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4 lessons from Ad Council on how to launch and maintain multiple, effective campaign microsites

A black and a caucasian young woman are sitting in a business meeting in a modern office. They discuss something over papers and a laptop while one of them is pointing at the computer screen. Both are wearing glasses and pie charts are visible in the background.

So, you’ve decided to use a microsite for your next campaign...where do you start?

We recently had a chat with Christine Medina, Ad Council’s VP of Digital Product, about how they leverage microsites to draw attention and action to the various public service campaigns they run. With dozens of active campaigns, ensuring a smooth process is essential to them.

A well-planned microsite pushes your audience to focus on one topic and increases the likelihood of a specific action being taken. In order to achieve this, Christine discussed the four-step process Ad Council adheres to when launching microsites: planning, development, launch, and post-launch. Below is an overview of the key considerations in each of the four stages...let’s get into it:

The Planning Stage
The planning stage will begin by determining your objectives, target audience, and which KPIs will determine success. Defining a clear goal is crucially important in order to build a thoughtful user experience that works effectively to convert visitors. It will also help define which metrics to track, and how you’ll track the ROI of the site. A few common KPIs to consider tracking are conversions, number of visitors, number of unique visitors compared to your core site, bounce rate, and time on site. These are typical metrics that marketers are already tracking, but one thing to keep in mind is that the microsite is separate from your core site, and therefore won’t benefit from the same search rankings. Understanding this, you will be able to set realistic goals that tie into your overall campaign objective.

A large part of setting your objective is defining your target audience. In fact, defining your audience can be an objective in itself if, for example, your goal is to expand a product line to a new demographic. Creating persona profiles of your audience’s interests, pain points, online behavior, and demographics will help inform the content you create and how you promote your microsite once it’s launched.

Speaking of content, part of the planning process goes into thinking about what content you want on your site. Start by auditing your assets; you may find existing content that can be repurposed for your new site. When planning to repurpose content or create new content, there are three criteria to consider.

  1. Relevance - The first key is to make sure the content for your microsite is relevant and useful to your audience. Perform testing to understand what type of content will resonate. Your audience research and persona creation will come in handy here to determine what content would be the most helpful and, therefore, the most effective.
  2. Accuracy - Make sure content is correct and vetted by subject matter experts. The team you put together to launch the campaign microsite should include a subject matter expert, or you can turn to outside resources. If the content includes inaccurate information, it will likely turn people away from your site.
  3. Search - You need to optimize your content based around what your audience is already searching for. Go through a full SEO audit process, including keyword research, to understand what kind of language your audience is using.
Avoid using any jargon that you may understand but your audience doesn't.
A key tip from Christine at Ad Council

The Development Stage (From a Project Management Perspective)
It’s important to build the right team early. Often, the person leading the microsite project may be in more of a marketing or project management position than a technical one. Building the right team for the project can help not only the end result, but also ensure the project stays on track and launches on schedule. A few elements of a good team would include marketing, analytics, front-end development, and design. The marketing and analytics teams (and possibly the account manager if the microsite is for a client) will work on strategy around the campaign promotion plan, measuring results, etc. Your front-end development and design teams will be the technical backbone of the team, understanding the priorities around SEO and optimizing code and user experiences for the microsite.

Once your team is assembled, prioritize a discovery kickoff phase with your developers and design team prior to any microsite implementation. It’s crucial here to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to assigned work and the intended functionalities of the microsite. Once the project has begun, keep the communication lines open between everyone on the project, and get out of the way.

Heavily document as much as you can. Record video calls, record trainings, and take very good notes.
A key tip from Christine at Ad Council

The Launch Stage
Congratulations on getting into the launch stage for your microsite! On your campaign timeline, you likely have marketing communications scheduled to start at a certain time, and you need the microsite ready so that you can drive traffic to it. Speed is important through the launch process when it comes to communicating quickly and requesting feedback to ensure you’re launching the project on schedule. Throughout the planning and development of your campaign microsite, you should be getting regular feedback on design and user experience. Make sure multiple people are testing the functionality of the site and reading through its content to catch any errors. Get everyone involved so that, when the time comes to launch, you won’t run into any last minute changes that throw off the schedule.

[It’s important] to share page preview links through the CMS which allows the client to see a real live page and site. This is really really helpful because they are not just looking at a flat design or prototype, they can actually give us feedback on the holistic interactivity and the navigation.
A key tip from Christine at Ad Council

The Post-Launch Stage
The post-launch period is critical to evaluate the performance and make any changes deemed necessary. You’ve already determined the metrics and KPIs to track; now it’s time to keep an eye on them weekly. Track the top-line metrics for site performance—total users, sessions, bounce rate, conversion rate—and compare with benchmark performance established from previous campaigns and your main company website.

Look at some qualitative data. Some of our microsites will have surveys that understand people's and our audience’s feedback on the site experience and if there are any barriers that they're experiencing.
An idea from Christine at Ad Council

The entire process to launch a microsite, from ideation and design to launch, can take anywhere from a few days to 6 months. The ability to create a unique user experience along with quickly launching a site are some of the main benefits of using a microsite for a campaign, so ideally the process would be on the quicker end of that spectrum.

Prior to partnering with Brightspot, Ad Council ran about 35-40 different campaigns with unique goals, messaging, and campaign microsites. Half of those campaigns were managed by Christine’s small team, and of those 20 microsites, many were on different content management platforms, built by different developers, and some didn’t even have a CMS. A few years ago, they made the decision to standardize and have all campaign microsites on one CMS…and that’s where Brightspot comes in.

Brightspot gives Ad Council the speed and flexibility to support their changing needs for each of the many campaigns they run concurrently. With Brightspot’s support for any front end, a seamless user-friendly publishing experience, native multi-site capabilities, and the ability to integrate with all of their existing systems, Ad Council has been able to work more efficiently to launch amazing public service campaigns.