Cass Phillipps is involved in dozens of Bay Area startup events, including the successful FailCon, which she produces, and the Future of Money & Technology Summit, which she manages. She has written for the blog about how to plan a successful conference and getting the best crowd at your event. Today she describes her experience testing new event website designs—and lays out some very helpful conclusions.

Your event website is the backbone of your success: it’s the face most people see and what they share with all of their friends. Yet event planners – myself included – continue to forget important information and display shoddy designs with the hope attendees won’t care.

To find out what really matters, I partnered with user testing service TryMyUI and ran a half dozen user tests, covering 3 event websites I know well: BizTechDay, Unleashed Talent (above), and my own FailCon. The results, while not surprising, are a clear checklist every organizer should review when designing a site.

1) Put the Date & Location in the Header

Every one of us messed up on this one. You would be surprised how long it took users to tell me “When and Where is this event?” This should be big and bold right in the header, either to the right or below the logo.

2) Make the Target Audience Clear

People responded well to websites that could summarize ”What Is It?” and “Who Is It For?” in easy-to-read bullet points. My own site currently suffers from chunkoftext-itis, but I’ll be working on that now. Before the fold, make sure you clearly and succinctly say WHO should be attending and WHAT will be covered. The Unleashed Talent site does this well.

3) Make the Price Clear . . . maybe.

After the basic When, Where, Who, What were asked, users then said “Well, how much is it?” and were a bit frustrated they had to click through to the “Buy Tickets” page to find out. This suggests that putting the price on the homepage would reduce user frustration. However, perhaps displaying the price too easily turns some potential attendees away too quickly. I’d love to hear others’ feedback on this. . .

4) People Like Boxes

Unleashed Talent was definitely the most well-received website; people found the large text separated into clear boxes easy to navigate. People liked the look and feel of BizTechDay: the boxed design felt professional and high-quality (though there was some complaint that they were too small and hard to navigate). People seemed a bit lost navigating my own page (no boxes) but responded well to having a box in the corner with basic details on date, location, and contact. This is purely a hypothesis right now, but consider dividing your information into small boxes and laying that out cleanly.

5) Mind the Details

While not statistically significant, a few funny tidbits came up in testing, too:

  • One user was trying to “buy tickets” and overlooked the large “Register” button for easily 5 minutes.
  • Without being prompted at all, two users said “Oh! It’s really nice that I could share this so easily,” referring to the social connectivity buttons on FailCon and BizTechDay.
  • When asked to “Contact the Organizer,” people generally seemed to respond better to a form on the website: less work to complete and easier to navigate. However, one noted that he wished he know the name and email of the person it went to, in case he wanted to follow up.

Through this testing, I saw how even the most experienced event producers can make the simplest mistakes. Before I try to make it snazzy and unique, I need to make sure that the basic information is easy to find and clear to users.