Microsites...good or bad?

13 Feb 2009 - 10:46am
5 years ago
12 replies
1500 reads
Bonnie.Potter a...
2009

Hey All,
Working on a project to try to help a client create some sense out of a
tangled mess of microsites..no consistant integration with the mother
site, nav and structure all over the place, experiences are disjointed.
They are looking to establish standards but I'm of the mind to do away
with them all together and build great experiences within the mother site.
Does anyone have any research, case studies or other to prove out that
this is the better method? I realize there is a place for micros..special
events, short term promotion and build search rankings but in this case
they are being used for products/benefits/rewards.
Thanks,
Bonnie

Comments

13 Feb 2009 - 12:07pm
Den Serras
2009

I can't say from a user-focused design standpoint, but that's a
serious problem from a branding pov. This is my one beef with the UI
community - I think that branding and identity, which is critical to
a company's success, can get left behind with all the focus on
interface and testing.

I came to UI from the design world, where the idea of creating a
bunch of differing microsites is brand destructive except when you
have a lot of individual products with their own brands. A great
example is movies. Each movie needs to support its own brand, not
that of Warner Bros. Other than proper use of the WB logo there's no
need to make them look (or work) the same.

Brand = reputation. No matter how good the interface is, if you
destroy the brand, you end up with no one using the product. Look at
Microsoft. They make some good products from a UI POV, but for a long
time they got lost in the anti-MS mentality, especially in the
creative community.

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13 Feb 2009 - 12:27pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> Brand = reputation. No matter how good the interface is, if you
> destroy the brand, you end up with no one using the product.

Why are the two mutually exclusive? Doesn't product quality reinforce brand
impression?

-r-

13 Feb 2009 - 12:31pm
SemanticWill
2007

I don't think Brand=reputation, I think reputation is an attribute of
Brand, of of many.

Brand=[E]xperience - where we are talking about the totality of all
experiences attributable to the brand makes more sense - as well as
all internalized emotions.

I have never been a big fan of the old microsites, but someone needs
to point to some real research about the long term efficacy of
microsites - and how bad they really are. Do they test terribly? Have
they ever destroyed a brand - name that brand... I have said some
pretty nasty things about microsites in my day, but the more I think
about it, it seems like a completely unfounded prejudice that should
be challenge. So challenge me!

~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | User Experience Architect
tel: +1.617.281.1281 | will at semanticfoundry.com
http://blog.semanticfoundry.com
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: semanticwill
twitter: semanticwill
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On Feb 13, 2009, at 12:27 PM, Robert Hoekman Jr wrote:

>>
>> Brand = reputation. No matter how good the interface is, if you
>> destroy the brand, you end up with no one using the product.
>
>
> Why are the two mutually exclusive? Doesn't product quality
> reinforce brand
> impression?
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
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13 Feb 2009 - 12:52pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Bonnie,

Do people who use the microsites currently have to move between them
or carry information from one to another? Can you do research to
show that these sites are creating disjointed and unsuccessful
experiences and/or that these suboptimal experiences detract from the
desired brand perception?

If the answer to the first question is yes, I suggest creating a map
of paths people take and walk the business owners through what is
happening.

Phillip

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13 Feb 2009 - 12:50pm
Chris Rivard
2005

Microsites that I've worked on have always set out to reinforce the
brand, but have originated as some parallel marketing effort -
seasonal, new product launch, etc.

I'm not a big fan of them - but they can be done successfully and
they allow for some creative freedom away from the main site
architecture and navigation.

Take a look at:
https://www.smartwool.com

Microsites:
http://www.smartwool.com/woolology/
http://www.smartwool.com/phd/

I don't think they detract from the "brand experience" and there
is always a way to get back to the mothership.

-Chris

aim: clearwired
twitter: clearwired
www.chrisrivard.com

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13 Feb 2009 - 1:31pm
Den Serras
2009

Hm. I can't say I've had much experience with microsites outside of
the movie biz and social networking, but I have seen examples of poor
UI that can hurt a brand (Quark, evite, MS Bloat) and poor brand
extensions that hurt the top brand (Google's Print Ads, Hooters
Airline, Apple Pippin...).

And then there's MySpace, a brand-destructive site that prospers
with a crowd that is looking to avoid brand, versus the highly
branded look of Facebook. Facebook doesn't even allow banner ads
that could mess with their brand!

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13 Feb 2009 - 1:49pm
Tom Coombs
2009

- Brand - I think the brand question is important, and
straightforward: sometimes content (e.g. the films - great example)
needs a distinct brand. If that isn't the case then the content
should reinforce the mother brand. A different brand probably
requires a microsite, but if the branding is the same, then it's
down to other factors (some thoughts below).

- Time - microsites logically would be slower to produce, but where
main site governance isn't very agile, it can be the other way
round.

- Structure - if the content has a deep hierarchical structure, a
microsite allows it to utilise traditional primary/secondary nav
spaces (e.g. tabs, left hand nav), rather than have to sit on levels
below the main site's structure (it's a bit like a supermarket
putting their online groceries on the main site under the
"Services" tab and "Online groceries" 2nd level).

- Structure - On the other hand, navigational structures (e.g. tabs)
guide users on the breadth of content available. By its autonomy, a
microsite misses the opportunity to show the user the main site's
content.

- Cross-linking - similar to the previous point, if there's related
content between microsite & main site (presumably helpfully linked),
then the user will get very confused.

- Duplication - (I'm not expert, but I think) microsites don't
benefit from the SEO power of the main site if they use a different
domain. Equally, even if the domain is the same, but if content is
duplicated across main and microsite, the URLs become canonical and
again are weaker with respect to SEO. Duplicate content also
produces maintenance issues.

Hopefully this helps. I'd love to see a definitive list of factors
relating to the microsite decision.

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13 Feb 2009 - 1:49pm
Doug LeMoine
2007

Microsites are almost always a symptom of a particular organizational
ethic. I've seen many companies encourage entrepreneurship in their
sales/marketing divisions, and the end result is dozens of rogue
elements, many of which compete with each other. It also results in
dozens/hundreds of separate marketing initiatives -- and as many
microsites -- many of which have different versions of the same
information, none of which is tied to a central CMS, and almost all
of which are outdated soon after they go up.

That's why I'd say that, more often than not, a zillion microsites
is a leading indicator of big-time UX problems. @Will: You asked,
"Have they ever destroyed a brand?" and I'd guess that (by
themselves) they haven't. But they're often an indication that
brand-erosion is happening.

Still, you can never just turn off the microsites; the reason for
their existence is almost always in the company's DNA. The only way
to address this problem is to institute, by corporate dictat, a
flexbile content management framework that gives outlet to the
entrepreneurial energy that gives rise to them.

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13 Feb 2009 - 2:20pm
Chris Rivard
2005

Doug,

###
The only way to address this problem is to institute, by corporate
dictat, a flexbile content management framework that gives outlet to
the entrepreneurial energy that gives rise to them.
###

That sounds super-scary! It seems like with a microsite, you can
create a "sandbox" for the marketing folks to play in without
diluting the brand or really mucking things up on a primary site.

I agree with you that microsites are evidence of brand dilution but I
have found they are used as a stopgap when a company cannot (budget
constraints) go through a full re-brand or cannot take the time to
fully integrate some new product or marketing initiative. That is
the most common scenario that I have seen. Some big ships are just
too hard to turn.

-Chris

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13 Feb 2009 - 3:34pm
Doug LeMoine
2007

@Chris: You're right, my statement was a little too black-and-white.
There doesn't need to be a grand unified content management strategy
in order to get a handle on microsites.

In my experience, though, the "sandboxes" in which marketing folks
play become, in some cases, alternate versions of the corporate
mothership site, except that the content is slightly different, out
of date, inconsistent, etc. Microsites transform themselves into
unwieldy maxi-sites, and they often involve other vendors and spawn
massive budgets, while replicating content that already exists
(albeit in a different form) elsewhere.

So, if there is a sandbox, it needs to enforce limits ... and once
you get to the level of enforcing limits, you're getting closer to a
unified content management framework.

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13 Feb 2009 - 4:19pm
gfrances@iconta...
2008

In my experience microsites are used by departments who want to keep control of their content. This can easily cause ownership issues (who owns the content, who is responsible for maintaining the site, etc), user experience issues (design patterns used on the main site not followed through on the microsite), and technical issues (where does the microsite reside, how does it interact with the main site, etc).

For me, microsites interfere with providing a holistic user experience.

15 Feb 2009 - 12:23pm
Matt Holford
2007

I agree that for many large corporations with independent marketing
ventures, a microsite is often a necessary tool. And even within a
unified content management strategy, an area dedicated to a branded
product launch, for instance, can be sufficiently distinct in its
experience to become a de facto microsite.

(Add to that the marketing department's request for a dedicated,
parked URL, like NewProductName.com, and you've got a microsite in
spite of your best UX efforts.)

A microsite should be like stimulus legislation: targeted, timely,
and temporary. And ideally accompanied by a plan for how to
incorporate the content back into the mother-site once the moment has
passed. One surefire way to let a microsite develop an imbalanced
center of gravity is to forget the sunset clause.

My company has a longstanding client with international sales and a
consistent problem syncing up its product launches across countries.
There's no question for them about the utility -- necessity, even --
of microsites. But they need to go away after they've fulfilled
their role.

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