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Marketing Goes Sybil - Split Personalities Are Everywhere!

No, it’s just that you can’t appeal to all demographics with a blanket online approach. That’s why they have many online personalities.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Caryn Eve Murray
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Small is beautiful. Just ask the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, which earlier in June celebrated all things small and beautiful on their website in a very big way. With a bit of press, fanfare and pride, city tourism officials have launched three newly developed microsites linked to www.visitphilly.com, the tourism office’s official online presence.

With the addition of the microsites, the city’s general tourism pitch is now fine-tuned in three critical directions: for African American visitors, there is philly360.com; foodies and visiting locavores have food.visitphilly.com; and fans of the last queen of ancient Egypt can delve into Cleopatra.visitphilly.com. This last mini site-within-a-site showcases the world premiere of the new Cleopatra exhibit at the city’s Franklin Institute, offering an overview of the exhibit and the institute, along with information about hotel packages and other options in town.

A self-contained collective of highly focused, standalone web pages offering a look, feel and subject all their own, the microsite is becoming the online venue of choice for a number of travel professionals. They have discovered that, depending upon how it is set up, a microsite can be used to maximize information delivery by virtue of its intense focus, provide search-engine optimization or simply increase exposure with its signature, distinctive look, for a targeted niche market.

That third option was paramount for Philadelphia’s web planners, in tackling these three newest mini-sites.

“By creating a microsite, we can fine-tune the look and feel, the way the information is presented. It creates a far more immersive experience for visitors,” said Marisa McClellan, Greater Philadelphia’s web producer. “It gives us far more flexibility in presenting the information” beyond the standard web pages of visitphilly.com, which have a distinctly uniform look.

The main site “is obviously still the most public face of Philadelphia,” said Caroline Bean, who handles national media relations and social media for the tourism office. Microsites support that role, even as they depart from the main site because, by linking to the main site, they still drive website visitors back to it, she said.

“By having a microsite, we reach two goals. We continue to build traffic to our official visitors’ site, visitphilly.com, but we can also speak to a more specific market segment that has a slightly different feel or look but is still within our larger umbrella brand name.”

Some microsites thrive in a more standalone environment, said Kent Lewis, president of Portland, Oregon-based Anvil Media, a search-engine marketing agency. Properly crafted with a dedicated domain, they will show up reliably in search engines such as Google, and even fit nicely into the requirements to make use of paid searches. But these tiny websites still need a credible link to a larger site to establish validity.

“Microsites can be extremely effective for local searches because the content is so focused on one property and one location and has a ‘high theme’ density,” he said. “If I am part of a megasite with 3,000 properties, I have 3,000 pages and there is little focus. But if I have a five-page microsite, I am going to do well for keyword relevance [in a search engine] and for local searches.”

The only down side, Lewis said, is the requirement for resources to build a custom site: The cost of the domain is nominal but then an agency under contract or an in-house team would build and optimize the five or so pages. And that does necessitate some investment. “If your current web budget is X, you would take at least 10 percent of that to develop a new microsite,” he said. “New copy, all optimization, all link development, all paid search, all social media. And that 10 percent may only cover development.”

Optimization is critical, he said, because “a microsite typically isolates content, so no one is going to accidentally stumble on it unless they are looking for it. Microsites are very purpose-based.”

Microsites have been used successfully in many instances, by hotels wanting to target the gay and lesbian market. Event-based and venue-based microsites have also been used by convention and visitors bureaus, touring a beer festival, a rose festival or some other high profile specific happening.

“People need to consider the longevity of the site and keep its life cycle in mind when they build these microsites,” Lewis said. “If it lasts forever, it will evolve into its own website and you’d better stop calling it a microsite. A good microsite can be just the start of a great idea.

“Or perhaps the great idea was only meant to last five minutes. Then make sure you close it down properly and redirect your visitors to the next relevant page,” he said.

With an easy link to travelportland.com, the standalone microsite, Green Meetings by Travel Portland has taken on a life of its own since its launch a few years ago. Except when targeting upcoming conventions, microsites have not been endeavors typically undertaken by the Oregon-based Travel Portland, said Bryan White, director of online strategy. Its launch was designed not just to drive business to Portland but to educate business planners about conducting business in a green way – and to engender good will by having an educational site that freely dispenses information.

“The Green Meetings Toolkit is a unique part of our convention sales strategy,” White said. “We found we needed a dedicated place to focus on the message of Portland being a leader in sustainability, and so forth. So we decided to set up the Green Meetings Toolkit as an educational resource relevant to planners, whether or not they were going to have their meeting in Portland.”

The microsite has some “fun elements” built in, he said, such as mock movie trailers, as well as some educational elements. It is complemented by such offline efforts as direct mail and advertising in industry publications.

Even though the Green Meetings Toolkit is a niche site specific to meeting planners, the main Travel Portland site and the green microsite have easy links between one another. Those links are, in fact, the primary way web traffic gets to the microsite. Pay-per-click campaigns and print ads in industry publications provide the rest of the referrals, along with regular search engine deliveries.

Although White did not provide any numbers for visitors to the microsite, he acknowledged that “it generates leads and when a planner contacts us they are much more informed already and less in need of education by our meeting sales staff. So the leads that come in from the Green Meetings Toolkit site tend to be well-qualified leads.”

Next on Travel Portland’s microsite frontier, he said, is a mobile microsite. “Rather than do multiple apps for multiple platforms, we just want to have a mobile site that we can unpack,” he said. Work on that, he added, could come as early as July 1.

Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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