Confusion frequently arises about how to structure and design microsites versus parent websites. A microsite is an individual webpage or group of webpages that are used to support, enhance, or supplement your primary, or parent, nonprofit website. The main difference between a microsite and a parent site is the microsite’s focus on a single, narrow topic or theme compared to the broader scope of your parent site. 

Common uses for microsites include major events with lots of logistical information, or strategic initiatives with their own branding. With a well-designed microsite, you can leverage Search Engine Optimization to increase your organization’s online presence. SEO generates more organic traffic to your site and helps identify your organization as a trustworthy nonprofit. Here we review the best design and SEO practices for microsites, as well as when to use one versus a subdomain or subfolder. 

1.    Concise Content and Clear Navigation

Before deciding to create a microsite, be sure that it will serve a specific purpose and that creating it will add value to what’s already on your parent site. A microsite cannot repeat content that is available on your main site, as similar content is flagged by search engines and damages your SEO. However, you’ll still need to introduce your story and explain to users why they should engage with your organization; don’t take it for granted that the people visiting your microsite are already familiar with and interested in your nonprofit. 

Keep your microsite clear and simple to navigate, with a recommended maximum of 4 pages. Focus on motivating visitors to take immediate action to support your organization through clear and simple steps.  A microsite’s purpose is to minimize clutter and distraction, so content must be highly focused.

2.    Straightforward Call-to-Action 

The purpose of setting up a microsite is to create more awareness, increase support, or attract more donations. Thus, use a call to action (CTA) to convey this to your site visitors. A clear call-to-action button will bring positive results to your organization’s campaign. Change the CTA depending on the main goal of the microsite. Are you asking for donations? Then it would be a priority to formulate a CTA that helps people to donate seamlessly. 

3.    Bold but User-Friendly Design

Microsite design is different from normal website design. You can indulge in something that displays out-of-the-box creativity. This is an opportunity to grab your visitor’s attention the moment they land on your site. Consider using bold typography, attractive images, and visible colors. Also think about how you can leverage interactive or multimedia content to really connect with your target audience. 

However, be sure that the microsite’s navigation remains intuitive for users. Attractive design must go hand-in-hand with user-friendly features to create a successful microsite.   

4.    Link Your Microsite to the Parent Site 

Users usually find microsites through organic searches, referral links, or social media platforms. So you’ll also want to invite visitors at some point to visit your parent website. You should link to it in the secondary navigation (above the logo/main nav) and in the footer. Like any other awareness platform, designing a microsite is all about including your organization’s logo and other essential details, and then linking them back to your main website. This approach will help to increase the number of people joining your organization and the number of donations you receive. 

5.    SEO for Your Microsite 

Now that you know some of the best design considerations for your microsite, it’s time to explore SEO practices that you should pay attention to. Here are the best SEO practices for your microsite: 

a.    Focus on User + Search Intent 

User search intent is the core of any search engine. Search intent is the goal of the user when searching for a query. If you provide your visitors with what they are looking for, it’s likely that your microsite will be ranked at the top of search results. You should clearly understand what your target audience is looking for and provide that information on your site. Structured data (schema) will also make it easier for search engines to identify the content available on your site.

For instance, if your organization is into wildlife conservation, you might want to target searches for “wildlife conservation statistics”. People using this query are looking for updated wildlife conservation statistics. If you highlight when your statistics were last updated and explain how they were sourced, you will create quality content that answers users’ queries accurately and precisely. This will help your microsite visitors to trust your organization and move your content to rank well on search engine result pages (SERPs).

b.    Design for Mobile 

When people want to know something about current events or issues, they quickly turn to their phones. This means that a large amount of website traffic globally comes from mobile. A smart tactic for optimizing your microsite’s SEO is to use mobile-first indexing, which is only possible if the design of your microsite is mobile-responsive and user-friendly.

Because most traffic will come from smartphones, the design of your site should begin with and prioritize mobile. Format content such as infograph PDFs, videos, etc, for mobile as well. This will drive engagement rates and increase traffic. By making your content mobile-friendly, you have already begun developing a strong SEO strategy. While you’re at it, make sure that your parent website is also mobile-optimized for those site visitors who are redirected there.  This will make it easy for visitors to find information quickly and respond to your CTAs appropriately in the same session.

c.    Provide Relevant and Valuable Content

When it comes to SEO, relevant and valuable content is weighted heavily. Search engines are getting better every day at showing the most relevant results to their users. This means that search engines are continuously altering the way they rank sites. The most effective way to sustainably optimize your site is by creating valuable content. Create shareable, relevant, and valuable content that has value for your target audience and responds to their queries. 

For visitors to feel satisfied after accessing your microsite, they need to find authentic content that delivers what they are looking for. If this doesn’t happen, your microsite visitors will quickly leave your site and look for other related organizations. The increase in bounce rate and the decrease in the number of satisfied users will affect your organization’s general reputation and digital authority. 

Is a Microsite the Right Choice?

Generally speaking, microsites should be reserved for when you want to build a brand or buzz around an event or idea. They allow you to experiment with different formats, or to target specific audiences with messaging that differs from your normal brand style. If neither of these are priorities for your project, you should consider a subdomain, or even a subfolder or subdirectory, instead. We end with a summary of how each is defined and its pros and cons:

A microsite has an entirely different domain than your main site, i.e. versus

A subdomain modifies your main site’s domain by adding an additional path at the beginning, i.e. vs

A subfolder or subdirectory adds a path to the end of your domain, i.e., with unique pages’ being defined after an additional backslash, i.e.

Pros and Cons of Each

Subfolder a.k.a. Subdirectory
  • Can highlight content with a distinctive look, feel and domain name
  • Given the new domain name, you might be able to use catchier or shorter URLs
  • Can focus on ranking for search terms that are different from the parent site. This can be leveraged to either give you a strategic boost in a particular area on search engines, or prevent diluting the keyword focus of the parent site
  • Can easily transfer ownership of the microsite to another organization, if for example you’re part of a coalition
  • Clearly communicates that the content is an extension of the parent site, while still being separate
  • Can use a naming convention that includes a specific keyword to drive stronger organic traffic, such as “events” for keyword permutations around “breast cancer”
  • Allows you to use unique designs, although it can’t be too different or it will be jarring for visitors who expect consistency within a site
  • Fastest way to give new content a SEO boost because it reaps almost all the benefits from the parent site’s domain authority
  • Most consistent and seamless experience for visitors navigating both sites
  • Development and management of formats, styles, and information architecture is easier
  • Creating a new site means starting from zero domain authority for SEO
  • If keywords for the parent and micro- site are similar, there’s a risk of cannibalizing, i.e. shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to SEO, if you have too many external links pointing back and forth
  • If you don’t build your microsite in the same CMS as your parent site, and you decide later to combine the sites, not having them on the same platform will add delays
  • Domain authority can, but won’t automatically, trickle down from the parent site, so you will need to do some work on SEO
  • You might pay extra for tools or subscriptions if you’re billed per domain name since each subdomain will typically count as a separate website
  • Google limits the number of search results coming from a subdomain, but if the same keywords also exist within the parent site, this number will be higher
  • You sacrifice diverse style and branding entirely
  • Forces you to use longer URLs that are further away from the root domain, which may cause both search engine crawlers and users to get lost
  • If you already have the maximum two pages from your site ranking for a particular search query, Google won’t show any more URLs from the same domain (but they will show pages from subdomains or a microsite) 



 If you have any unanswered questions about creating a microsite, please reach out. We’re happy to help!   

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