Websites for Conferences & In-Person Events
With the latest conference website rolled out for a client I thought it would be interesting to look around the web to see whether anyone else had put together a checklist of items that can/should go on an in-person event or conference website. Utilising the full power of Google I found lots of general planning checklists for conferences. I found however, very little which addressed in any detail the possibilities and options for the conference website itself.
Here therefore, are my brief thoughts on what I consider are necessary or preferable. For brevity, I have left off items that should apply to all website builds eg. ssl certificates, website security etc.
Are you going to use a unique domain name and have standalone conference website? Or are you going to put it on a subdomain/directory of your existing business site? Domains are cheap, can include or at least reflect the event name [ for SEO and marketing purposes ] and it may be preferable for simple logistical reasons it to run independently of your main website. I’d go as far as saying that if the event is big enough then surely it is worth putting it on its own domain?
The only possible downside to a standalone solution is that it can take time to establish new domains with the main search engine indexes. If you are relying on search engine ranking to bring in visitors and bookings then getting the website up and running in some form is best done at the earliest opportunity. Even if much of the content has to be gradually added later.
Starting a Conference Website – Basic Content Pages
There shouldn’t be any great revelations here, if you haven’t considered including these pages then you really, really should.
- Conference Venue
- Host City
- Accommodation Options/Offers
- Travel Options/Offers
- Register Interest [ Newsletter sign-up ]
- Booking Form
- Provisional Conference Programme or Outline*
- Main Speakers’ Profiles*
Those marked with an asterisk those I consider worth prioritising on the SEO front. These are merely the basics, you may also want to consider adding other pages post event to put up speaker presentations, photos and videos of the conference and other materials. This is of particular importance if you are considering a repeat event and intend to keep the website ‘live’ in the meantime.
A post event SEO audit of the conference website is also worth the time and effort. Cementing a position with the search engines can be fruitful in providing an elevated starting position for when the next conference comes around.
Done well, social media platforms will be a key tool in your marketing. Make sure you have accounts or pages set up with all the major players and ensure that these are properly tied to the conference website. That last point is often overlooked, it is important. Using social media to confirm speakers and presentations as they are added is the fastest way to reach your audience.
Newsletter & Email Campaigns
You should have a newsletter sign-up form ready at the website launch. Being able to use MailChimp or similar to send out regular updates in a professional format is essential. I suggest if you keep the site live after the event then keep the sign-up live too. Just make clear that it is now for future event news.
II like to have something on the front page to grab the attention immediately. In recent years, this has been the ‘hero area’. This comes in many guises but you know one when you see one. I deploy them according to the specific requirements of websites, using everything from a simple slideshow to a rolling display of excerpts from the most recent site posts. It is also the spot where you will want to put your main call to action features, normally links to the booking and newsletter sign up pages. Most definitely worth spending time and effort creating an effective hero area. What is more it can have a significant role in determining the SEO value of the page.
Template or Roll Your Own?
I am not a fan of using third party templates, free or premium. Too often they are abandoned by the designers and can become security risks. And frankly, in my opinion they rarely are up to the task on the SEO front. I will, however, sometimes use one for a conference website.
Often the launch of an event is made at short notice which leaves little time to properly design a website. In cases like this I will use a good quality template in order to keep the development timeframe to a minimum. In these circumstances the marketing is normally built around existing email databases anyway so the slight loss in SEO is a worthwhile trade. Also, with only a short period between the website launch and the event itself means that establishing a decent position in the search engines organically can be problematical.