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What is the Difference Between a Microsite and a Website?

Nate Canada • Dec 07, 2020

The difference between a website and a microsite is primarily a matter of marketing strategy. A company’s main website is the hub of its online presence, the place where potential customers visit to learn more, where potential employees start their research on the brand. So what is the purpose of a microsite? A microsite isn’t a full statement of a company’s values and services, but rather focused on a specific product, event, or service. A microsite is still a website, but there are key differences in when you would use a microsite and how to create a microsite. The content of the site may also differ from the parent company’s brand standards, messaging, voice, and tone.

So when should you choose a microsite over a website? Here are 5 factors to consider as you plan a marketing or web development project that harnesses the power of a microsite.

Microsite Design is Flashier

The purpose of a microsite is to draw a high volume of attention to a new product, spin-up, or upcoming event. This is why they are often more interactive and visually complex than a company’s brochure website.

What is a microsite example? Browse the microsites on Hubspot’s most ingenious microsites list to see several examples of the features that make microsites stand out. Countdown clocks, interactive test drives and tours, or the chance to immediately create a GIF or social media post are some of the calls to action a user might encounter on a microsite. These features are all part of the marketing strategy to build excitement and buzz about the subject of the microsite.

A website, on the other hand, is more likely to lead with a values-forward statement or an image--like the cover of a brochure. Even when interactive elements are present, it’s probable that they will be more about introducing the company, and less about an immediate call to action.

Microsites Are Time-Sensitive

One of the reasons calls to action are such an important part of a microsite is these sites are time-sensitive. Whether you’re driving event signups or boosting the signal of a new product, the launch strategy won’t last forever. But that doesn’t mean the microsite has to go away as the marketing strategy evolves. The microsite can exist for as long as it needs to, and there isn’t one defined best practice.

A website, on the other hand, is part of a brand’s authority and is largely permanent. Though the design, content, and structure might change with the times, the website remains. In fact, if a company’s main website disappears, it might cause concern among customers or affiliates—not to mention employees.

Microsites Have Independent Domains

You might wonder, what is the value of creating a distinct microsite versus a landing page or other content on the main website? When it comes to microsite vs landing page, there are several factors to consider.

Firstly, a microsite can be larger than just one page. Many include a collection of pages, allowing users their own unique experience of this event or product. The ability to have a unique, fully-independent domain means the microsite can be divorced from other perceptions of the brand completely. With a landing page or content on the main website, that would not be possible.

Another benefit of a microsite is that it allows flexibility with the launch of new products or services. If you integrate information about this offering into your main website, then remove it later, this could give a perception of failure or weakness. With a microsite, on the other hand, the site can just be taken down without any reflection on the parent company whatsoever.

Another value of an independent microsite is the ability to experiment with domain extensions that may appeal more to your target audience. This includes everything from the ubiquitous “.com” to trendy new options like “.life” or “.app”. Just remember that some demographics may be less familiar with newer extensions—you don’t want your hard-built microsite to be suspected as spam. When in doubt, stick with what you know.

Microsites Must Be Highly Performant

What makes a good microsite? One of the most essential elements is performance.

Every website on the Internet today is expected to be performant. 1 in 4 people will abandon a website that takes longer than four seconds to load. Microsites must go beyond customer expectations in this regard if the marketing strategy is to be successful. With a powerful strategy behind it, the microsite might be attracting lots more traffic at once. Plus, the site itself is equipped with all the animated and interactive features that provide the payoff for the visitors. If these features don’t load with the same speed, quality, and efficiency for every user, a large part of the attention for the microsite will fade before those interested people can become customers. This is why we believe a microsite should load in a tenth of a second or less, an outcome that depends on microsite architecture.

Performance doesn’t just include speed, but also functionality across a wide variety of devices. From multiple models of mobile phone, to laptops, desktops, tablets, and even other smart devices, the content of the microsite needs to translate well across all platforms and operating systems.

Microsites Aren’t Necessarily Easier

There might be an expectation that because a microsite contains fewer pages and is more focused in scope than a website, it will be easier to build or maintain. But the time to complete each actually depends on the functionality. Since the content of a brochure website is historically more static, it might be easier to implement. A microsite with complex functionality and animation might be more intensive to create, especially with concerns around load time efficiency and performance to consider.

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Though microsites and websites are used for different purposes, users on the web don’t know whether they are visiting one or the other. They just want information, and to be engaged and excited by the content they find. At DeveloperTown, we collaborate with marketing teams to understand what features of either type of site will achieve your goals. Contact us to discuss upgrading your web presence.