6 “S-Factors” for Microsite Success

Originally Published in Target Marketing’s Tipline E-Newsletter
by Britt Brouse
Apr 9, 2008

For e-commerce retailers, microsites provide an opportunity to focus on specific marketing initiatives outside of the confines of the larger corporate site and brand. Microsites can house special features, marketing campaigns and sales promotions. They range from unique URLs tied to ad campaigns; to sites featuring one product or product group; and even auxiliary sites that experiment with new brands, customer bases or feedback modules.

“If I’m a cosmetics and skin-care company, and I come out with a product for acne, I can build a microsite. I would probably still sell my acne products within my overall site but allow customers to click off to focus specifically on acne. I am going to provide a lot more content and become the expert on acne, with recommendations from doctors, detailed information on my products, testimonials and before-and-afters,” describes Ken Burke, chairman and founder of MarketLive, a provider of e-commerce software, in Petaluma, Calif.

Building a microsite allows a company to deliver new Web applications, test specific marketing initiatives outside of its general site traffic, all with freedom from the parent site’s brand and infrastructure. “When trying to bring somebody to your big site, you’re spending a lot of money to bring them there, and it could be more general traffic. When I have a site that deals just with one product, I can get much better search engine rankings because I have a lot more content and specialization, and, more importantly, the consumer perceives that I’m an expert in that area,” Burke adds.

1. Speed
“The whole purpose of microsites is to be able to throw something up quickly, see if it works and then decide what you want to do in terms of integrating it into you overall business,” says Burke. He believes a site should be able to go up in hours and days, depending on the company’s size—not in weeks or months. Companies like MarketLive and Austin, Texas-based Bazaarvoice, which specializes in social commerce technology like customer reviews and ratings, can store data and offer interface applications from which clients can build extension sites without internal IT constraints.

2. Search
To drive traffic to your site, begin with the domain name. MarketLive advises in its whitepaper, A Guide to Microsite Strategy, to select a hub within your existing URL, such as “corporate.com/new,” or a subdomain, such as “new.corporate.com,” so that search engines spidering your main site will pick up your microsite, as well. The whitepaper also suggests referring to other niche sites that have already been identified as relevant to boost your own site’s ranking.

Natural search will bring new customers to your microsite who, due to specific queries, may not have navigated to the parent site. “What this does is this attracts a whole new set of keywords and search phrases. It targets a whole new set of people who are shopping and researching, and it pulls them into that product and then introduces the brand. And then they can go forward and buy,” says Sam Decker, CMO for Bazaarvoice.

3. Social
“This whole dynamic on social networking, social media and social commerce is that users want to hear from other users. We believe things like reviews and questions and answers written by customers are the most potent digital marketing asset, because that’s the material consumers are seeking out,” Decker says.

In a survey of more than 1,300 online reviewers, Keller Fay Group discovered that 90 percent of reviewers write intending to “help others make better buying decisions.” Furthermore, 87 percent of reviews are positive, and 84 percent of reviewers purchase products online. “Building microsites around this content is not only good for attracting visits and traffic, but is also much stronger in terms of driving people to make a purchase because it’s the kind of content they’re looking for to evaluate a product,” Decker says. He also notes that JupiterResearch and Forrester Research found that more than 70 percent of people seek out reviews before buying a product, and lauds user-generated content as low-cost and dynamic.

4. Seamless
Clickthroughs from the parent site to the microsite provide traffic while helping prospects learn more about a product, thus driving sales. “If a shopper is on Home Depot Canada and they want to see all the reviews on all the products, they can click a button to go to the microsite (http://reviews.homedepot.ca/) and just shop by reviews,” Decker says.

More experimental microsite marketers may want to break from the parent brand, but for product reviews and other closely related features, marketers should leverage the existing brand. “If you don’t, you’re losing all the benefit of the good will of your brand. If it looks too different than your site, customers will know that it feels too much like marketing rather than something that’s useful,” Decker warns.

5. Sell!
Microsites invite a bolder call to action, especially those sites promoting one product or umbrella of products. “You can be much more aggressive, where the call to action is in your face, the add-to-cart button is large, the offer is very specific and represented boldly. Whereas on your main site, you may not want to do that because you don’t want to corrupt your current users,” Burke says.

Even on review-based microsites, which Bazaarvoice specializes in, the call to action is right up front. “The ultimate goal should be to drive revenue forward—especially for retailers. When you navigate to a product, you’ll see a strong call to action that says ‘product details.’ We could make that say ‘buy now’ if we wanted to; there’s always a strong call to action to move forward to the purchase,” Decker says.

6. Syndicate
As Web users become further acquainted with RSS feeds and all kinds of feed services and applications, Decker believes marketers should apply RSS feeds to their microsite content. “The ability to subscribe to reviews on certain categories or products either via e-mail or RSS feed is something we will be coming out with,” Decker shares. “If I’m in the market for a drill over the next month, I can subscribe to any new reviews on drills. RSS would be a good technology to add to more microsites. It becomes less passive and more proactive,” he concludes.

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