Microsites, minisites and weblets, part V

The downside of micro-sites

Despite the stated benefits, the more micro-sites you add, the more drawbacks emerge.

Micro-sites confuse users

Where am I? Where am I going? Where's the main site? What does this navigation do? What happened to the usual menu? How does this relate to the main bdy of content? Who's site is this?

This may not matter if the micro-site is for a self-contained campaign, product or event that has its own branding (perhaps it's supposed to be unconnected to the usual line of business).

If not, then forcing users to adapt to different site addresses, navigation and user interfaces can be a significant problem with micro-sites.

Your regulars visit the main corporate website, click on a link and find themselves on a micro-site where everything, especially the navigation has changed, often with no clear way back. It breaks every principle of good user interface design.

Your newcomers have been directed from an email, newsletter or third party to come visit and may have no idea who you are. Which may be fine. Assuming they got the micro-site URL bookmarked and don't need to go Googling for page addresses which may dump them back at the corporate portal.

Let's say they get there. But there's no continuity of experience to draw on. So you better make sure this thing is self-contained and idiot-proof. And delivers what they were expecting. And it better clearly lead back to the main site or its an opportunity wasted.

So you planned the user journey, right?

Total cost of ownership

Just because it's micro, doesn't mean it's free. The site still has to go through the complete design process, hosting, installation, customisation, population, updates, and, if interactive with comments and forums, moderated. Very little of that cost is going to be shared with the corporate platform.

Thanks for your support

It's a micro-site. It's yours. It's technical. At some point, someone is going to need support. Especially if the self-service, off-the-shelf, industry-standard shopping cart breaks. Who gets the support call? Who pays for that?

Who covers the maintenance?

Fostering and Adoption went live April 2014 (it's etched into my brain). Usually things change rapidly on-line; a website shouldn't be launched and cast adrift. There's long-term maintenance of the back-end CMS, updates to content, templates and branding. Not to mention changes to accessibility requirements or data protection.

If you're promoting a movie or some product launch, there's a timeliness to the campaign and, if not a sell-by date, then a long tail during which nobody really expects any updates; this kind of micro-time-capsule is acceptable after it has done its main job.

The downside with most of the commissions we took on for micro-site content was the limited funding. In the case of Fostering and Adoption, it hasn't to my knowledge had any updates in four years, despite various legislative and best practice changes. We put a big caveat on the front page to the effect "this content correct as at April 2104" but that's it.

The same goes for the Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings content, which is subject to case law precedents. Changes to adult social care practice in the UK have advanced considerably so those sites in the blue livery are susceptible to going out of date, at least in part.

So the question breaks down into technology maintenance and content maintenance which are two very separate cost centres.

And what is the cost of content to the parent organisation that is out of date, inaccurate or incomplete?

That up-front planning session needs to address the question 'how long will this micro-site live?'

Also, what happens to the content at the end of that life?

Rolling, rolling

There was always half a plan in mind that at the end of those specific initiatives, relevant content would be rolled into the corporate sites. I say 'half a plan' because no one addressed how that would be achieved, either structurally - navigation, page types, content types - or practically - who's physically going to upload it to the right place?

This all comes at a cost. Did I mention some of that content didn't fit the corporate platform for size, media type and format? Oops.

And what happens when the content grows way beyond what was in the original brief? Part VI awaits. RC