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5 1/2 Fundamentals For Every Conference Website

The first question is: Does your conference even need its own website — or would a page or two on your organization website suffice?

It depends.

To determine how “standalone” your conference’s digital presence should be, ask yourself: How important is this conference? It’s a nebulous question, but the answer should direct your efforts and investments.

If your association’s conference is very important — to your members, to the industry, to the economy, etc. — then it probably deserves its own identity. If, instead, your conference is new or smallish (I.e., fewer than 100 attendees) or experimenting with a new approach, a page on your site would probably do.

But whichever approach you take — its own website or not — your conference’s online presence needs the following:

1. A Clear Purpose Statement

Even if your have a market stranglehold on your industry — i.e., if you’re the only “national conference for pet grooming professionals” — you’ll want to make your case, clearly and compactly, on your conference website homepage. In big letters, across the top of your conference website, you should explain the purpose of the conference. Why does it exist? What’s in it for attendees? Who should come?

To determine how “standalone” your conference’s digital presence should be, ask yourself: How important is this conference?

2. Robust Registration Process

Obviously, you should have a button — “Register Now” — on every page of the conference website (ideally in the same location on every page). But what happens when the users clicks on it?

Unlike other common website forms — Donate, Join, etc. — a conference registration form can get away with being long. Users are more incentivized to complete a long form when they’re paying a hefty amount to attend your conference. Use this opportunity to collect all of the information you need and some of the information you want.

For example, you need name, contact info, payment info. But you may want info like: “Why are you attending?” or “What’s your job title?” A conference registration form is a prime opportunity to collect additional demographic and psychographic information on your constituents. You can then use this information to segment your constituents for targeted communications.

A Note on Registration Forms:

Consider breaking the process into multiple steps (i.e., webpages). For example, in the first step, you may ask for contact information. In the second, payment details.

This approach to registration forms accomplishes two things:

  1. Reduces form abandonment by making the process seem more manageable and bite-sized
  2. Allows you to use Google Analytics to pinpoint where in the registration process people are dropping off (which, in turn, allows you to make UX and design enhancements to nudge them further along)

3. High-Quality Photography

Studies have shown that most users don’t even see stock photography on the web. They’re so attune to cheesy, irrelevant, cheap photography that they’re able to ignore it altogether. So don’t bother with it.

The more you can use photography to make users see what they’re really in store for, the more likely they’ll be to sign up.

Instead, invest in an event photographer. Get as many large, high-resolution photos of your event as possible for use on next year’s conference website. Make sure you cover everything from registration to closing keynote. Get pics of speakers, casual moments between sessions, attendees in the audience, after-hour events, etc. The more you can use photography to make users see what they’re really in store for, the more likely they’ll be to sign up. After all, conference fees aren’t small, and users want as much assurance that it’s money well spent as possible.

And again, no stock photos!

4. Testimonials

External credibility — i.e., credibility offered from outside your organization — is infinitely more persuasive than internal credibility. So collect testimonials about your event and then get them onto as many pages of your site as possible.

The Texas Restaurant Association does this effectively for their conference site, TRAMarketplace.com:

Notice that the testimonial is brief, to the point, relevant to the event (not the association itself), and is fully attributed to the speaker.

How to Collect Testimonials: There are several ways to make testimonial-gathering easy and fruitful. First, make sure it’s a priority in your conference planning from Day 1 — which will allow you to seize opportunities along the way instead of scrambling for them at the last second.

Next, at the event, dedicate staff to talking to attendees. Strike up conversations during networking time. Ask questions: “How’s it going?” “What do you like about the conference so far?” “Who’s your favorite speaker?” Then record their answers and get the speaker’s contact info. (After all, you need their permission to use their name online.)

Finally, in the post-conference survey email — you’ve got one of those, right?–ask a simple question right off the bat: “What did you most like about the conference?” Voila! Testimonials galore. (But again, be sure to let survey respondents know that you may use their responses in future promotional materials.)

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5. Details

Some conference websites suffer from assumptions. They assume the users will know a particular thing. But attending a conference is, often, a complex endeavor. You have to register on time. You have to book your flight and lodging. You have to schedule your days and try to find helpful networking opportunities along the way.

Make it easy on your users. Give them all the details they could possibly need to have a successful trip to your conference:

  • Detailed schedule — including session titles, speaker names/bios, location, video (when possible)
  • Room numbers
  • Venue addresses with links to a Google map
  • Lodging options (aside from just the “official” hotel) with links

5 1/2 . An Idea for Video

You may not have the budget to produce a bunch of fancy conference promotional videos. But you don’t need one. Instead, ask your speakers/presenters to record a 60-second video of themselves talking about their session and send it to you. Then put it up on their session detail page so attendees can make smart choices about which talks to attend.

It’s a quick, cheap, easy way to offer value to both your attendees and speakers.

And So Much More

There’s plenty more a great conference website needs — e.g., social media integration (with custom hashtag), streaming video, an effective “Call for Speakers” form, a sponsors page that makes sponsors feel special, a “How to Convince Your Boss” page, etc.

But before you tackle these bonus items, you need to ensure your conference website has all of the fundamentals in place.

If you use these tactics, you’ll be in a position to attract as many attendees as possible. Good luck out there.
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