The site is as simple as can be: Every day except December 25th, the website just boasts a giant “NO” in all caps and black-and-white. But on Christmas, of course, it says “YES.” Spoiler alert: it’s still in all caps and still in black-and-white. Totally chill, nonchalant, and hilarious.
The humor is in its simplicity, making it extremely shareable. Someone playing “Deck the Halls” before Thanksgiving? Send ’em the link. Want to send a cruel reminder to a younger sibling? Link ’em.
I still don’t know who was behind isitchristmas.com because there is no link, brand, or navigation menu anywhere. There’s not even a share button — you have to copy the URL manually. But a ton of people did it anyway. I didn’t even know that that kind of site had a name until I got into marketing: they’re called microsites. They’re individual web pages or small clusters of web pages that act as a separate entity within an existing site.
Some companies have used microsites to highlight a specific campaign or target specific buyer personas. Others have used them to tell a short story, or to inspire a specific call-to-action. Microsites can have more viral potential than regular websites because they tend not to take much time to look at or understand.
But the really great ones make you want to poke around for a while. Here are some examples of companies and individuals that created awesome microsites — and what it was that made them so good.
In a world where much of personal banking become automatic, TD Bank markets themselves as a bank focused on a human-centric customer experience. Their TDBank.com website is as plain and boring as any bank’s website, but their BankHumanAgain.com microsite is an entirely different story.
The microsite was built to support their “Bank Human, Again” campaign. It’s an excellent example of how you can use a microsite to support a specific campaign. The microsite has a site layout reminiscent of modern technology companies, with huge pictures and animations, catchphrases atop concise descriptions, and funny videos (which are actually commercials that have aired on TV) depicting scenes where other banks don’t offer a human-to-human customer experience.
Such is the beauty of microsites being discrete entities from a company’s main website: The designer has much more flexibility with design, and the content can have an entirely different tone while maintaining a consistent message.
In an effort to gain support for the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act), Interaction and Industrial Designer Linda Dong designed a beautiful microsite that uses parallax design to tell the story about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.
The story starts with a water droplet falling from a cloud, and as you scroll down through the site, you follow the water droplet as it’s taken from truck to fracturing site, turned into tracking fluid, and sent down a gas well into the ground. Along the way, you encounter floating facts and statistics about the dangers of fracking until you encounter two simple calls-to-action at the very end: “Contact your local officials” and “Join or support your local organization.”
Microsites like this one are heavily focused on using directional cues (in this case, the parallax movement) to drive users to complete a certain call-to-action — so any other distraction or navigation bar is removed entirely. In fact, as I was scrolling, I wasn’t even sure who’d created the site in the first place, not to mention what they’d want me to do at the end. But the website was well-designed and the story was compelling enough to hold out until I found out.
If your microsite focuses on one or two calls-to-action, make sure they are concise and actionable like this one is, and that you set them apart visually from the rest of the site by making the font color pop or putting the copy in a button.
“Why should junk food get all the glory?”
You’re asked this question when you first arrive to BoltHouse Farms’ microsite, FoodPornIndex.com. BoltHouse Farms created the site to show people how many social media conversations were happening about healthy foods versus unhealthy foods. To do this, they collected food porn hashtags and tracked the kinds of foods we share on social media, then pit the healthy stuff, like #grapes, against the unhealthy stuff, like #icecream. The goal of the website is aligned with their overall company mission: To change the way people think (and post) about healthy food.
Bolthouse Farms proves microsites don’t have to be minimalist. The pages on the site are colorful and animated, with words and moving numbers turning into dangling carrots and swinging pomegranates. Click on a food item and magic happens — every food item is different. Click on a pomegranate and you can “hit” it with your clicker like a piñata. Click on a melon and you’re taken to a “melon meditation” page, kind of akin to the iTunes Visualizer. The folks at Bolthouse Farms clearly had a lot of fun thinking of ideas, and the slight insanity of it all gives it a shareable edge.
There is no “point” to emojitracker.com — it was created by Matthew Rothenberg, former Head of Product at Flickr and Bitly, as an experiment in real-time tracking of all emojis used on Twitter. The only calls-to-action present are tweet and follow buttons at the very bottom; otherwise, it’s just for pure interest. In theory, with no navigation bar or way to get to another site, it could confuse people. Technically, it breaks the rules of good user interface design, but it goes to show that microsites don’t need to have complicated designs. Keep it simple to keep people on the page but not take up too much of their time.
Don’t have a big budget? Take a hint from Zach Golden, author of What The F**k Should I Make For Dinner?, who created a microsite to promote the book. The site has a very simple layout: A rotating “purpose of the recipe” line, a rotating recipe from the book, and three links that let you kind of “choose your own journey.” It’s has black-and-white minimalist theme, uses all caps, and places a small call-to-action in the corner promoting his book.
Then, media company Digiday used this microsite template to conduct an experiment of their own. They created the microsite WhatTheFuckIsMyTwitterBio.com, with zero media budget, to see if the content would go viral and help build their brand. “Thanks to the open-source WTFEngine by Justin Windle, some cheap Web hosting and a $12 domain registration, WhatTheFuckIsMyTwitterBio.com was up and running in under two hours. Step two was populating the site with content, which took [two hours].”
Their biggest takeaway? That good copy works. “We didn’t spend a dime promoting the site, and it reached nearly 100,000 unique users ‘organically.'”
You didn’t think I could write a blog post about microsites and not include ElfYourself, did you? Of course not. The above screenshot is what the website looks like right now, but come the holiday season, expect your inbox to be rife with ElfYourself animations again this year because ElfYourself isn’t going away. Easily shareable, a single call-to-action, and it made their customers the stars. After its second year in 2007, Mashable called OfficeMax’s ElfYourself campaign the “perfect viral campaign.” In 2011, after half a billion people had “elfed” themselves, Forbes called it the “all-time best digital holiday campaign.” And it all started with a company in a “boring” industry and a microsite.
“It brought the brand to life for consumers,” wrote Kenneth Hein in Forbes, “and for the business-to-business crowd it provided a human face for the big box retailer.” In other words, Office Max used the microsite to be creative and let their freak flag fly, and it worked like a charm. They focused the campaign on the consumers, not the brand — but the sales tie-in came at the end of the ElfYourself videos in the form of coupons and promos.
Which memorable microsites have you come across? Share them with us in the comments below!