Why Publisher Microsites Are a Tactic Marketers Should Consider

April 3, 2019

Publisher microsites are leveraged as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all materials associated with a single topic/event and were first used in 1999. Prior to that, an organization’s main website was the single resource for all information. Microsites have since become a proven-effective way to highlight a brand, initiative or event.

Types of Publisher Microsites 

From a pharmaceutical advertising perspective, there are typically two kinds of microsites:

  • Those created solely by publisher partners and populated with relevant drug advertisements, and
  • Those created by publishers in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies

The latter is populated with client-controlled content, customized to match the purpose of their marketing efforts and typically including disease state educational materials or brand information. Microsites are leveraged for narrower topics, supplementing information already on brand websites, so when the appropriate audience engages it allows for a more meaningful and focused messaging opportunity.

Note – many brands also host smaller versions of their websites or brand sites, often also called “microsites.” These are a different tactic than the publisher microsites we address in this POV.

Audience Considerations

The audience that the content is created for should determine the language used: science-heavy copy when targeting HCPs and simplified explanations for patients. The most common drivers to microsites are email and display banners, which are preferred media for HCPs. According to CMI’s 2018 Media Vitals data, 51% of HCPs who receive enewsletters from medically relevant publishers open and skim content, and 29% of HCPs frequently notice pharmaceutical content while visiting and browsing medical news sites. Conversely, patients are more likely to digest information from television and print materials such as pamphlets, brochures and mail.


There are several factors that impact the investment required to support a microsite, such as the type of content, targeting parameters, program duration and pricing model. Digital marketers should keep in mind the overall program goals when fine-tuning their sponsorships. Recognize that publisher content is usually more readily available compared to custom client-supplied when time-to-market is a factor for approval. However, for marketers looking for another medium to host already created custom content with no time constraints, this is a great solution to give previously approved assets additional legs. The duration of the program will depend on what the brand is trying to accomplish: whether it’s aligning to key market events like a disease awareness month or major conferences, or when new brand offerings and clinical information becomes available. Similarly, the overarching media mix will depend on the brand’s asset availability and the urgency around the initiative. Ideally, microsites should be targeted to a specific audience as the concept of a microsite is to share focused information with those qualified individuals who would find the information most relevant.

On top of these variables, marketers need to consider the competitive market for the brand. The more saturated the category, the costlier it is to support a microsite. Below is a table of component decisions digital marketers will need to ask themselves when vetting sponsorships:

Some things to remember when budgeting for a microsite: If populated with client content, they are typically more expensive versus publisher content due to the additional time taken for the publisher to have content reviewed by medical, legal, and regulatory teams. Average costs are $45 CPE for publisher content microsites and $90 CPE for client content microsites, although costs will vary based on audience. The cost may be even higher if the microsite contains both client and publisher content, as this may lengthen the legal review process.

As a best practice, MLR consults should happen prior to submitting a microsite for review. Many marketers have had success in educating review teams to look at only look at client-supplied sections within the microsite as opposed to reviewing the full site content.

Flat-fee programs typically range from $150-$200k. This price may not include additional media placements that drive to the microsite. Those associated costs would be similar to email or display costs, respectively, that drive to the brand site. CPE cost models can scale to similar investment volumes, but will be more directly tied and investment will depend on the number of program engagements the brand is willing to invest in.

Clients should consider the creation of specific drivers (emails, banners, text drivers) to support a microsite sponsorship. Custom creative can include specific CTAs that drive to the microsite and encourage specific action or further engagement. While investment for drivers can be seen as a burden, depending on the overarching media goal it would be best to discuss the feasibility of the assets creation as it can impact the overall success of the program.

Additional microsite-related publisher offerings may include serving custom messaging to segment-specific targets, expanding message reach, asset creation (e.g.: banner messages, video) and brand ownership of existing microsites to defend space against competition.

Case Study: Utilizing Microsites to Cut Through the Clutter

Depending on the type of buy, publishers may offer guarantees to ensure the program’s contribution to the success of your campaign goals. For example, one pharma brand was faced with the challenge of entering a highly competitive digital space. Available resources included a geotargeted list of top customers and a branded video. They partnered with a publisher of relevant online educational materials who offered guaranteed unique visitors amongst the targeted audience. Based on the benchmarks and engagements that the supplier initially estimated, the program exceeded engagement goals by 40%, indicating that the microsite visitors were a highly qualified and interested audience.

Measuring Success/How to Optimize

Regardless of the type of buy (flat fee vs CPE), unless your microsite’s lifespan revolves around a specific event (conference, drug acquired new indication, etc.), pacing is important to monitor on a regular basis. By monitoring pacing we ensure that we are not frontloading campaign engagements nor missing opportunities of engagements around key events. Digital marketers should be working with vendors to optimize campaigns as necessary. For example, if you have just purchased 1,500 unique engagements, and the program is to be live for 12 months, monthly goals should be established. The method of reviewing performance varies between the publisher versus client content microsites.

For microsites that are populated solely with publisher content, performance data should be available to monitor via your ad serving platform. If you are noticing an influx of engagements within a small span of time (such as one day), you will want to reach out to your publisher partner and discuss optimizations that can be made to ensure the program will not burn through contracted engagements potentially due to a bot, or a single audience member. On the flip side, if you are not hitting your monthly engagement goals, it is important to discuss optimizations that can be made with your publisher partner to increase engagements. These optimizations will likely take the form of the publisher rearranging the banner ads to increase the chance of them being seen and engaged upon.

Case Study: Measurement in Microsites

In 2017, Google reported that the average banner Click-Through Rate was 0.13%. Keep in mind that microsite ads may get less clicks due to audiences visiting the microsite for a more specified purpose. Therefore, a CTR around 0.1% should not be considered low-engagement.

Here are some examples of what publisher provided performance data points you could expect to receive:

For microsites that are populated solely with client content, performance data should be sent to you in an agreed upon format and cadence from your publisher partner. This stipulation should be included in publisher contracts to ensure that all reports capture program’s performance on a regular basis. For targeted programs, HCP-level data should be sent by the publisher. If you have a segmented target list, be sure to communicate this to your publisher so that this additional dimension can be included in the data send.

It is important to note that depending on the purpose of the microsite, it may garner less click-engagement than other digital media. This is not cause for alarm (as long as your goals are being met), as this is usually due to the content on the microsite sufficing for the informational needs of the audience.


When running a microsite along with a client site, we always recommend that both paid and organic search tactics are optimized by avoiding overlap in search and site terms. When optimizing the microsite’s SEO be sure to use vocabulary not associated with the brand site. Using different vocabulary is important so that you’re not competing with the associated brand site for better search result positions.

Within Paid Search tactics, CPCs vary depending on the popularity of the disease, but this keyword value formula generally holds true for both brand sites and microsites: HCP keywords are typically more expensive than patient keywords, which are more expensive than disease state educational keywords. Your bid strategy is reliant on the purpose of the microsite. If it is a disease state educational site, the majority of relevant D Disease State Education keywords should be driving to the microsite if your primary campaign goal is to drive awareness, and the microsite is the primary effort for that goal.


When deciding if a microsite is right for your brand, it is important to first identify if, where, and/or how your current efforts (site, media, NPP) are lacking. These needs should be communicated to your media teams, so that appropriate resources can be evaluated. If reaching and engaging audiences, defending against competition, and/or educating your audience are where you want to concentrate your efforts, a microsite may be the solution. If considering a microsite, keep in mind:

  • The timing of asset/site production – It is important to align the timing of a microsite launch with your brand goals. Be aware of the time needed for all planning and production efforts to coincide with your campaign strategy.
  • Budget – Be cognizant of the portion of your campaign budget going into the microsite since the tactic is generally more expensive than similar display tactics. (e.g.: publisher/media fees, the percentage of SEM/SEO budget allocated, custom program drivers etc.)
  • Leveraging microsite to its fullest potential – If your brand already has assets and/or educational pieces produced (KOL videos, patient profiles, new clinical data etc.), you may want to consider putting them to further use by using as part of the microsite. Based on publisher capabilities, microsites could be a great way to get more use out of your preexisting assets (e.g.: increase in content consumption, video viewership, engaging with other digital content.)