little website, big impact: what makes microsites so engaging

Little Website, Big Impact: What Makes Microsites So Engaging

Microsites may be small in the technical sense, but they have massive potential.

What, precisely, is a microsite?

In content marketing lexicon, the term microsite is sometimes used interchangeably with terms like nanosite, minisite, independent campaign, branded blog and others – so it can be a little hard to define.

Essentially, a microsite is a singular webpage or a small set of pages.

Separate from its brand homepage, a microsite may have its own domain, sub-URL or subdomain to differentiate from the company website.

Who Needs a Microsite?

It depends on your marketing needs.

The vast majority of microsites are based around branded campaigns that feature in-depth content about a product, a service, an event or an idea. With a microsite, you won’t be tied to the standardized templates of your corporate homepage, giving you the opportunity to think outside the box in terms of design and content. Done well, a microsite could even have viral potential.

Microsites aren’t suited for every type of content marketing, though. Unlike your main website or any affiliated landing pages, a microsite won’t provide a ton of help in the way of SEO. Rather, its purpose is to focus your audience’s attention like a laser on a specific and targeted message.

Take a look at these three microsites — and what makes them so compelling.

1. Dangers of Fracking: Telling a Story With Parallax Design

Dangers of Fracking

User interface engineer Linda Dong designed this beautiful microsite, which tackles the controversy about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the increasingly widespread tactic of using high-pressure water mixed with other materials to drill for natural gas. The site uses parallax scrolling to detail the process of fracking from start to finish.

The viewer is led down the page by a single drop of rainwater falling from the sky onto a truck, which carries water to the fracking site. It’s mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid and then enters a well, where its high pressure creates cracks in nearby shale rock.

Throughout, a series of box-outs provides facts and statistics about the fracking process, as well as some of its detrimental side effects like local well water contamination. The journey concludes with a call to action to support the FRAC Act – Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act – in one of two ways: Either contact local elected officials, or support local organizations’ efforts to fight fracking.

Dangers of Fracking

To reach the links at the end, the viewer must scroll through the entire page – which is a risk from a design standpoint. However, Dong’s beautiful, vibrant graphic design and smooth animation effectively complement the anti-fracking message, which itself is presented in manageable, bite-sized bits of information. The calls to action are concise and actionable.

2. #GivingTuesday Impact Dashboard: Real-Time Data Visualization

Dangers of Fracking

A relatively new phenomenon, Giving Tuesday follows Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – and it has taken the nation by storm since its inception in 2012. As such, the 2015 Giving Tuesday event was a perfect venue for this microsite by FrontStream, a provider of software and services to facilitate and document corporate philanthropy.

FrontStream’s Impact Dashboard for charities and nonprofits featured data visualizations and statistics about donors across the Web, social media and mobile. Uniquely, FrontStream featured real-time updates. Visitors watched the numbers for average gift sizes, workplace giving campaigns and more.


Both informative and compelling, real-time data visualization is an excellent way to break down complicated information. Fueled by the excitement of Giving Tuesday campaigns, FrontStream’s fast-paced updates provided current information for brands to track and monitor their successes.

At the bottom of the page, a simple, direct call to action widens the page’s scope. If you’re not a FrontStream user, you can still “Be part of #GivingTuesday” by donating, buying or creating a campaign. The site also invites users to tell their story in a small comment box at the bottom of the page. With multiple channels for engagement, the FrontStream microsite holds its target audience and message at its center, and that’s what makes it so successful.

3. Elf Yourself: Bringing a Boring Industry to Life

Elf Yourself

Office Depot/Office Max’s ElfYourself campaign has been around for almost a decade – and it’s everything a microsite should be. Each year during the holiday season, ElfYourself lets you turn yourself, friends, loved ones and not-so-loved ones into dancing elves. Simply upload a picture of your face, choose the music, add a cat or two – new this year – and the program creates a video where you’re the star.

When ElfYourself launched in 2006, it became an immediate viral phenomenon. By 2011, half a billion people had made dancing elf creations. ElfYourself has become part of a larger online culture around the Christmas season, falling in alongside traditions like the NORAD Santa Tracker.

What did ElfYourself have to do with office supplies? Absolutely nothing – and that’s what worked so well. The original program provided the user with OfficeMax coupons at the end of the ElfYourself experience. In today’s iteration, a small CTA in the bottom corner links to the brand’s ecommerce site. What ElfYourself did best and most importantly was breathe a little bit of life into a boring industry.

From style to design to interactive features, the possibilities for microsites are endless.

Although they’re diverse in the type of content they feature, the best microsites have a few things in common. Readers engage most readily with microsites that are visually pleasing, interactive and have a strong call to action – and the sites above exemplify these elements.

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