Microsites were originally invented for short-lived campaigns. For example, Spotify had a microsite for the Listening Together campaign, which aimed to bring people together by listening to the same music when the Covid pandemic spread in April 2020. Patagonia built a microsite for Blue Heart, a project that aims to preserve wild rivers. Ikea’s Life At Home microsite covers how different people live in their homes. These examples reflect the old way of thinking about microsites: temporary, subdomain, campaign-focused.
But there is a different way to look at them. Microsites 2.0 are evergreen, search-focused and flexible. Think of them as islands that form an archipelago around your country or moons orbiting your planet. They’re an extension of your domain and powerful lead / sales funnels.
Most importantly, they can unstuck teams with two big problems.
Poverty and luxury SEO problems
Microsites 2.0 solve two particular problems that live on opposite ends of the spectrum: being in a CMS chokehold and seeking new growth opportunities for organic traffic.
CMS chokehold is real. It’s the state where you can’t make any or very limited changes to your website. In my work, I’ve spoken with countless teams who can’t make changes to the website due to an outdated CMS, not having a CMS at all or needing engineers to ship changes.
It’s absurd. To compete in fierce environments, teams need to be able to move fast and learn. Good SEO, CRO and user experience is the result of constant testing and iterating. Monoliths and staticity are the enemy.
To work around this problem, most marketers invest in link building and / or try to do as much as possible within the constraints. A noble pursuit, but you can’t win the Formula 1 with three tires. The result is often widespread frustration. Executives want to see more results. SEO teams want to drive more impact. People leave. Funding for the SEO team shrinks. A vicious circle!
On the other end of the same coin are teams that reached the potential of their site. Incremental organic traffic gains are much harder to come by or not worth the cost. Like startups that reach the end of hypergrowth, SEO teams working on such sites move into maintenance mode and defend their market share.
However, no one likes to flatline. Businesses have to expand, and sometimes offense is the best defense. Strong Organic Growth experts always ask themselves how they can drive growth. One way is grabbing more SERP real estate by trying to rank for the same keyword with multiple pages.
While it’s possible, it’s also hard to control. Google might allow double ranks but will also take them away, and there isn’t much you can do but hope. In worst case, several pages going after the same keyword cannibalize each other.
One answer to both problems is Microsites 2.0.
Microsites 2.0 to the rescue!
Microsites are single-page websites or websites with a small cluster of pages focused on one or a few queries.
Other than the first version, Microsites 2.0 have no shelf life. They’re not built for timed campaigns or advertising.
Microsites 1.0 = pop-ups
Microsites 2.0 = stores
The purpose of a Microsite 2.0 is to drive leads, sales or brand awareness. They live on separate domains and often have a bespoke look & feel. Sometimes, the branding of the parent company is obvious and bold. Other times, it’s subtle and hidden until later stages of the conversion process.
Microsites 2.0 enable you to either go after keywords your main domain can’t go after (for whatever reason) or grow your real estate in the search results by ranking with several properties. They are governed by the SEO team in alignment with decision makers, design, eng and data organizations. The point of having properties outside the main domain is not to go rogue but to bypass technical constraints and maximize a brand’s search footprint.
Examples of Microsites 2.0:
Stitchdata: tobigquery.com / toredshift.com /tosnowflake.com / topostgres.com / tolooker.com / topowerbi.com (Thanks to William for sharing!)
(Thanks to Maria for sharing!)
(Thanks to John Henry for sharing!)
(Thanks to John Henry for sharing!)
(Thanks to Bengü for sharing!)
Teams who build Microsites 2.0 face two challenges. First, they need buy-in from decision-makers. Not every organization feels comfortable with a team building and running their own marketing surface. There is a (small) risk of brand damage.
The key to unlocking this blocker is building trust and committing to guardrails like design, eng and data approval. Following requirements, principles and systems from design and engineering, for example, keeping a certain brand identity or committing to regular site maintenance.
The second challenge is managing several web properties. Technically, every new web property needs to be updated, monitored and modernized. Luckily, modern site builders make it quick and easy to stand up sites and domains. The degree of required technical knowledge is relatively low.
You can build Microsites 2.0 on:
How to build Microsites 2.0
The process of building Microsites 2.0 has three distinct steps: assess, decide, test.
Before deciding to build a Microsite 2.0, you want to ensure it’s necessary and possible:
Do you cover all keywords and topics and rank well?
Have you maxed out most of your potential with the main site?
Are you severely constrained by your CMS/tech stack?
Do you have budget or resources for content and backlinks?
Do you have someone technical on the team who can build and maintain the Microsite?
Do you have alignment with decision makers, eng, design and data organizations?
Next, decide how you want to move forward:
What keywords/topics does your Microsite 2.0 target?
What platform do you want to build on?
How should the Microsite 2.0 look?
Do you want to put the parent brand front and center?
What assets (content, visuals, backlinks) do you need?
What actions and metrics do you want to measure?
Once you have a plan, launch your Microsite:
Try a single-page or small Microsite 2.0
Optimize the site and build a few links
Track ranks, traffic, engagement, etc.
Adjust and improve the microsite
Decide whether to launch more Microsites
There is no law that says we can’t build several sites to get more search market share. And, there is no limit to how many Microsites 2.0 you can build except your capacity for optimization and maintenance.
The concept isn’t new but often forgotten. Growth-oriented brands like Hubspot, Adobe or Bitly have used Microsites 2.0 to increase their web footprint and drive conversions for years.