Strategic website design helps 2017 Canadian International Auto Show
set a new attendance record
When the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) set their sights on boosting attendance for the largest automotive expo in Canada, they had a tough act to follow… their own. Following record turnouts just a year earlier, the Auto Show team tapped a long-standing relationship between their parent company (TADA, the Trillium Automotive Dealers Association) and the core team at Vicimus, unleashing a compact series of insider website strategies propelling their online ticket sales and attendance to new heights for the second year in a row.
To update their web presence as a branch of Canada’s largest automotive association, the CIAS team had plenty of ideas for connecting their consumer audience with the content, branding and online ticket purchases they wanted to achieve. The challenge was to offer all of the information-rich, authoritative and high-impact content their exhibitors, media partners and sponsors demanded, too.
Their biggest concern
More importantly, the website needed to offer attendees a simple, seamless and irresistible portal to buy tickets right on the site… capturing their purchasing dollars at the same time the high-traffic site engaged their attention. For CIAS, their biggest concern for the days leading up to the show was “Whatever it takes, keep the site live.” Otherwise, they’d lose thousands of dollars by the minute, because so much money flows through the site in that first wave of visitors.
For a solution to the show’s intense web traffic and multi-media-hungry requirements, CIAS liked how Vicimus’ background and experience in marketing, technology, branding and design stood out as much as our 16-year history in automotive. Functioning best as a strategic and creative partner, they trusted our understanding of not only the various needs of multiple stakeholders, but also the entire automotive industry.
After all, CIAS does more than just stage Canada’s largest automotive event…
Manufacturers, dealers, and a lot of allied industries are involved, too. So it’s critical for a strategic partner to understand and work with them all. With Vicimus, it was very much a peer-to-peer conversation, as we organized the site to meet everyone’s needs and provide a consultant relationship that offered equal ground for everyone at the table.
At first glance, countless social media and multi-media innovations had entered the traffic-generating mainstream that the new site had to support. Although content-rich sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Live had barely existed only a few years earlier, they’ve become significant drivers for traffic, attention, engagement and live updates, to be integrated into the auto show’s new media hub.
Even more urgent, CIAS wanted the site to represent their media, sponsorship and exhibition partners — each with their own ideas and access requirements for adding information-rich articles, entertaining videos and featured content highlighting the show’s events. They’d also need to distribute press releases and announcements throughout the show’s run, without overloading the servers on high-demand media days during the show’s launch.
Significantly, mobile usage increased dramatically in recent years, making up more than half of the site’s viewer traffic. So all of the photo galleries, videos, and callouts, mentioning every one of the exhibitors paying to be at the show, also required robust content to be fully supported in mobile. That’s why the whole design was fully mobile-responsive, with several specific decisions making it more adaptive than responsive to avoid impacting the mobile users’ viewing experience.
Making complex things simple
Not surprisingly, as the site grew in complexity, it was critical to keep things as simple and free-flowing as possible, for viewers and media partners alike. So the agenda, scheduling and ticket-buying sections of the site were specifically designed with ease of use and multi-user access in mind.
For example, the Toronto Star could put up any content they wanted, and download the hi-res images they needed without affecting the speed, reliability or quick content delivery that viewers enjoyed. In fact, several media companies uploaded hi-res videos, and built out many of their media releases live from their headquarters at the show.
With this much activity, it’s rare to see a site that gets traffic spikes in only 3 days like the CIAS site did. So it was structured for scale and built with multiple backups, with strategic details that went beyond just the tech involved. For example, the Vicimus team built two versions of the homepage, including the regular full-content page and a lightweight , scaled-down page that was easy to switch to the second it started to get REALLY overloaded. So the team was actively engaged, ready to respond to the site’s intense traffic surges and flow on a moment’s notice.
Knowing the site would be going from very little traffic to literally hundreds of thousands of viewers in a day, Vicimus analyzed all aspects of the site’s popularity, anticipating what was going to happen and planning ahead. This addressed one of CIAS’ key concerns… “What’s the contingency plan? Let’s make sure we know what we’ll do when it gets heavy, because we know how heavy it will get.”
From the start, the site was a beast, made to handle an amazing amount of traffic. And we reacted quickly to switch out the front page on demand, as needed. To avoid site overloads, we transferred a lot of the heavy lifting to separate servers, automatically archiving media files and hosting them externally for easy downloads. This was one of our most successful strategies, reducing server stresses and making the whole site load reliably at least 100% faster.
Finally, our focus on the Buy Tickets button positioning and the user experience of trying to purchase a ticket online ensured it was a simple, seamless task. First thing you’d see when you came to the site was some show information and a Buy Tickets button. So whether you’re on mobile or desktop, the focus is still on driving conversions to buy tickets.
All told, the 2017 Canadian International Auto Show set a new attendance record for the second year in a row. After the show’s 10-day run, 339,590 people came to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the Auto Show, eclipsing the old record of 320,000 set just last year!
On the heaviest day, the site hosted 46,000 sessions on the featured homepage video per day. A lot of it happened at the same time, with up to 8 people per second loading the page simultaneously. To compare, in the off-season, the Auto Show site gets maybe 3,000-3,400 sessions per day. And we know the peak last year was about 34,000, so we had 12,000 more sessions on our highest day than they did previously. Yet the site performed beautifully, reliably… and profitably.