Do You Need a Microsite?

Crozer Keystone Healthplex Homepage Navigation

It’s often difficult for healthcare marketers to use their main website to accomplish a specific goal. If you want to target a certain audience or promote a facility or service with deeper content, the parent site may not offer the best solution.

And that’s when marketers turn to microsites. Microsites allow you to deviate from standards set by your organization’s website. You can control the navigation, design and message on a microsite. So no wonder, they’re a popular tool. But microsites don’t always offer the best solution either.

What is a microsite?

At Geonetric, when talking about our VitalSite content management system, we describe a microsite as “an extension of the parent site with its own navigation, and in some cases, its own design.”

Notice in our description, microsites are described as having their own navigation. That’s important because that’s what makes microsites different than landing pages.

A landing page is typically one Web page that has a specific focus – like capturing visitors from an inbound marketing campaign or providing information about a product. We recommend landing pages when all the information needed to meet the goal can be provided using just one page.

Microsites, however, enable you to provide deeper, more detailed content and goals.

When should you use a microsite?

You have an array of reasons to utilize a microsite. But what scenarios are best suited for microsites? There are two, and both are closely related:

  1. Different (standalone) brand
  2. Different context

Your health system may have entities that have a different brand than what’s represented on your parent site. Microsites can be a great solution for a distinctly branded children’s hospital, medical group or clinic. For example, Advocate Health Care created a microsite to promote its medical group to stand out in the competitive Chicago market.

Advocate Medical Group Homepage

Or you may want to target a different audience with a specific message. Your health system may have a fitness center or a foundation that wants to tell its story on the Web. Crozer-Keystone launched a microsite to promote its Healthplex fitness facility.

CrozerKeystone Healthplex Homepage

There are some benefits to using microsites:

  • Targeted Focus: They enable you to focus content on one message or target one audience.
  • Quick to Develop: Microsites are fairly easy to create. Because microsites live outside the structure of the main hospital website, there are typically fewer hurdles you need to jump through to develop them. And if you use our VitalSite content management system, all you do is check a box to create multiple sites that stem from the parent, system-wide site. However, “quick to develop” doesn’t mean they’re easy to maintain or inexpensive – it’s important that your team is prepared for the maintenance and design costs that you may incur if you build a microsite.
  • Easy to Measure: It’s easy to track analytics on a microsite – you can measure everything from the number of visitors to responses to calls to action. You can track the effectiveness of your offline campaigns if you use a microsite with a unique URL. And because microsites have limited goals, it’s often easier to measure the success of reaching those goals.
  • Higher Conversion: Because microsites include focused content, clear calls to action and fewer pages to wade through, like landing pages, they can have higher conversion rates than the main website.

When should you not use a microsite?

Microsites may seem like a perfect solution to many of your online promotion woes. But in truth, the majority of the time, you can find a place to promote your service on your parent site using a vanity URL and a nicely organized landing page. Especially when it comes to promoting a campaign or an outlying location.

Take Genesis Health’s Birth Center, for example. In one campaign landing page, they provide details about their Birth Center as well as links to schedule birth tours and attend classes, which lead to registrations and conversions.

Genesis Health Birth Center

If you can find a place for your message on your parent site, we recommend you do so. There are three reasons why:

  1. Microsites can be expensive. Before launching a microsite, make sure you have enough resources – time and cost — to maintain it.
    • Do you have the resources to keep it updated? Stale content makes for unhappy users and search results. If you don’t have the time (or team) to create and maintain the extra content on the microsite, it’s best to find a way to promote the service your main site.
    • Have you budgeted for the expense of a microsite? Microsites can become expensive if you choose to create a new design and all new content.
  2. Microsites require TLC. If you’re looking to build a microsite to get a monkey off your back, you’re probably better off not building one. Microsites require lots of love and attention because, just like the parent site, Google recognizes them and expects the same as it would a system-level site.
    • Updating content can be expensive. If you don’t have a team dedicated to refreshing its content, Google may penalize the microsite in the search rankings.
    • There’s no guarantee Google will love it. Just because you have a microsite with targeted goals, doesn’t mean it will get as much traffic as your parent site. Always consider your parent site first when considering new content, so it doesn’t get lost in the search engine results page – or SERP – shuffle.
  3. Microsites can create bad user experiences. Creating microsites can lead a bloated page inventory and content that may go largely ignored in the future. And in some cases, a microsite might have similar or mirrored content from the parent site, and that creates a bad user experience and doesn’t do your search results any favors. User experience expert Jakob Nielsen names inconsistent navigation as one of the major mistakes he sees.

    “Although global navigation is not a site’s most popular element, its persistence serves a key purpose: it’s a beacon that helps users understand both where they are and how they can easily maneuver back to the top of the site if they lose their way.” – Jakob Nielsen

    Users want familiarity and ease of use. Because microsites are almost always created with a different design and navigation in mind, this can really jumble your user experience.

    Sure, microsites seem like an ideal solution. A separate design? Yes, please! A different navigation? Perfect. It answers all my problems and makes my stakeholders happy.

    Read that sentence again – it answers your problems. But who is your target audience? The truth is, microsites without a brand or strategy just cause confusion for your users.

How do you decide?

It’s always a good plan to examine your options closely. Your end goal should always aim to integrate content into your system story by keeping it in one place that’s not only easier to maintain for your team, but easier for users to find and digest.

And working with an expert can help too. Geonetric’s content strategists can help you determine if you need a microsite or if you can solve your challenge on your current website.

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Content, Design, Extranet, Homepage Panel, Marketing by Erin Schroeder. Bookmark the permalink.
Erin Schroeder

About Erin Schroeder

Erin’s an engaging writer. And she’s an experienced teacher. Add in the fact she’s a talented interviewer with a decade of reporting under her belt and she has the perfect skill set for a content strategist. Erin loves meeting people and learning about their organizations, which is why she excels at helping clients tell their stories online through intuitive, user-friendly site architecture and engaging copy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from St. Ambrose University, a master’s degree in professional journalism from the University of Iowa, and a certificate in content strategy from Northwestern University. When she's not building better user experiences, this Beatlemaniac spends her spare time listening to her vinyl collection, road tripping, writing for Iowa City's arts and culture magazine Little Village, or volunteering with Families Helping Families of Iowa.

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