If you care about selling more tickets, attracting exhibitors and bringing in sponsorship then you need to have your eye on your most important marketing tool: your event website. Until the day that your event actually starts, your website is the face of your event and is the primary place that most people will go to when they need information. Your website is your eyes, ears and mouth and your attendees, sponsors and exhibitors will be judging your event on the basis of your website.
Do you have a website that will attract attendees and compel them to invest their time and money in your event? To find out, see where your website fits in the following scenarios.
1. The Loser’s Website
First impressions are critical. In fact, research has shown that people make up their mind as to the quality of a website within the first twentieth of a second of hitting the landing page. Literally in the blink of an eye, your potential attendees have made a decision as to whether they like your website and by implication whether they are interested in your event.
The loser’s website is sloppy, unattractive and most people won’t waste their time reading the content. Typical characteristics are slow page loads and illegible fonts. It’s surprisingly common to see images that are fuzzy or in the wrong resolution. Critical information, such as the date, cost and location is hard to find. The content is stale and doesn’t change from month to month.
2. The Lazy Website
Same event, different year? The lazy approach is simply an updated version of last year’s website. This may feature a picture of the new destination city and updated event details but in terms of layout and content will be pretty much the same as all the years that have gone before.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this cookie-cutter approach, especially if you have found a formula that works. For organizations with a captive audience or where your attendees don’t actually want change, a familiar website can be comforting and reassuring. However, most events can’t afford to be complacent. If your website hasn’t changed since last year, by implication your event hasn’t either so why would someone bother to attend again?
3. The Functional Website
The functional website has really got to grips with the fundamentals of good website design. This is a modern website which will often take a minimalist approach, using simple pages and lots of white space in conjunction with a single eye-catching image. The functional website will often put most of the important content on a single page. The emphasis is on clarity and making it easy for people to find the information they need in the shortest possible time. The event location, date and details will be front-and-centre.
The functional website will certainly be adaptive, meaning it will look good on all screen sizes and devices. There will be a prominent ‘register here’ button and a very straight-forward online registration process. The site will be supported with good event planning technology and is efficient, up-to-date and easy to use.
4. The Social Website
The social website taps into the fundamental human need to communicate and connect with others. One of the top reasons people attend events is networking so anything you can do before, during and after the event with your website to improve networking is going to add value. However, the social website takes this one step further by creating an environment in which your attendees, sponsors and exhibitors feel like part of something bigger.
The social website includes lots of ways for people to participate and makes it easy for people to like, follow and interact. It will often show who is attending and provide an online community portal where attendees, sponsors and exhibitors can meet each other. The social website is likely to be married with a mobile event app, so that everyone can keep interacting during the event.
The social website is constantly talking to its visitors, pushing out fresh content by way of news, tweets and a blog. The social website makes use of the fact that your attendees are your biggest champions and uses the power of the social web as a marketing tool. It may even provide rewards (such as lower registration fees or community recognition) for the most activate members of the community.
A word of warning: If you decide to create a social website you must be prepared to invest the time and energy into keeping the social buzz alive. The social website requires constant attending to because if the community is there but no-one is talking then the outcome is counter-productive. No-one wants to go to a party that is filled with strangers and awkward silences.
5. The Sell-Out Website
Last week I found myself sitting at my desk trying to decide whether to spend $1800 on a conference ticket. On the day of the early-bird deadline I visited the event website at least 10 times trying to decide whether to hit the ‘register here’ button. I read every word on that website. I was looking desperately for a compelling reason to attend. Could this conference deliver on it’s promises? Who were the speakers? Was the event going to be worth the $4000 investment (including hotel and travel) or would it be a disappointment?
Unfortunately this was not a sell-out event website. It had the looks and functionality but it just didn’t deliver the content. The speaker biographies were canned and boring. I couldn’t connect the dots of how they were going to deliver to me the education and connections I was looking for. It didn’t convince me it could deliver value and with some reluctance I eventually closed my browser without registering.
The sell-out event website is a rare breed. It includes all the elements of the functional and social website but it goes way beyond. Creating a sell-out event website takes time, creativity and intellectual effort because what is required is not just powerful graphics and solid functionality, you also need to have great content.
Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Made to Stick” outline a series of principles for having creating “sticky” content. They assert that to create great content you need to hit the following notes: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories.
Simple yet unexpected: You need to create a simple message that conveys the essential reason why people should attend your event. This will require thinking like an attendee and discovering why your event matters. At the same time, use the power of surprise to generate interest and curiosity. This might look like featuring an engaging speaker or highlighting some of the unique features or activities available at the event location.
Concrete and credible: How will you deliver on your promises and demonstrate your credibility? The sell-out event website paints a clear picture of the specific things people will get from attending your event. This might involve highlighting specific event activities. Photographs that show these promises getting fulfilled demonstrate that you have delivered before and you will deliver again.
Emotion and stories: Our decisions to attend events are not cold, logical choices – they are coloured with our expectations and hopes. People invest their time, attention and money into things that they care about and they think will make a difference for them. How will your event make people feel? What kind of stories will people be telling about their experience? Feature testimonials and stories on your website from past events and encourage attendees to tweet and blog before and after the event.
Your website represents your organization and your event to the world at large. Most people will make their decision to come based on how your website looks, functions and what it says. Budget is no excuse for having a poor website: there are a lot of tools available that make it relatively easy and low-cost to have an attractive and functional site. However, to maximize your website you will need to dedicate the time, creativity and thoughtful effort to make sure you have fresh, relevant content that speaks to your audience.