Should You Use Microsites for AdWords Campaigns?

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The microsite is a strange beast.

Some companies love it and the freedom it allows to create conversion-targeted experiences without having to bend and sway to all the needs of various departments. Coordination sounds great, but when dealing with popular pages within a company's website, everyone wants a piece of the action.

Others hate microsites and the branding disconnect they can cause internally and externally, the siloed nature of their creation, and their ability to slip past checks and balances that main website pages all go through.

So when creating pages for AdWords campaigns, should you design them under your main website or use mircrosites? Before making that decision, there are two things you need to determine.

1. Is the ad campaign focused on a particular product?

You almost never want to drive AdWords campaigns to your homepage or main categories. If the campaign is tied tightly to a product, however, than deep linking to the product page can be effective. There are, however, several criteria to meet to make this strategy valid:

  • the product page has a clear conversion path (e.g., generating leads for B-to-B or selling directly/providing trials for B-to-C);
  • the product page uses persuasion techniques normally found on optimized landing pages;
  • the ad campaign can be adjusted to tightly match the page; and
  • your team can effectively segment the pay-per-click conversion data with your organic data.

If all these conditions are met, the subsegment of the campaign can live within your main website.  

2. Do you have the tools you need to create an effective landing page inside your main website?

If the AdWords campaign focuses on a product line rather than a product, it's generally not a great idea to take ad visitors to a category page. For starters, you can't control the content too tightly to make it match the campaign. Organic search visitors are arriving on your site through a variety of search terms, and consumers navigating the site from other sections need that page to match their mental model.

There are also functionality questions you need to answer. Within your main site, can you effectively perform the following tasks:

  • Build forms that capture leads effectively?
  • Adjust the layout?

One of the reasons marketers build landing pages on microsites or stand-alone pages is that the technology behind forms and lead nurturing — think HubSpot, Eloqua or other CRM providers — tend to require less effort than building the pages within their main website. For most small to midsized companies, however, it probably makes sense to house these on stand-alone areas.

Those are two of the big-ticket "decision trees" around microsites for AdWords campaigns. There are smaller ones, but the key idea is to understand what the environments lean towards, capitalize on the strengths and plan how you'll mitigate against the weaknesses.

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This article originally appeared in Tim's Retail Online Integration column May 29, 2013