Microsites to promote a cause? Not so fast! (And microsites, explained)

I’ve recently noticed two examples of websites that were established by specific organizations using separate campaign identities (and URLs) rather than the parent organization’s website URL and identity.  Both are really cool campaigns — the Sacramento Tree Foundation has staked out its goal of planting 5 million trees, while CARES has established the ambitious goal of eradicating new HIV infections in 5 years:

Here’s the Sac Tree Foundation campaign, greenprintonline

And here’s the CARES campaign, areyouthedifference

I could think of pros and cons associated with separate websites, but I decided to reach out to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.  (My Monday post included an excerpt from one of Rand’s recent posts on SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog.)  Busy as he is, Rand weighed in.

The verdict:  from a search perspective, go with a subfolder (e.g. www.sactree.com/greenprintonline) rather than a separate microsite (http://greenprintonline).

Rand pointed me to two recent posts on SEOmoz’s blog describing the distinctions between subdomains, subfolders and microsites in this post, and this post.

Here are the pros and cons I saw when thinking about the use of microsites:

Pros

Flexibility – the sponsoring organizations may have limited flexibility to modify their main site; it may be easier to build a functional microsite, with links

Enables a national organization to set up a tool that can be used/modified by a local organization

If the organization has limited brand recognition and appeal, could attract new interest

Possibly could be used as a transition to a new brand

Enables collaborative effort with more than one non-profit (less arguing about who “owns” benefits of halo)

Cons

If you click through a link from the main site, it could take a whole lot of clicks to find the information (wears out patience of user)

Challenge of managing two sites instead of one for resource-constrained organization

Could muddy image of main brand

Split traffic

Some could wonder who the sponsor really is; lacks credible image of established NFP

At breakfast recently, I batted around the idea of a website that could serve as a clearinghouse for information about human service agencies affected by the potentially humongous Sacramento County budget cuts – kind of a virtual coalition.  I’ve thought about the same thing as a way of pooling information about the incidence and effects of hunger in the area.  That still might be a good idea, but I’d recommend against establishing campaign microsites if there is only one sponsoring non-profit.

PS The Sacramento Tree Foundation also includes a subfolder/page on its main website.

I’d be very interested in any experience that you want to report – pro or con – with cause-related microsites.

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