How to Design a Race Website
In our modern, technology-reliant society, we all have significant expectations of the things we engage with on a day to day basis. We expect the best; and oftentimes, we expect not to have to pay for it.
Your race website will be no different. Your participants will expect a high quality, attractive website, no matter what they have paid to enter your race. And the fact that you may be a not-for-profit, volunteer-organised or fledgling event does not come into their thinking.
So, how do you avoid bad feedback and how do you promote your event effectively online? The guide below gives some useful hints and tips on building a race website fit for purpose.
Focus on user experience
The principles of modern website design and development will ideally need to be employed with your event website. And that increasingly means a focus on user experience. Always put yourself in the place of your future participants and place their needs first.
Why are they visiting? What piece of indormation are they looking for on your website? And, of course, when it's all said and done, will they be happy with their experience and return, as well as recommend your race to people they know?
Try to avoid freebies
Sometimes a small investment of your overall budget into a professionally designed website will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of free website tools. With a professional on board, you can make sure the look and feel of your website will be exactly what you want and the performance under the bonnet will give you the results you’re after.
Ideally, you’ll have someone on your team who can help or who has experience in this area. If not, approach a design or development house, perhaps offering sponsorship in your race as a means of securing a better rate.
A good developer will not only help you get up and running, but will also be able to give you some best-practice advice on Search Engine Optimisation and website content. You’re competing with thousands of other events, sometimes on the same weekend or day as yours, and having a well-coded website with good content in the right places is vital.
Make it responsive
Your audience has never been as diverse as they are today. And they have less time than ever so they will access your website whenever is convenient on a variety of devices. So your site needs to respond well across all of them.
Consider your user's age and ability
Your content needs to be easy to read and your design needs to have high contrast to make it easy for older or visually impaired viewers to browse.
Every image on your website should have its alternative text label set to provide a description of the image when visitors are using a screen reader (this will also help your website's SEO). You should also make sure users are able to navigate your website with a keyboard, mouse and/or touchscreen.
Keep the layout simple and follow best practice guidance – consistency is a good thing. Making the web accessible for all is not a nice to have, it is a moral imperative.
Consider their device
The website layout needs to respond to the device they are using – a responsive website will render itself differently on devices depending on their size. On smaller devices, removing superfluous content and design, and instead focusing on the core operations (e.g. Signing up, Race information etc…) will ensure improved engagement.
Make interactive items large as fat fingers have a much bigger digital footprint than the one-pixel end of a mouse arrow.
Consider their attention span
Your user should be able to find exactly what they were looking for within a maximum of 3 clicks (or sweaty thumb presses). Ideally the core information like signing up to the event or race day information should be only one click away.
Use large features to draw attention to the key operations and make navigation consistent on every page so they always know how to get to where they want to go.
Size does matter!
As mentioned already, your audience has a limited attention span and they are not going to hang around for a slow-loading website - Google et al. are not either. They pay attention to site speed and your position on search engine results will be poorly affected should your site take a long time to load.
Ensure embedded images are compressed so they download quickly and ideally host your site on quick servers. Your users won’t always be on Wi-Fi so your website needs to be quick even on mobile networks.
Protect user data
If you are taking bookings directly through your website, ensure you are taking all the necessary steps to protect your users' data. Installing an SSL certificate not only helps your search engine ranking, but encrypts all the data your users provide, whether it’s their personal information or their payment details.
If you are taking payments on your website, always go for a recognised and established payment provider (such as PayPal or Stripe) to ensure credibility and user confidence. If you are using an online registrations provider, make sure they display your information and branding on their registrations page. Also make sure they work with reputable payment providers and ensure that once payment completes they redirect users back to your website (after all they are your users, not theirs).
If you choose to include a sign up list on your website, please do not put all your participants' data in public view. Not all of us want to show off our age or T-Shirt size!
Last, but not least, be frequent
Once you've built and launched your website, it is imperative to keep it up to date.
Ideally, you will have some form of news or blog feed that will keep participants abreast of changes to the race as well as provide news from your organisation and race sponsors. Alongside that you will have a results page for your races, perhaps a page with participant reviews and testimonials, as well as a gallery of race photos - all great content to share on your site.
Remember: having regular updates to your website is good for your organic search engine ranking too. A well maintained and regularly updated website is seen as a healthy website with lots of new content for search engines to find and index.