Copy, paste and now your event website is up-to-date, right? I do this every day for clients. It usually starts with an email. “Hi, Layton! It’s time to get the 2015 Fillintheblank Conference site updated and open for registration. Venue and fees are the same as last year and attached is the new date, agenda and speaker bios. Can you have this done yesterday?”
I reply, “Great to hear from you! Looks like I have everything I need. We might need to talk about that timeline, though.”
Then I comb through last year’s website looking for old references and find an unused footer that says “©2007.” That’s when I realize the layout and structure of the site was created before the first iPhone. In less than a decade, smartphones have changed everything.
The website, arguably, is the most important part of an event’s marketing plan. It’s the main source of information leading up to the event. Everyone must go there to register. No matter how potential registrants hear about the event (social media, mailers, word-of-mouth), they are almost always sent to the website to seal the deal.
I realize that most planners don’t build the site themselves, but they should care about the final product. Knowing a few tips and trends will help you communicate with your site-builder and make sure your event stands out on the Web.
I’ll try convey a few without dorking-out too much on design-centric jargon like trendy fonts and ghost buttons, but no promises.
Responsive Web design
We passed a major milestone in 2014. More than half of all digital media in the United States is now consumed on mobile devices. Let that sink in for a moment. This shift means that if you have a traditional, fixed-width website, most users (or potential event attendees) can’t see it as it was intended. Responsive websites can determine the screen size and orientation and adapt the site for optimal viewing and navigation.
I won’t sugarcoat this. Responsive design is hard, but it’s an absolute must. Demand it from your supplier because there is no more prominent trend in the industry.
It makes you one of the cool kids, but a responsive site benefits your event in other ways, too. Do you pay big bucks for a dedicated conference app, yet feel like it’s underused? You could likely get by with a well-designed and responsive website instead.
Here’s why. On a traditional, nonresponsive site, speaker bios, maps and agendas are confined in poorly formatted tables that are practically useless on a phone. If you do manage to squint just right and read it, touching the right navigation link is nearly impossible. Responsive design solves that. And why use bulky kiosks when a sleek and portable tablet will work just as well for on-site registrations and information centers?
Scroll More. Click Less.
This trend is an about-face from what the experts were saying just a few years ago. Then it was fairly safe to assume that users would have a desktop monitor with a landscape orientation. Conventional thought advised keeping important info and design elements “above the fold,” a term that comes from newspapers. Navigation was handled with a simple and precise mouse click.
So what could cause such an abrupt shift in the design landscape? You guessed it … global warming. Whoops! I mean smartphones, of course. All of a sudden, we have beautiful, horizontal websites being viewed on very small, vertical screens. They navigate with fat fingers touch-clicking every link except the one for which they’re aiming. Scrolling is far more natural and translates seamlessly from phone to desktop.
This doesn’t mean you should lump every bit of information into one endless scrolling page. A good website allows easy access to the information, services or products it’s meant to provide and also tells a story. Using clever design, well-placed images and transitional animation can take a long scrolling page and divide it into digestible chunks.
Apple’s product pages do this very well (along with a clean flat design, photocentric storytelling, subtle animation and a bunch of the dorkier things I said I wouldn’t go into). Check out this page for the iPhone 6. Another page I like to peruse is the demo site for RocketTheme, a website design house. It publishes a new template every month. Browsing chronologically through the pages will give you a great perspective on the latest trends.
Yes, there’s always a catch. Here are a few of the more common ones:
- Budget. You may be surprised by how cheap and easy it is to create a dynamic website. Budgets are always tight, but every few years a redesign needs to be a priority.
- Time. If your event’s website is an afterthought, yeah, there might not ever be enough time. But if you know an event is coming, you know it’ll need a website. Venues, speakers and other content can be filled in as it comes along, but the foundation needs to be laid first. Start the conversation with your Web team early.
- Software constraints. The event website is often tied to registration software. Hopefully, your software allows for massive customizations. If not, the website can exist separately and link to the registration form. Something this important should not be compromised.
- Office politics. Every office is different. I like to make subtle jabs at the status quo and point out how I’m right whenever the opportunity arises, but your results may vary.
- Global warming. Well … again, maybe not global warming, but that is important nonetheless.