traffic, brand extension, etc. It can also be built on a WordPress blog, which in turn helps to drive many more benefits :i.e. backlinks into core site, instant keyword rankings if done properly, etc.

  • They serve a purpose. But only if they direct to somewhere better. For instance if I were to build a microsite now? I’d host it on facebook…but share the same microsite url everywhere else. This way? Best of both worlds.

  • Ryan Shell says:

    I realized while working at an agency a couple years ago just how much of a waste mircorsites could be. Not to mention they can quickly backfire and have the client asking, “Where is the traffic?”

    Mircosites offer leeway from the structure of most corporate sites and can help get around IT issues. From experience, I’ve not seen the benefit of these sites far outweigh the gain.

    There is one exception that I’ve seen.

    If a company can utilize a microsite for more than one project they might be able to gain some traction, but that is hardly ever done or thought about prior to coming up with a site name.

  • Todd,

    I agree that a microsite isn’t ideal for every campaign. I’ve seen a lot of worthless microsites set up to push an effort that doesn’t have ample support across other media, so the site just ends up withering into a ghost town with no traffic. It definitely makes sense for smaller campaigns to just use Facebook, where there’s already a captive audience, rather than trying to build a new microsite audience from scratch.

    However, with the right support and goals, I think a microsite is a superb strategy. I wrote a post on it about a year ago: It helps with targeting a specific niche, earning inbound links, and has a much better chance of going “viral” than a typical corporate site.


  • Wow! I agree. I did a similar analysis of the Dos Equis site a few weeks ago:

    Microsites are definitely played. Brands need to branch out from their branded comfort zones and play in someone else’s sandbox.

  • I think that it comes down to the fact that a microsite can be easily discontinued if it does not work, not to mention that in some cases, it is not easily recognized as to what comapany may be behind the site, so it will not have a negative effect on the company.

  • I’m sorry, Todd – but do we share the same brain? I wrote a post on the identical topic this morning.

    IMHO microsites are a total waste of time, effort and money if you don’t have a plan to retain and recycle the eyeballs you have spent millions to attract. This can include, as @jaygoldman suggested on Twitter, campaign landing pages within existing domains (concentrating your Google juice) or permanent real estate on your own or third-party platforms.

    If you’re not taking this approach, you’re reinventing the wheel every time you have something new to say, which is officially, in my books, a Bad Idea.

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