I recently had a conversation with several association executives on the topic of whether it's best to have a separate event website. What are the pros and cons of this popular strategy? I'm glad you asked!
First, let’s look at the reasons why many associations have moved away from the all-in-one approach of housing your event site within their main one. An all-in-one website can often suffer from:
- Challenges keeping visitor’s attention and drive traffic to the event pages
- Clutter in the main site’s primary navigation and sidebar
- Promotional visibility versus the association’s other key content
And of course, events that have their own logo and branding, separate from the organization, are an ideal fit for their own site (like our client, the Consumer Electronics Association who runs the CES Show).
Using these parameters, it often makes perfect sense to have separate event sites for large gatherings like annual meetings. They are focused on a different type of message and transaction, and typically cover a broader range of industry folks.
Here are the main benefits of using a separate events website:
Marketing and messaging flexibility
Creating an event site typically provides greater leeway in what and how to display information related to your conference. The organization and navigation can not only be highly customized to showcase the key event content, but also strategically changed to reflect time-sensitive actions like registration periods or calls for speakers.
Unless your event is a small and intimate affair, a separate site gives you the freedom to best promote the event as well as the gravitas of a distinct brand.
Keep a singular focus
An event site outside of your association’s website places all the attention on the event itself. In addition, it creates a great first opportunity to develop a strong brand experience that contributes to the overall attendee experience.
Consider how well you can convey the tone, energy and experience in a dedicated conference website as opposed to working within the confines of a standard association website. A targeted, branded experience is important when faced with a crowded conference marketplace in any industry, particularly if the registration is at a high price point.
Simplified content management
In the past, it used to be such a managerial pain to have two different sites, from both a development and updating perspective as well as a metrics angle. But today’s modern CMS options make it a breeze.
Most CMS tools provide for separate site creation and management within the same instance to streamline updating. Creating templates that can be customized and repurposed year-after-year makes the maintenance and new event creation pretty painless.
Suggestions and caveats
Cross-promote like crazy
Whether you use a subdomain (conference.myassociation.org) of your existing site or a totally different URL (www.myassociationconference.org), your main website needs to market the event site. Traffic doesn’t always begin on your homepage, so promotion needs to be pervasive, such as calls-outs and graphic banners.
Whatever approach you take, be sure the event is prominent throughout the period before the conference.
Ensure that you have seamless integration
Your sites need to work together and not seem like disjointed entities. Map out and confirm that you have adequate resource allocation and coordination to maintain two different sites before diving in (i.e. who is responsible for writing content? who is responsible for updating the website? etc.).
For example, create an editorial calendar to determine how your main site and event site will tee up various topics. Otherwise, you risk creating a disjointed voice – or worse – a site that seems stale and diminishes usage.
Consider traffic and search engines
Will diverting extra traffic from your main website may affect your sponsor and advertiser agreements and promotion?
In addition, you must also ensure that your internal search engine is indexing the content on your event site so members and users can find it. Ever try to find a speaker name or handout six months after an event but the site was already promoting next year? Or search for a topic but not know there’s an upcoming webinar because that information is in the event site and doesn’t show up in the results? These are amazing frustrating issues, but ones that can be easily mitigated with the right planning and process.
To do so, think of your content as individual data elements rather than pages or lists of activities. Create each session/activity/handout as a single content item, tag it with appropriate keywords, and you can use your content management system and search to full capacity. Then, publish content across your digital platforms where it then displays as related content and as search results, creating a better user experience.
Have other tips on how to make an event site successful? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.