Micro-Site - Maxi-Impact

I recently worked on rolling out an SDL Microsite and was impressed by how quickly this could be achieved with SDL Tridion 2009. Since I left our Professional Services team a few years back, I had not really worked on a full-scale project and it was good to see that quick implementations are no rocket science. After talking about the project to fellow marketers, I realized however that planning microsites for many of my peers is still paired with a general hesitation. So, let's demystify microsites.

General Considerations

What are microsites in the first place? Usually, microsites will be targeted towards a specific audience - either as part of target group marketing or in the context of a campaign. Microsites will be a closed environment, where visitors can find all information relevant to the chosen topic. Typically, they will be of limited page-count but unlike landing pages do offer more than just a single download or subscription page. In many cases, microsites allow you to break out of your standard corporate design and experiment with innovative new approaches.

Some general considerations, that have to be addressed in any campaign are who, when and what. I am sure you are familiar with the ones below, but let's quickly list them.

  1. Who am I targeting?
    Depending on the audience, you will have to write your text differently, chose an appropriate design and find the right third party media to promote your campaign.

  2. What is the timeline?
    Typically, microsites have a longer lifetime than mere landing pages. Clearly establishing how long your site will be online, will help you to plan updates and added value content across the entire timespan to keep up the heart beat.

  3. What are my KPIs?
    To measure success, you will first have to know what counts to you. Is it site traffic? Number of registrations? Number of generated leads? Only if you measure, you can manage and adjust your site if you see that results are not as expected. Also, clear targets will make it easier for you to prominently display call to actions.


Content Structure

Content is King when you roll-out your microsite. It needs to be targeted, sticky and spot-on. When you think about content, don't only think text - also think visuals, RIAs, movies and so on. Start your project by thinking about what you want to say and how - and also think about possible reuse scenarios.

  1. Do you need to reuse existing content from your corporate sites on the microsite?
    This could be product descriptions, privacy rules or the company brief pages. If you plan to reuse content and are using SDL Tridion 2009, you should consider inheriting your content from your corporate content repository. This will save you any redundancies and synchronization problems when the corporate content changes.

  2. Will you merge the microsite content into the corporate website after the campaign?
    Often, microsites contain valuable content that you would like to move into your corporate sites after you have finished your campaign. If this is the case, you might start directly by adding a special section to the corporate repository, so that the move into the corporate site is just a matter of cut and paste.

  3. Do you roll out a multilingual microsite?
    If your microsite will be available in multiple languages, BluePrinting inherits all those languages and translation memories, so that you will not have to re-translate every bit of content. For new content, the automated translation management takes care of speedy and accurate translations. This will speed up your international roll-out and reduce cost significantly.

The Scope

It is essential to keep your target audience within the scope of your microsite, if you want to steer them to your call to action. In practice, I have seen many examples of microsites that leak out to the corporate website. Some examples of what to look out for:

  1. Separate, closed navigation
    Your microsite should offer a navigation of its own and not link back to your corporate websites. With BluePrinting, this is basically done automatically for you with the right navigation concept. Be careful to also check headers and footers to ensure they have no direct links to your other websites.

  2. Enclosed Search Options
    If you intend to offer a search option on your microsite - and you should - then you have to make sure that your IT department creates a separate "search catalogue" for the microsite pages. This will ensure that all search results are part of the microsite and will not return corporate pages.

  3. Not-Found Pages (404)
    Thanks to SDL Tridion Dynamic Linking, you will limit the amount of not-found pages, but there is no weapon against a user typing in the wrong URL. Most websites today will have custom pages, somewhere along the lines of "Sorry, we could not find the page you requested. Please try ..." Make sure, you do not forget these pages in your microsite project, since they need to be adjusted to design and scope of your site.


Flexible Wireframe

If you intend to roll-out microsites more often, it is smart to create a wireframe for it. This contains a set of features and functionality that you can then pick-and-chose in your actual sites.

  1. Functionality Switches Make sure, you can switch functionality on and off on site level. Some handy functionalities to have triggers for are:

    • Show Navigation

    • Show Breadcrumb

    • Show Language Selector

    • Show Search

    • Show Social Bookmarking

    • Generate XML Sitemap

    • Generate RSS Feed

  2. Configurable Elements Make sure you can configure a number of elements yourself without having to involve your IT department. If you are using our Web Content Management System, you can easily define items such as:

    • The analytics IDs for your microsite

    • Where your form actions go

    • Campaign IDs for your CRM for downloads and registrations

    • Design elements

    • Redirects

  3. Layout Considerations Make sure that you can easily modify your microsite design without affecting your corporate websites. With SDL Tridion 2009, modular templating takes care of that and enables you to decide if you want to go strictly corporate design or try something completely different.


Optimizing and advertising your microsite

The coolest microsite is not of much use if nobody finds it in the first place. Similarly, if visitors are not driven to your key call to action, your campaign will not be successful.

  1. SEO related tasks
    Don't forget to analyze customer care words before you create content for the microsite, to ensure that your site speaks your audience's language. Optimizing content for your keyword strategy is just as essential for microsite content as it is for corporate content. Make sure you also spend time on your metadata, especially for your main pages. Navigational SEO tasks should be covered by the Web Content Management System at large, but make sure you do not forget to generate an XML Sitemap and make it known to search engines. Similarly, a RSS feed helps to bring you up in the search rankings. With SDL Tridion 2009, topics like friendly and localized URLs are done automatically, but with other systems you might have to watch out for this one too. Don't forget to put up a banner on your corporate sites as well!

  2. Social Media
    Activating Social Bookmarking will make it easy for your visitors to share your interesting content with their peers and drive traffic to your microsite. But don't forget to promote your content yourself via social channels, such as twitter, facebook, linkedin etc. Status alerts - especially to premium content, webinars and downloads - will direct a constant stream of visitors to your microsite.

  3. SEM and Third Party Websites
    Don't forget to set up SEM campaigns and ads on third party websites to ensure consistent traffic over the lifetime of your microsite. This can also mean featured articles, interviews or blog contributions on those sites that are frequented by your target audience. If your budget is low, try to think outside the box.

  4. Cross Channel Thoughts
    If you have a newsletter, customer or prospect email list, don't forget to send them a mailing about the launch of your site. The more personalized and targeted you make a mailing, the better your click-through rates will be. Any additional events, such as webinars, should be coupled with personal invitations to your known audience to spread the word.

    If your microsite is part of a large cross channel campaign, which is also advertised on radio, TV and print, you can use different entry points to monitor the success ratio of each media in your analytics solution.

  5. Analytics & Testing
    Do not forget to continuously monitor the performance of your website and where your visitors are coming from, so you know which levers you have to pull to optimize your campaigns. Monitor clickstreams and conversion rates and test with A/B versions or multi variate testing, if you are unsure about best practice approaches.

So much for my thoughts on successful microsite projects. The list above is not intended to be exhaustive, but it covers the essentials.

When I set up my microsite, I could see clearly that the magic bullet was SDL's BluePrinting technology. The concept of inheriting functionality, content and layout makes it incredibly simple to just pick and chose the right bits for your new site. Having the integrated Email Marketing Solution as part of the SDL Online Marketing Suite, made sending out mailings to our customers and prospects a walk in the park.


About the Author
Sonja Keerl
Product Marketing Manager

Sonja Keerl is Product Marketing Manager for SDL WCMS. Sonja has been working with and for SDL Tridion since the early beginnings in 2000. Prior to her current role, she has worked as Presales Consultant for International Markets, Consultant for SDL Tridion Professional Services, WCMS Freelance Consultant and even for the competition.

SDL CMT division