3 Things You Can Learn From My Time at An Event Apart Atlanta

A few weeks ago, some of us attended the An Event Apart (AEA) conference in Atlanta. AEA is a conference for people who build websites, and as such the speakers cover a wide range of web-related topics. This is the fourth time our team has had the opportunity to attend the conference, and every time we walk away encouraged by what we do and inspired to make some improvements to our platform.

This year I walked away with some new productivity tools and suggestions to test out that may help our team improve our processes, and some thoughts on how we can improve the platform as a whole. A lot of the sessions resonated with what we at GeorgiaGov already do or already teach our web managers — it’s great to know when we’re on the right track. Then there were times I wished all of you, our web managers, could be in the room to hear what I was hearing about our industry and how we can best serve our web visitors. So here they are — the things I would hope agency web content managers would take away from the conference:

1. Devices keep changing.

Maybe you already knew this but it’s important to keep as a reminder. Screens are getting larger and smaller all at once, and the way users interact with those screens keeps changing, too. (Thank goodness we recently converted all our websites to a responsive, mobile-friendly layout to accommodate all the different screen sizes!)

How this applies to us: Larger screens are gaining touch capabilities and losing mouse “hover” functionality. That’s going to affect how we think about our platform’s dropdown menus, and should affect how you structure your content.

What you can do now: Think about how you want your menus organized if you know your visitors must click on a top level menu item in order to see all the sections below it.

2. Performance Matters.

Download speeds become more important as device use changes and grows. Users say if their page hasn’t loaded in 3 seconds, they will leave and find another way to get the information they’re looking for. So while your internet speed at work or home may be fast, more users are actually accessing your website from a mobile phone with a slow connection, not from a high speed internet connection.

How this applies to us: A typical GeorgiaGov platform homepage takes 2.5 seconds to load on a cable internet connection, but 10 seconds to load on a 3G phone connection, and is over 800KB large. Your biggest resource hogs are your rotator images.

What we can do: We’re working during the next fiscal year to better fine tune our websites, and one of the things we’re looking at is how to decrease our code size.

What you can do now: Optimize your images and your content for mobile — the smaller the better. Remove unnecessary images and content.

3. Rotators Don’t Work.

In the design world we call your image/feature rotator a “carousel,” but the sentiment is the same — they aren’t useful and they eat up a lot of bandwidth. I know this is a touchy subject for most of our agencies, but the data all point to rotators being an ineffective tool.

sample of a homepage rotator
sample of a homepage rotator

Our agencies like the rotator because it solves a couple of logistical problems at once — it puts a nice big picture on the page, and it lets you fit a lot of different “things” into the same prime homepage real estate. The problem(s)? No one waits around for each feature to rotate through, so they’re missing most of your content. And what they DO see cycles past, out of sight, out of mind before they get around to following the link. Also, when each slide provides a completely different piece of information, you run into a “mystery meat” problem — your user has no way of telling what they’ll see next, and whether or not it will be relevant to them. Finally, image rotators house a lot of large images at once, which impacts your load time (see above: Performance Matters).

How this applies to us: Most GeorgiaGov platform homepages have a rotator.

What we can do: Upon request, we can provide you with data specific to your website that you can show to your stakeholders to show that the rotator is ineffective. We also plan to disable the auto-rotate feature on the rotator to at least make them a little easier on the users (especially those on a mobile device).

What you can do: Talk to your stakeholders. Help show them the need to “kill” your rotator and replace it with a couple of boxes with useful, targeted content. Contact your GeorgiaGov Account Manager or open a support ticket if you’d like some free consultation on how to rearrange your homepage content.

That was easy.

And there you have it. It’s not the same as spending 3 days at a conference and eating conference food (did I mention there was never ending coffee?). But hopefully it will still help you improve your website.