by Caitlin Fox
When’s the last time you looked at your event’s website through the eyes of your end user, searching for event content you’d need to make a decision about attending? While event websites used to be an afterthought, I consider them to be the front door of a campaign, and of a show. And while a visually stunning entryway might be the most important thing to some, in the eye of this beholder, the real beauty lies in the architecture (in the form of clear navigation and an easy path to registration). Ben McRae, mdg’s UI/UX expert, and my go-to on all-things-web, agrees and shared these top tips for achieving the perfect blend of design and organization.
Use the tools of the trade
A sitemap, a flowchart-like diagram that visually demonstrates page hierarchy, is the user guide as they begin the experience: the headings represent the top-level pages and the subpages tell them the next stop on their journey. It’s the foundation for any website and should be the first thing developed. You can find free drag-and-drop tools online for building and exporting sitemaps, including cacoo.com, creately.com and gliffy.com.
Start with a bird’s eye view from just a few
Nearly everything your event offers ends up on your website in some fashion, so it’s only natural that multiple players in your organization will want to weigh in. While it’s important to have input from stakeholders, it’s much more effective to let a smaller group with a sense of the bigger picture consolidate feedback and lead the way. After conducting an in-depth discovery process, there should be plenty of data with which to create the first draft of your site map.
Step outside of your organization
Although different departments may be tasked with certain show aspects, it doesn’t make sense to silo content based on who produces it. It’s easy to lose site of this internally. Taking a step back allows you to get a broader perspective and choose your top-level navigation by identifying different reasons users might visit your site: to register, purchase a booth, see speakers and sessions, book their hotel, etc.
Stay on track
Define the hierarchy of your site and let it lead the way for everything else. Five or six top-level pages on the menu bar are plenty; additional items can create confusion and engender design challenges, especially as they relate to keeping pages mobile-friendly. To mitigate the portions issue, many sites include utility navigation—a less prominent menu above the main menu that captures pages that are more practical than content-oriented such as Contact Us, Log-in and About pages.
Follow what works
Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to your event site. There’s a reason for putting certain show prompts at the top: Registration, Schedule, Exhibitor Information, etc. Unless there’s compelling data to suggest otherwise, there’s no reason to change for the sake of change. Still, there are ways to get creative in naming these sections. Feel free to experiment with different audience-appropriate language to convey familiar ideas—just as long as doing so doesn’t obscure the purpose of the item in question.
If something doesn’t make sense to you, it will likely be a barrier to your users too. Pointing prospects users in the right direction starts with thoughtful organization and content. At mdg, our web team uses these information architecture best practices as a roadmap for developing and building client websites to ensure engagement and registration while minimizing user frustration.
Caitlin Fox is vice president and account strategist for events at mdg, a 60-person agency with offices in Southern California, Washington, DC, and Reston, Virginia. Opinions are her own. Reach her through the agency’s website.