Uncommon microsites are an opportunity for designers to create sites that give more than they take. Here are real life examples of digital experiences that encourage, educate, equip, and entertain.
As Senior Design Engineer for digital agency ThreeSixtyEight, Timothy Ricks spends his days obsessing over creating websites, landing pages, and online experiences that break the mold. In his spare time, he also runs a YouTube channel that explains how he uses Webflow to do exactly that.
So it was a no-brainer to ask Timothy to share some of his real-world expertise at No-Code Conf 2021, where he delivered an incredible presentation on using Webflow to create uncommon microsites. You can watch the whole video here, or read on for Timothy’s key takeaways on ways to build sites that stand out.
What are uncommon microsites?
First things first: a microsite is essentially a small website — usually a single page or a handful of pages — created for a specific topic. An uncommon microsite, as Timothy defines it, is a microsite that’s focused on creating a custom experience that provides value to the visitor.
Unlike traditional microsites, uncommon microsites aren’t driven by conversions. They aren’t guiding visitors to complete a form fill or complete a specific CTA. Instead, they’re providing value and allowing the visitor to associate the brand behind the microsite with that positive experience.
“In a crowd of sites designed to take, let’s craft the ones designed to give — and let the result speak for itself.”
Four ways an uncommon microsite gives value to its visitors
Timothy breaks down four major ways an uncommon microsite can give value: encouragement, education, equipping with resources, or entertainment. He also notes that one microsite can achieve more than one of these goals at the same time.
Providing encouragement can make a lasting impact. Timothy recounts a specific example of how he and his team at ThreeSixtyEight built an uncommon microsite designed to encourage a very specific audience. During the pandemic, they built a site called ShareViralPositivity where anyone could come and upload a photo or encouraging note to show support for local Louisiana healthcare workers.
Hospitals partnered with the agency to show the site on their screens and cycle through these encouraging messages throughout the day. And along with the positive messages, the site raised more than $100,000 in direct donations to healthcare workers.
Sharing knowledge doesn’t have to be boring. When a client came to the agency to create a PDF that would help owners of childcare centers understand how to safely reopen after a natural disaster, Timothy’s team pitched an alternative idea. Instead of reading through a PDF about mold and pesticides, wouldn’t visitors learn more from an interactive microsite?
The ThreeSixtyEight team ended up creating a digital experience for childcare center owners. The site allowed them to watch animated lessons, take quizzes on what they learned, and go through a checklist of the necessary supplies. When Hurricane Ida came through the following year, the microsite was able to help guide visitors on how to safely reopen in an engaging way.
Giving visitors the tools and resources they need to make a decision or execute on a plan is a concrete way to provide meaningful value. For example, Timothy and his team created an interactive microsite to help parents narrow down and determine the perfect school for their children.
Parents could visit the site and answer questions about their wants and needs related to everything from transportation to extracurricular activities. After they completed the questionnaire, they got real-time results of schools in their area that matched their needs. While this kind of experience would normally require all components to be coded from scratch, the designers were able to use Webflow to build the experience and filter results from the CMS.
Timothy’s favorite way to provide value is to entertain. Before their last company retreat, the ThreeSixtyEight team decided to build excitement by crafting an experience that started with a Monday morning scavenger hunt to unlock the location of the retreat. As each team completed the scavenger hunt, they were given a QR code that opened a mobile web app — also built in Webflow — where they could log in, view the itinerary, and even sign up for excursions.
While Timothy acknowledges this sounds like a lot of work for a company retreat, he reports that the team members absolutely loved the experience and said it really made them feel valued and appreciated. Entertainment may be lighthearted, but it can make a real impact.
Three things uncommon microsites have in common
While Timothy’s examples make it clear that uncommon microsites come in many shapes and sizes, they all share three common guiding principles: make someone else the hero, craft moments of delight, and personalize the experience.
Make someone else the hero
As Timothy describes, the best marketing sites already try to make the visitor the hero through the language they use. They only talk about the company through the lens of how it can help the visitor achieve their goals or relieve their pain points.
Uncommon microsites go a step further by actually putting the visitor in the driver’s seat of the experience. With ShareViralPositivity, visitors uploaded photos and submitted messages, creating the very content that encouraged healthcare workers. And in the company retreat example, the employees were responsible for completing a scavenger hunt to reveal the location and download the app.
Timothy shares another example of creating a site to celebrate ThreeSixtyEight’s recognition as one of Inc’s Best Places to Work awards. Instead of making it all about them, they created an online turntable for their “celebration” and invited visitors to play the DJ. It earned a ton of views and buzz, with designers streaming playlists and checking out job postings — something that wouldn’t have happened with a traditional “all about us” announcement or landing page.
Craft moments of delight
Timothy describes how any great experience is made up of key moments — and when you go beyond core functionality to inject those moments with delight, you’re making something uncommonly memorable. For microsites, these moments can include sign-ups, starting a task, or completing a major milestone. And designers can add delight through tools like micro interactions, sound design, or Lottie animations.
Sometimes, Timothy believes, the best moments come from experiences that are taken away, or that aren’t there. For example, on the ThreeSixtyEight company retreat microsite, the team designed the interactive quiz so that users didn’t have to hit enter or click submit any time they wanted to make a guess. Instead, they were able to automatically detect when they were done answering a question based on the number of characters in the field. And rather than using language to tell the visitor if their guess was right or wrong, they relied on cues like color, motion, and sound design. As Timothy describes, these little details can become almost invisible to the end user, but they create a delightful experience throughout the entire site.
Personalize the experience
Finally, Timothy recommends delivering a personalized experience, because it allows the visitor to be more involved and bought into whatever experience you’re creating. Personalization could mean letting the user choose their own journey, customize their own viewing experience, change the content that they see, or even create the content itself — like on the ShareViralPositivity microsite.
And sometimes personalization can be as simple as randomizing content every time they view a page. For example, Timothy and his team created a Webflow microsite where visitors would go through an experience and get a customized message from Santar, a Santa-like fortune teller. It was really just a randomized list of CMS items, but the experience felt more personalized and encouraged visitors to try it again and again.
Get started with your own uncommon microsite
Creating an uncommon microsite takes some creativity, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Get started by considering how a potentially predictable experience — like a marketing landing page or an informational PDF — can incorporate interactivity, moments of delight, or personalization. Then zero in on what kind of value you can provide, whether it’s encouragement, education, equipping with resources, or simply entertaining.
For more detailed inspiration, check out Timothy’s case study for his agency retreat microsite. Or watch his guide to building a CMS quiz in Webflow for some specific tips and tricks to use on your own interactive microsites.
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