So you’re developing a new website, or you’re thinking about launching a new product or service on your current website, and you’ve been strategizing the best possible way to make sure customers actually notice what you’re doing. You’ve done your research, and now you’re facing the same question many developers and designers encounter: should you use a landing page or microsite to promote your stuff?
It’s a difficult question, to be sure. Both are similar in nature, but does one offer more benefit when it comes to customer engagement? Possibly. It all depends on what you’ve got to offer. Let’s take a look at both options to see which one comes out on top.
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The Case for Landing Pages
Landing pages are normally the go-to option, but what are they, exactly? And more importantly, are they really the better choice for engagement?
A landing page is simply a page of content within a larger site that users “land on” when visiting your site. Most of the time when someone says “landing page” they probably mean home page, or “About Us” page — something that communicates essential information about something. But landing pages can be used for much more than that.
The best landing pages are about a specific call-to-action (CTA): they’re not just giving information, they’re expecting the visitor to do something, whether it’s purchasing a product, downloading a resource, or requesting additional information. Basically, landing pages are all about conversions — they’re designed to give users what they want (information and resources) in exchange for something you want (e.g. clicks, follows, or subscriptions).
Good landing pages are focused on getting visitors to take immediate action without ever leaving the page. This is called “closing the loop”: the goal is to keep visitors from leaving before they fulfill the CTA. If done right, good landing pages can seriously convert.
But what happens if they’re not done right? Well, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a landing page to engage customers.
They’re easier to measure. Landing pages are designed to make measuring their effectiveness easy. Basically, you would only need to know “out of X visitors, Y took action.” This means if you’re looking for a specific number of conversions to show the boss, landing sites are the perfect option because they provide instant results.
They cost less (than microsites). Since landing pages are single page additions to already developed sites, they don’t need a lot of fuss to get up and running. Using the style elements of the existing site also saves time that would otherwise be spent on creating CSS or HTML from scratch. Additionally, microsites often need separate domains (which cost money to host), while you can have a near infinite number of landing pages on an already-hosted site.
They’re CTA focused. While you could technically consider a microsite one giant CTA, oftentimes action steps in a microsite can be easily overlooked (we’ll get to that later). Landing pages, on the other hand, are only about the CTA, and they’re hard to miss. If you’re needing your customers to take an immediate action step, using a landing page may be the better bet.
They’re easier to A/B test. Because landing pages are often single pages, they can be easily updated and changed to test the effectiveness of different elements. Don’t like the button style? Just change it! You won’t have to mess with coding across an entire site just to see if one layout works better than another.
They’re easier to brand. Since landing pages are technically already part of a branded site, your customers will have no problem knowing that your business is the one behind the content. Microsites often include separate branding to make them stand out, which can make it harder to implement an integrated marketing strategy. If you want to avoid the question, “Will customers know this is us?”, then landing pages are the way to go.
They’re maybe a little too focused. While narrowing down your content and focusing on a CTA is a great way to engage certain customers, it may not always be what you want. Landing pages are designed to encourage visitors to respond to a specific service or product, and can often miss visitors who may want something else from you (or your site). This means that landing pages may actually miss a large chunk of your potential market if you’re not careful.
They’re not always compelling. In order to engage customers, landing pages need to include a lot of important information without being too long, while still being compelling enough to get reactions and responses to the CTA. Writing content that is impactful, brief, and equally fascinating can be difficult, and not all landing pages succeed in their attempt to impress.
They’re distracting (if not designed well). If it’s true that a well designed landing page is great at converting, it’s equally true that a poorly designed landing page is a disaster for customer engagement. If the page is distracting — offering too much content with no context, mixed messages, or too much media — it can actually send visitors away.
They can fail at converting (if there is “leakage”). As mentioned earlier, landing pages are designed to keep visitors on the page, but a poorly designed landing page (which are more common than you think) will mistakenly send visitors to outside sites, like Facebook or Twitter, without realizing that the more often you send someone away from your site, the less likely they are to come back to it.
They might be really, really boring. Having a unified brand is great for marketing, but if you’re launching a new product that needs to stand out, having the restrictions of a landing page’s one-size-fits-all design may be limiting.
Who is a landing page good for?
Landing pages are transactional in nature — for example, visitors give their information (credit card, email, etc.) in exchange for a product, resource, or service — which makes them great for businesses that need immediate results that can be measured by transactions. If your goal is to get your customers to take an action (and/or complete a simple task), and you don’t want to do a lot of extra work when it comes to design and branding, then landing pages are the perfect choice.
The Case for Using Microsites
Microsites are less well known than landing pages, but depending on how they’re used, they can make a powerful impact on engagement. But what is a microsite, exactly?
A microsite is like a mini-website made up of several pages or sections (3-5, typically). Unlike regular websites, however, a microsite is focused on one campaign or promotion. They’re designed to let the customer know about one thing, and one thing only.
Most microsites are built to hold more information than can be contained on a single landing page. They’re created for bigger, more complex marketing campaigns of a particular product or service. But they’re not for everyone. Certain industries seem to thrive with microsites more than others.
A great microsite will convert customers through different tactics than a typical landing page. While landing pages focus on the immediate action, microsites will focus on informing now and creating action later (think: “Call us for more information” instead of “click here for more information”). A good microsite will create curiosity that sticks with a customer, and it will use “leakage” into social sites to create buzz that brings customers back repeatedly.
Of course, this means microsites are a bit riskier when it comes to engagement, but could they possibly be more effective? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using microsites.
They’re better for relationships. Because landing pages are designed to create action, they don’t always give your customer a real look into who you are as a company. Microsites, on the other hand, offer in-depth information about you (and what you’re promoting). Since most microsites are made up of several pages, they give visitors a chance to spend a significant amount of time learning about the benefits of working with you. Their “soft-sell” nature creates a sense of awareness that can boost your brand and public relations.
They’re more flexible (than landing pages). Microsites offer much greater flexibility than landing pages in both design, content, and function. While landing pages try to squeeze as much content into a single page as possible, microsites let you take your time with your story; allowing you to show what you want, when you want, and where you want. You can also come up with some really clever ideas for site designs that wouldn’t work on normal landing pages.
They can include multiple engagement points. Because microsites encompass several pages, you can include several different CTAs, which means that visitors have multiple chances to engage with your company. This is especially beneficial if you think about the narrowness of landing pages (which, as mentioned, may miss certain customer demographics). If your microsite doesn’t entice someone on the first page, they may be enticed on a different page.
They’re perfect for certain industries. Due to their flexibility, microsites can be a great advantage depending on the industry you’re in. A great example of an industry that uses microsites to their advantage is the auto industry. Companies like Ford often build microsites for specific vehicles or contents and giveaways. If your industry often rolls out large campaigns or products, microsites are a great choice.
They work with leakage. While having “leakage” — a place where visitors can click away from your site (e.g. to Facebook) — on a landing page is bad for business, leakage on a microsite is no problem at all. In fact, microsites are the perfect choice if your desired method of conversion requires earned trust (brand awareness, relationships built through networking and blogs, etc.). If you’re okay with a “sales cycle” approach to engagement, then microsites may be for you.
They cost more (than landing pages). Because microsites are technically separate (albeit smaller) sites, they require separate hosting fees and URLs, which can cost more than just adding a landing page to an existing site. If you’re being creative with your microsite (or even if you’re not) you’ll still need to pay a designer to design the site for you, which can eat up time and money.
They don’t always measure well. When it comes to conversions, landing pages are easy to measure, but microsites can take time to see the same amount of engagement. Visitors will generally linger longer, which means they may be more likely to activate a CTA, but it also means they’re more likely to click away from the site all together. You’ll have to find alternate ways of measure engagement to make sure you’re getting the figures you want.
They require dedicated content. Creating a content and marketing strategy for a microsite can be more time consuming, as well. Because their focus is to tell a story more than share information, you’ll need to create more content to fill the pages and make sure that all of it is equally engaging. If only one page of your site is interesting, you could risk turning away visitors faster than a landing page.
They could dilute brand identity. If your goal is to use your microsite for creativity and you don’t mind people confusing your business for something else, then microsites are great. But if you’re concerned about that confusion, you might be better off with a landing page (or at the very least a less creative microsite).
They mean a little more work. When it comes to changing a landing page, a few clicks usually does the job. With microsites, however, you’ll need to login to an additional site to make changes, and if your company has more than one person monitoring sites, this can make things a little more challenging. Microsites also mean more work if you’re constantly A/B testing, too, as it takes more effort to rework an entire site than it does a single page.
Who is a microsite good for?
Microsites are relational in nature — for example, visitors spend time getting to know your brand and researching your campaign — which makes them great for businesses that want to create a personal touchpoint with their customers. If your goal is to create engagement through multiple channels and you don’t mind getting a little creative, microsites are the perfect option.
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So, which should you choose?
When it comes to choosing between a landing page and a microsite, it all comes down to a few things: your industry and business goals, your preferred conversion style, your time commitment, and your flexibility with branding. Basically, the right option comes down to who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you’re a business that wants to build brand reputation, you have time and money and love being creative, and you really don’t need customers to fulfill an immediate CTA when they visit your site, then microsites are probably the best choice.
If you’re a business that wants to measure conversions on a daily basis, you want customers to know you but you’re more interested in getting your product or service to them as quickly as possible, and you want your brand to be unified so that people know you by sight, then landing pages are the way to go.
The biggest dilemma will be for businesses who see themselves as a mixture of both. You might be a business that wants to be able to measure your engagement rates, but you might also want people to trust your brand (and you don’t mind when they “click away” every so often because you know they’ll be back). If that’s you, then the choice becomes a little less clear. You’ll have to rely on conversion styles to make your choice.
Essentially, both landing pages and microsites are great for customer engagement, but they go about it in different ways. If you want fast, easy conversions, use a landing page; if you don’t mind a slow sales cycle approach, go with a microsite.
But ultimately, the choice is yours and yours alone.