How to Tell If Your Marketing Campaign Needs a Microsite

If you have something to promote, be it a product or campaign, chances are you’re already in the process of putting together a marketing strategy. There’s even a chance you’ve come across a very scary word during the course of your planning: microsite.

But what it is? What does it do? And more importantly, do you need one?

For those of you still doing research, microsites are small websites that concentrate on a certain topic and often feature content developed by a sponsoring brand (they can look and feel different from the sponsored brand’s site, however).

They’re great for a number of reasons. One, they have the flexibility to integrate content and design in such a way that creates a focused, yet often visually appealing alternative to simply adding another page to your already bloated main website. They’re also great for targeting certain audiences or creating buzz around a certain product or promotion.

But if they’re so great, why doesn’t everyone use them all the time? Well, because while microsites are great, they’re not necessarily the right choice for every campaign or product.

So how do you know if you need one? Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages to help you decide.

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Advantages of a Microsite

Microsites can be a great choice for certain campaigns and products. If your product is new and needs a lot of explanation or audience testing, for example, a microsite is a great choice. There are many advantages to having a microsite as part of your marketing strategy.

Increased Interest

Microsites let you take something specific and put it out in front of your target market in a focused and detailed way to gauge interest levels. Not only are you saying, “Look at me!” but you’re also able to tell if your customers really want what you’re offering (hint: if they’re not coming to your microsite, they might not be interested). Campaigns or products that rely on market testing may be a great fit for a microsite.

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Creative Branding

If what you’re promoting is something unique, you may want to consider branching out from your sponsored brand and taking creative measures to market it. That can be hard to do with a traditional site, especially if your current site is heavy in CSS that you don’t want to fiddle with. Microsites, on the other hand, come with their own rules, meaning that you can design it to fit any branding guidelines. You could make it dramatically different than your regular site to draw a new audience, or you could keep it simple and sleek to highlight the specific product or campaign as needed. Either way, the possibilities are endless.

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Faster Development

If you have a product or campaign that’s seasonal or temporary, you might consider using a microsite, especially if you still want all the bells and whistles of a full site but don’t want to spend too many hours throwing one together. Microsites are fairly quick to build, they can be adjusted and tweaked with relative ease, and they can be taken down (or put back up) as needed.

Detail-Friendly

The great thing about microsites is that they allow you to include as much information as you need without weighing down your main site, which means that if your product or campaign is detail-rich, you’ll do well with having a small, compact site.

Cost Effective

If your product or campaign needs to be big but you’re not ready to shill out the money for expensive marketing tactics, a microsite is a temporary, cost-effective solution that can be reused when needed. They’re also particularly handy if you want something that looks professional but don’t mind a smaller, more focused approach.

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Disadvantages of a Microsite

Of course, you might not need or want all of those things. Maybe you’re required to stick within branding guidelines, or your product is fairly self-explanatory and having a whole site dedicated to it might overwhelm potential customers. There are plenty of reasons not to use microsites in certain circumstances.

Mixed Messages

One issue many marketers face with microsites is that they force users to leave a current site and jump onto a new one. While this can be advantageous in certain circumstances (as in, you really want your product to stand out), it can also be confusing for customers if not implemented properly. They may think your microsite is a pop-up advertisement or they don’t recognize it as a part of your site. A few ways around this would be to make sure that your branding is recognizable (even if your campaign is differently branded) and that they have access (links) to your main site.

Long-Term Costs

While microsites are fairly cheap to setup, they’re not always cheap to maintain. If your product or campaign is temporary, it’s not usually a big deal. But if you’re looking to keep up your microsite over the long term, it may actually backfire. As technology and SEO grows and adapts, your site – like any website – will need to be updated to keep pace with new tech. While you’re already spending time and money optimizing your main website, you’ll also need to spend resources maintaining all of your microsites too. Those expenses can add up if you’re not prepared.

Not Enough Information

Depending on how you setup your microsite, you may actually turn away customers if there’s not enough detail to include on your site. If you’re trying to market something where all the details can fit onto a regular landing page, creating a whole separate site to promote it may be a bad option. Because microsites lead customers away from your normal page, if you don’t have enough information there to keep people’s attention, you could be hurting your chances of them navigating back to your original page. If your details are sparse, stay away from microsites.

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Do You Need a Microsite?

Microsites can be really great if you have the right product or campaign to promote, but they’re certainly not for everyone. Consider the needs of your marketing campaign. If your marketing campaign is short term (or seasonal), or it offers something unique that can handle plenty of attention without distracting customers from your main website, then microsites are a great choice.

You should also consider the flexibility of your current site. If your main site feels overloaded or doesn’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to adding more than a few pages, you might want to consider creating a microsite.

If your current site has plenty of room to grow, however, and your campaign will be a long-term fixture of your company, you may want to consider keeping it a part of your current site and scraping the microsite idea all together. If you think an extra site will confuse your customers, or you don’t really feel the need to create a whole new set of branding for a single promotion, you might also steer clear of microsites.

But ultimately the choice is yours. If you don’t mind taking a risk, microsites are a quick and easy option to test something out, and if you (or your customers) end up hating it, no one is really worse for the wear.

How To Make Users Want to Fill In Your Forms

Online forms are a digital marketing gateway. They’re the filter between the people who are merely interested in your content, product, or service, and the people who will become paying customers. But when it comes to your forms, do your potential customers actually want to fill them in?

Forms can either ease the transition between “merely interested” to “paying customer,” or they can frighten away potential business. Here are a few ways you can optimize your online forms so that users will actually want to fill them in.

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Entice users with great content

You can spend hours designing beautiful forms for your website, but if potential customers don’t believe that the form will lead to something significant, they won’t bother filling them in.

After all, there’s no point in using forms to generate leads if those leads don’t turn into paid business.

Unless your content adds value, your form is essentially worthless.

The best way to ensure that users will fill in your forms is to give them something worthwhile on the other side. By optimizing your content, you can entice potential customers to click “submit.”

Offer valuable content

Whether you’re trying to acquire sales leads by gathering basic contact information, capture a customer’s feedback, or simply attempting to get more subscribers to your newsletter, you’ll need to grab their attention with your content first.

One of the best ways to garner form submissions is by having information on an optimized landing page alongside your form that includes details about what’s in it for the customer.

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Including things like attention-grabbing headlines, bullet points that highlight benefits, content previews, and calls-to-action will create curiosity and make potential customers want to know more. You can also include text in your forms that mimics the language in the landing page, helping to create a natural flow between reading and submitting.

Another great way to gather submissions is to include a short call-to-action at the end of your content preview with a promise of more (and equally beneficial) content. This technique works especially well if your content or service is intriguing and fills a knowledge gap or need from the customer’s perspective.

It should be noted, however, that this only works if your content is meaningful to the customer. If what you have to offer isn’t worth the time it takes to submit the form, having forms may actually turn away further business. By ensuring that your content is genuinely beneficial, you can eliminate any hesitations and capture customer data.

Utilize your microcopy

Another important and often overlooked feature of any successful form is the language that’s used to guide people while they’re filling it in. Microcopy, or the small bits of text that instruct users or address concerns, plays a crucial role not only in getting users to fill in the form, but helping prevent errors that slow down the process.

Joshua Porter, co-founder of the product design Rocket Insights, blogged about his experience using microcopy to minimize errors on his forms (you can check out the whole article here). After receiving multiple error notifications on one of his forms, he realized that his microcopy wasn’t giving clear enough instructions.

“I remember the first time I realized how much even the smallest copy can matter in an interface,” Porter says. “It turns out that the transactions were failing because the address people were entering [on the forms] didn’t match the one on their credit card.”

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Porter quickly changed the microcopy on his form to notify users to enter the address information associated with their credit card (instead of a general address) and the errors stopped. In light of this lesson, he encourages designers to add microcopy to all areas of their forms, including notifying customers that they can unsubscribe from a newsletter at any time, or that their email won’t be spammed when they sign up.

It can also help to add more natural language styles throughout your forms and in your call-to-action buttons that promote the benefits of your content. Using copy such as, “Sign me up for this free service” or “No, I don’t like free stuff” can humanize the process and guide users through the form by minimizing confusion. The less room there is for misinterpretation of complex jargon, the smoother the process will be.

Don’t miss: 5 Unique Forms that Make Users Want to Fill Them In

Make your forms easy to use

The best way to get users to want to fill in your forms is to make them as quick and easy to use as possible.  Here are a few ways to make sure your form experience is painless:

Use a mobile-friendly design. Whether you hand-code your forms or use a design service like FormKeep, having your forms accessible on mobile phones and tablets will broaden the range of people able to use them at any given time. The more available your forms are to users, the more likely they will be filled in, especially if they are busy or travelling.

Enable autofill features.  Enabling features like autofill can help shorten the time it takes to fill in your forms. Google Chrome offers its own autofill feature, and by optimizing your forms to use browsers like Chrome (or by adding microcopy that indicates that this feature is available) you can help users move through your form effortlessly.

Use a clean, condensed, and easy-to-read design. Not only does a clean design save layout space, it saves the user time and effort jumping or scrolling around the page. Having a simple, clean form also prevents form fields from being missed, and gives the user less work for the same results.

Make sure the user has a quick escape option. No one likes being forced to fill in a form, so if you’re using pop-up forms, make sure you include a big ‘X’ in the corner or a noticeable “No Thanks” button at the bottom.

Make the form as short as possible. Only capture the information you absolutely need to use. You can always follow up in an email notification asking for additional concerns or questions.

Change your form types to help lazy users. Try using radio buttons instead of form fields to create a “one-click” form submission experience for passive users. The less work the person filling in the form has to do, the more likely they are to do it.  

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A/B test for the best results

Of course, the best way to ensure that your forms are optimized for user experience is to test them regularly. Like Joshua Porter realized during his microcopy experiment, sometimes updating and testing the smallest parts of your form can have huge impacts on conversions.

A/B testing, sometimes called split testing, will help you compare and contrast which versions of your forms and landing pages are producing more conversions.

Testing things like form placement (above the fold or after the fold?), form labels (do your form fields go next to instructions or below them?), personalized microcopy and call-to-action buttons (should you say “Sign Up” or “Join”?), and even testing your design and color schemes can help clarify areas of your form that slow users down or prevent people from filling them in.

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While there are no set rules when it comes to making your forms more appealing, by having great content, clean design, personalized microcopy, and frequent testing, you can ensure the best user experience possible and turn interested site visitors into actual customers.

Why You Should Use a Static Site Generator

In the beginning CERN created the Web, and the HTML was the Word of the Web, and the Web was HTML. It was all perfect and perfectly simple, as we all know true genius lies in simplicity. But the problem soon arose that not everyone who wanted to have an online presence knew how to code. With plain old HTML, this meant that anything from a minor typo fix to adding a new feature had to go through multiple departments.

The birth of content management systems during the late 90’s carried the promise that you’d never need a coder or programmer again. With little or no knowledge of HTML or programming, the CMS would manage files and images, provide forms, complex content searches, and any other feature you could find a plugin for. But all of this came at a cost – websites became slower to build, slower to load, and it was difficult to really customize anything, so most people just bought a theme instead of creating their own designs.

The Advent of Static Site Generators

Brian Rinaldi, Content and Community Manager at Telerik, suggests “static websites today are just like vinyl LPs: they’re coming back.” Static Site Generators provide a middle ground between static and dynamic websites. There’s no abstract database – all the content is stored in text files. Instead of generating the content on demand, like a dynamic website, they pre-generate the content, so the user sees the file exactly as it is on the server. Adding and editing content is not as easy as on on a dynamic CMS WYSIWYG editor, but Markdown and Liquid templating make Static Site Generators a more flexible than an old school pure HMTL site.

All of this means that Static Site Generators are ideal for any site that doesn’t need to generate content on the fly. You can’t build a social media platform on a static website, but if you just need a blog or marketing website, Static Site Generators are the way to go.

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Why have Dynamic CMSs been so popular?

Dynamic CMSs like WordPress or Joomla saw their moment of glory throughout the 2000’s because they allowed anyone to create or edit a template-based website. With very little knowledge of HTML, CSS or JavaScript, anyone can install a predefined theme and start writing blog posts, without having to go through a web developer each time.

Some dynamic CMSs are also fairly customisable – many massive companies like Wired, and Quartz, and TechCrunch have completely retailored WordPress into essentially a new CMS, making it ideal for their specific needs.

wired

Wired uses a customized version of WordPress

Why Are Static Site Generators On The Rise?

While dynamic CMSs are great for people who need a basic WordPress (or Joomla, or Drupal) theme website, or for massive corporations requiring e-commerce platforms like Magento that can support thousands of people, they create challenges for those in-between. For one, it is difficult to create custom layouts. Starting with a theme means hacking away at the existing code before implementing your own designs, and starting completely from scratch is a monumental effort.

Without a lot of development work, dynamic CMSs are slow. Even with development work, caching causes a website converted to static HTML to load significantly faster than the same site rendered from a dynamic CMS. Smashing Magazine ran a test on their own site – the static version loaded 6 times faster than the dynamic version. This is especially important for mobile devices, where internet can be inconsistent and unreliable. Studies indicate that 57% of online visitors will abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

Static Site Generators play nicely with CDNs, such as Amazon, CacheFly or Incapsula, which have also been gaining popularity. When you open a webpage on a static website, that page simply downloads the HTML from the server, which on a CDN can be cached for faster speeds. With dynamic CMSs, when you load a webpage the CMS has to render the page on demand. Although assets can be hosted on a CDN, the webpage itself cannot, which means significantly worse performance for the user.

Dynamic CMSs also expose your website to hackers and exploits – and the more popular a CMS is the more likely it is for it to get under attack. Static websites simply don’t have back-ends to hack into.

Some Examples of Static Site Generators

Jekyll is the most popular example of a Static Site Generator – it integrates easily with GitHub Pages for free. This means free hosting! And GitHub pages are really, really fast.

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Middleman, Harp and GitBook are also popular. If you use these, you might want to look into Aerobatic for hosting. GitHub Pages is really aimed towards using Jekyll, whereas Aerobatic is generator-agnostic. Brian Rinaldi has put together a collection of simple sites built with various Static Site Generators, for an efficient comparative study of the lot.

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How Can I Switch From My Dynamic CMS to a Static Site Generator?

The biggest challenge is rebuilding your existing layout, but since Static Site Generators are built around plain HTML, you can usually just save the HTML that your present CMS renders to your desktop, then cut it into a few templates and include files. It’s a lot easier to convert from a dynamic CMS to a Static Site Generator than the other way around.

Jekyll provides tutorials on importing your posts from many dynamic CMSs, including WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr and Joomla. However, pay attention: ensure existing URLs match up! You don’t want any links to your current website to break when you make the switch.