How to make sure your website is ready for big appeals

Written by Ed Cox

When it comes to big appeals, content and marketing campaigns, together with promotions, only form half of the story. Getting people to the website, where most donations take place, means little if they are unable to donate due to glitches, or are faced with a website that’s gone down due to heavy traffic.

Christmas is the classic example, being a time for giving, which makes it an extraordinarily busy time for the third sector. Last year, we saw #GivingTuesday take off as a clever follow up to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, as well as the powerful campaigns of homeless charities such as Crisis, which had over 11,000 volunteers over Christmas 2017.

Of course, there are other large-scale campaigns at other times of the year too, such as Comic Relief in March and Children in Need in October. In order to raise the record-breaking £50 million that Children in Need achieved over last year’s TV appeal, it needed a robust, efficient donation process, that made it as easy as possible for viewers to donate. The microsite that was used was a vital part of this.

Being able to access a website is key to seeing results of a big campaign, as well as allowing people to find out more about your charity. Whether you’re preparing for a big challenge event such as the London Marathon or a campaign taking place over an awareness-raising month later this year, it’s never too early to make improvements to your website. Here are a few ways to make sure that your website can handle the heavy traffic as the result of a successful large-scale appeal.

1. Keep it simple

Keeping a website light is the easiest way to prevent any issues. Last year, BBC Children in Need invited donations through a dedicated microsite, which meant that the donation page loaded much faster and with fewer issues. All that was needed were suggested donation amounts, examples of what donations would be used towards, and a live donation tracker throughout the appeal.

When putting your donation process together, you should think carefully about every element. Do you need more than a few images? Other than a payment platform, is third-party content necessary? Cutting down on text, images and other features can streamline the website and simplify the donation process for the user.

2. Optimise it – and keep it that way

Making the website light is just one way to make life as easy as possible for the user. Another way is to ensure that websites are optimised for different devices, whether that’s mobiles, tablets or desktops, as a lot of potential donors can be put off by accessing a badly-designed website on their mobiles while on the move. In fact, our research has found that in the last year, 79 per cent of mobile visits to charity website resulted in the user navigating away from the website after only viewing one page.

If your appeal is a particularly large one, a good idea is to have developers on hand during anticipated busy times to ensure that the website is running at optimum capacity – this is another part of what made this year’s BBC Children in Need appeal so successful.

3. Continuously test the website

This step is perhaps the most crucial. It’s vital that, ahead of any large appeal or campaign, charities test their websites in order to make sure they can withstand large amounts of traffic at once. This is known as stress testing, which involves putting demand on a system and measuring its response.

It’s not just about making sure that the website doesn’t completely crash. It’s also about ensuring that it loads quickly, as a slow website can be almost as off-putting to visitors.

Imagining, building and testing a smooth, efficient user journey should be a part of the thought process that goes into any big charity appeal. It’s vital that the transition from viewing the appeal to carrying out a donation is free of any stumbling blocks. Keeping websites light and regularly testing them beforehand can make this a lot more achievable, and will ultimately provide charities with the maximum possible return on their efforts.

Ed Cox, co-founder and director at Reason Digital

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