Should I build a microsite?

Talk to most people in Digital about microsites and they’ll pull a face of disgust. Why, what’s wrong with microsites?

The answer, really, is nothing. There is nothing wrong with using microsites to solve particular problems. The issues arise when microsites are used to solve the wrong problems. Let’s see if we can figure when to and not use a microsite.

When not to build a microsite

If the microsite:

  • won’t have any specific functionality that the main website doesn’t have,
  • will have the same branding and identity as the main site,
  • takes visitors on a similar journey, and
  • is seen by stakeholders as a ‘shiny new thing’ that will allow the organisation to move faster because the existing infrastructure and technology used by the main site is out-of-date and not meeting organisational and user needs.

…then a microsite probably isn’t the right solution.

Sometimes a new microsite is seen as a way to paper over the cracks of existing technology, and if that’s all it’s doing then it’s making the situation worse. However, if introducing a microsite on a new tech stack is part of the plan to iteratively move towards replacing the existing website, then this can often be a better approach than a large single project to replace one big system with another. Building what is needed as those needs are identified is a much better approach.

When to build a microsite

If the microsite needs:

  • to meet a completely separate user need than the main site,
  • to have specific functionality that the main website doesn’t have, for example customer support and knowledge base functionality,
  • to have it’s own branding and identity but be closely associated with the branding and identity of the main site, e.g. for a specific marketing campaign,
  • to enable a user journey between to two sites, and/or
  • to (or at least wants to) make use of the domain authority of the main site,

…then a microsite could be the right solution.

There are other ways to achieve all of those things on the list, so it doesn’t mean that a microsite is always the right solution, but they can have additional advantages such as diversified infrastructure so that if one website goes down the other isn’t affected, and disadvantages if built by an agency using technology that no one in house has experience with and doesn’t know how to maintain.

When to question the decision to build a microsote

Always. Especially if stakeholders have already decided there needs to be a microsite before any discovery work or requirements gathering has happened.

Should I build a microsite?

If you need to. Keep an open mind, do the discovery work to understand the problem, and then build a microsite if its the right solution.

And take no notice of the looks of disgust from people who make decisions without knowing what problem is being solved.