A microsite is a website that exists for a single, sometimes time-restricted, purpose. A microsite may be created as part of an advertising campaign or to provide information about a specific product or service that does not fit into the scope of a more conventional ‘parent’ website. This knowledge base article will discuss microsite design principles — what they are, how they work, and why they exist.
For example, Nike will regularly make microsites to launch new products — these have their own URLs and visual style without the need to conform to existing guidelines. This can bring a new level of creative flexibility to product owners as large e-commerce sites like nike.com can be rigid. It is also common for microsites like these to have a defined shelf-life. Product sites are often live for a few months, then discontinued when a new flagship product is released.
How we approach microsite design
As microsites tend to be smaller in size and scope, they are often much easier to manage than ‘full’ organisation-wide websites. This makes bespoke microsite design particularly useful when a companies main website is outdated or difficult to adapt. When producing a microsite, we weigh up several principles that help us create meaningful experiences. The core principles of microsite design include:
- Design intent
- Scope and hierarchy
- Visual identity principles
- Storytelling and user experience
- Payoff and measuring results
Microsite design intent
When designing a new microsite, we always start by defining a clear design brief. To do this, we work closely with our clients to uncover the core need of the site. This will vary from project to project, but often includes things like building awareness of a new product, producing an online exhibition, communicating a specific type of content to an audience or launching a new service.
This ‘design intent’ is then used to make sure all design work stays on track, hits the mark and fulfils its purpose. Once we have clarity on microsite design intent, we then move forward with initial research and information architecture activities — this includes sitemap creation and wireframing of key screens.
Scope and hierarchy
The microsite scope will define the size of the website, how it should be structured and how long it should be live. When possible, we aim to keep our microsites simple and impactful. This can range from a single landing page with interactive functionality, to e-commerce stores and multi-language websites. As a rule, our sites are easy to maintain and update — we do this by making sure our products are lightweight and contain just enough code to run smoothly.
When a microsite reaches the end of its shelf-life, it is common practice to keep the link live and simply redirect the site back to the main website or product page. This ensures all traffic and links reach relevant information.
Visual identity principles
Another important benefit of microsite design is the ability to create a strong, unique visual identity. Having a self-contained site can be a huge advantage for product owners as they can achieve a much greater degree of flexibility by breaking away from the strict rules of large websites.
Microsite visual identities are often much more expressive than larger sites. This is because they are commonly used as an introduction to a product or service — ‘deeper’ off-site content will then be signposted for further reading. It is also common for microsite design to make minimal use of text, focusing instead on visual content such as brand animation and film.
Storytelling and user experience
We believe that microsite design should always focus on storytelling — this is useful for product owners because microsites are often used to produce engaging content that would not normally fit into the parent website. For example, it may be difficult to produce a microsite about a specific exhibition on a companies main website, as it would require additional resources and time. It can also throw up problems with content hierarchy, placing unintentional emphasis on a product.
Storytelling is also useful for microsites that communicate complex messages or new developments — such as online exhibitions or product launches. In these cases, microsites are often designed to communicate a huge amount of information. A clear narrative is needed here to effectively deliver content to users in a memorable way.
User experience is also an important factor in microsite design. UX can create experiences that are easy to interact with, understand and remember. This ensures users can quickly consume information with minimal effort.
Microsite audiences tend to be hyper-focused — this usually means they have content specific to a target demographic. Every microsite needs a distinct visual style that can communicate its purpose, target audience and engage users through visuals alone. For example, an online exhibition focusing on textile innovation will be focused on textile-industry professionals. The visual cues and vernacular used will help build a sense of authority while promoting the content in question.
Payoff and measuring results
One of the main benefits microsite design offers is a micro-level approach to digital marketing. This means microsites can be used as an ongoing engagement tool for customers and prospects, or as part of a wider campaign strategy. They are also useful for micro-level conversions — microsites can be used to generate leads, sell products or simply raise awareness of a brand.
In short, this means that microsite design is inherently measurable. This brings great opportunities for marketers and brand owners that use analytics and reporting in their work. We recommend measuring site traffic before and after microsite release to assess the impact on your overall marketing strategy.
Recent examples of microsite design by LBD Studio include the Heritage for People and Koru Project websites for Edinburgh World Heritage.