What's the difference between a website and a microsite?

website vs microsite differences: storyboard illustrations

Microsites can serve many needs, but generally are intended to support specific digital campaign goals that diverge slightly from your main website or require a dedicated set of styles, content and calls to action in support of the campaign. Let's delve deeper into the ways a microsite differs to a website, and how your CMS needs to be configured to support the different objectives and programming needs for each.

Your website is the face of your business. Marketers know better than anyone that even though the main website is the gateway—the digital hub—for the organization, it doesn’t always need to present every piece of information, from campaigns, to events, to new products.

That’s where microsites come into play. These branded content sites can be the perfect one-off, short-lived platform to keep your launch or campaign clean and concise, tight and targeted.

Discover the Forest microsite

Website vs. microsite: What's the difference?

The above image illustrates an excellent example of a microsite. The main goal of the Discover Your Forest microsite (www.discovertheforest.org) is to get kids and families back outside and in touch with nature, and features a clear call-to-action in service of the campaign goals.

What's the difference between a website and microsite?

A website is a company’s main site that serves as the "face" of the business. It captures information for all services, products and solutions for the company, typically has multiple landing pages with different information the user may be searching for, and is meant to serve as a persistent gateway across all channels.

A microsite is a branded content site—or a "content hub"—that lives outside of your company website and/or brand URL. Microsites do not need to have completely different URLs; they can be subdomains of your main website or even a subdirectory within it. Microsites serve as a tool that allows marketers to launch a new product or promotion, reach a new audience or raise awareness in a specific, targeted way that conveys some creative flexibility beyond your main website.

How does a landing page differ from a website or microsite?

In short, it doesn't. Landing pages are individual web pages that tie back into the main experience of a website or a microsite. They are designed to provide online visitors with more information about services, products or solutions for that particular digital experience. Sometimes they include a call to action, perhaps so the company can learn more about the site visitor, or they provide links that drive deeper into the respective experience for that visitor to explore and learn more.

Obviously, a landing page is a single entity page by definition, whereas a website or microsite could include several or many landing pages (along with additional content types like articles, galleries or topic areas). That said, a microsite could comprise a single landing page should that be enough to convey appropriate messaging; it is highly unlikely a website would contain a single landing page.
Manage your portfolio of microsites with a CMS that’s flexible enough to support individual campaign customization alongside shared features like assets, templates, integrations and more.

When to create a microsite, and when to shut it down

Microsites allow you to experiment, be creative and engage targeted audiences for campaigns that may include specific goal, conversion and brand objectives that need to be addressed and tracked separately from your main website. You’re able to hyper-focus the microsite on one specific business goal or message, making the microsite a strong marketing tactic to build credibility within your industry, increase customer engagement and awareness, or generate new leads.

Microsites are typically built for a specific campaign or a discrete objective. Because most of these objectives have a finite end—such as a launch or an upcoming event—they usually live online for a distinct period of time.

In many cases, it’s important to shut down a microsite when the campaign is complete or the objective is reached.

Why? First, so you don't harm your SEO score. It may be that your microsite was built specifically to serve certain campaign messaging tied to a broader push around, say, advertising or a product launch. If information becomes stale or even outdated over time, this has the potential to affect your overall SEO quality score in the eyes of search engines like Google. Further, it may be that certain features expire or stop working if and when a campaign's resources and budgets have ended. A broken or poor page experience does your site visitors no favors, and search engines are quick to flag when pages don't meet the threshold for a positive user experience.

Second, and following on directly from the above, you don’t want to frustrate visitors if the call-to-action is no longer relevant. An unhappy, confused or frustrated customer is not going to respond well in the moment, or in the future when they happen to re-engage with your brand.

To redirect microsite visitors back to the main website, your CMS should support the process to sunset a microsite in order to mitigate the above negative outcomes. Brightspot, for example, has built-in tools, including 1:1 redirects, wildcards (which bring users to a page that matches a pattern) and support for vanity URLs. These are easy to configure and also require no intervention from developers to manage directly within the CMS' publishing UI.

Finish Your Diploma Microsite

How to create a microsite with Brightspot

Once you’ve decided to build a microsite for your campaign and established its goal, it's time to create the site content with information that is concise, relevant and accurate. Visitors should be able to clearly understand why they’re on the site and leave with exactly the message you are trying to get across.

In Ad Council’s Finish Your Diploma campaign, for example, you can see that time and care went into understanding who their audience is, and what exactly they might be looking for if they land on this microsite. Overall, the campaign encourages those without a high school diploma to take the first steps towards a better future. They have created both an English and Spanish version of the site to ensure that its message is accessible to different demographics that the campaign could be targeted towards.

With the Brightspot CMS, you gain access to multisite capabilities, which allow you to create unlimited sites within a single instance of the CMS, supporting either a network of websites and/or individual microsites, along with your main website. You can:

  • Launch one or hundreds of microsites easily via the CMS, as the platform allows you to take all of your brand guidelines, design elements, reporting systems and management capabilities and apply them to any microsite. 
  • Maintain complete control over the content-development lifecycle with a visual, easy-to-use content approval workflow that enables editors to oversee each step of the process from submission to publish. Content that is created for one microsite can be shared throughout, or kept separate. Likewise, any content created exclusively for a microsite campaign that needs to live on after the original microsite expires can be quickly shared and published to other sites as needed.
  • Customize the microsite, allowing each site to have a discrete look and feel that matches the campaign while still maintaining brand consistency.
  • Leverage out-of-the-box translation services, including Google and Amazon, as well as the ability to work with third-party translation management services like WorldServer and LingoTek—or any others you want to integrate with, helping you reach global audiences.

The result of using Brightspot for your microsite needs is creating a unique site that can be rolled out quickly and easily from within the core CMS, making it simple to launch, manage and support over time and shut it down at the end of the campaign.

Jenny Sylvers
By Jenny Sylvers
April 06, 2020
Microsites are powerful tools that allow marketers to focus on one single goal in a specific, targeted way that traditional marketing with a full website cannot. We're taking a look at 5 amazing microsites developed by Ad Council to showcase what makes them so effective.
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