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Talking Points: Paying Complements

Microsites can create more personalized messages and track responses




If this is the first time you're hearing about microsites, read on. If you recently launched a fund-raising or recruitment campaign and did not include a microsite, read faster.

Microsites, sometimes called landing pages, are Web pages specifically created to help users get exactly what they're looking for with just one or two clicks. Consumer businesses have been using microsites successfully for years to sell everything from cars to outdoor furniture. The Dell computer company is a master at using these customized sites for its various promotions. Catalogs, print ads, and TV commercials direct potential buyers to different sites that promote their featured specials. Some automobile manufacturers have used them successfully to promote sweepstakes advertised on national TV.

Although microsites seem novel to some in higher education, their potential uses are great, especially for advancement. If created and used properly, a microsite can serve as a brand-building device as well as a direct-response relationship development tool.

Uses and benefits

Microsites are powerful tools that enable audiences—alumni, prospective students, potential donors, or employees—to respond to an appeal without having to navigate an institution's main Web site. Such main sites can be like big city streets: one wrong turn and you might not get back to where you started, which can be very confusing to someone responding to a campaign for the first time.

Microsites are usually two to five Web pages designed to accompany an e-mail, direct-mail, or advertising campaign. Some work best as a single page with a call to action, while others might have multiple pages with video clips and links to other areas of the main Web site. Because microsites are tied to a specific campaign timeline, developers can easily remove them once the promotion is over, and they can quickly and inexpensively redesign microsites for the next campaign.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of microsites is that they allow advancement officers to communicate personalized, focused marketing messages to target audiences. For example, different sites can be used to provide financial aid information to parents and students. Microsites also can handle such tasks as registration, online ordering, and collecting valuable visitor information campuses can use for follow-up and to create one-to-one marketing efforts.

An often overlooked benefit of microsites is that they can help determine the return on investment in promotional spending. By using appropriate tracking software, advancement officers can determine how effective a campaign was for a specific market segment. They can track not only page hits, but also the paths visitors take through the site.

Examples in action

Several colleges and universities are already putting microsites to good use. St. Andrew's Presbyterian College officials use a combination of print-on-demand direct mail and a microsite to increase applications and new students. Once prospects log in with the unique personal identification numbers they receive in the mail, they are directed to a customized page that contains course listings and career information that supports their intended major.

Indiana State University officials starting using a microsite last year for the institution's summer programs (www.indstate.edu/summer). They used a variety of advertising and direct-mail pieces to drive prospects to the site for more information.

New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies microsite continues the design theme featured in its print advertisements. Site visitors will find the person pictured in the print ads waiting to greet them online at www.scps.nyu.edu. Once prospects arrive, they can search for SCPS courses or register online.

Microsites are not for external audiences only. Albany College of Pharmacy officials used them for an internal marketing effort, a campus pride campaign. They created unique URLs–www.sciencesforlife.com and www.itsaboutoptions.com present key institutional messages that coincided with the rollout of the new campus logo.

Making them work for you

Although microsites are relatively inexpensive and easy to create and navigate, advancement officers need to think carefully about how to use them effectively. The following are some important considerations:

Avoid "brochureware." Although the same creative content and design should be used for print and Web versions of an appeal, don't just replicate the information on the microsite. The purpose of a microsite is to advance a relationship between a campus and Web visitors and to encourage them to take the next step. They already are aware of and interested in your offer–that's how they wound up on the Web site in the first place.

Don't oversell. Keep the text short and simple. People often chose to do research and make purchases online instead of over the phone or in person because they really don't like to be sold too much.

Front ends also have back ends. Building a microsite might be easy, but maintaining it isn't. Assign someone to answer e-mail queries, track traffic and progress, and keep content relevant.

Keep it "all in the family." Your microsite should have the same look and feel as your print appeals and should prominently feature the campus logo. It also should collect information and report statistics using systems that interface with existing databases and infrastructure.

Make it an extended visit. Cross-promote other campus offerings on your microsite by including links to other relevant pages. Be sure to include contact information such as a phone number or e-mail address on each page.

Get off to the right start. What matters more than anything is what people do after they visit. The most important tip is to make sure your microsite includes a clear call to action on the first landing page. After all, it's pointless to invest time and energy boosting site traffic if you lose prospects on the first page.

The Internet has become the de facto place for doing business for two reasons: fresh content and interactivity. Microsites are a good example of how these two attributes can be used to create an ongoing relationship with constituents.

 

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