It’s a two-way street. Our clients learn a great deal simply by working with us. And because every client is different, we learn something different from every client. Working with the San Diego County Fair this year was a roller-coaster of thrills, excitement, and fun as well as good, satisfying, hard work. Here’s what we learned from collaborating with a team on the other side of the Atlantic.

The same goals overule different cultures

Some say the USA and Britain are separated by the same language. In our experience it just isn’t true. We’re actually pretty similar. And interestingly, any minor cultural differences we noticed at the start disappeared in a flash because we had identical goals. It looks like cultural differences have very little priority, which is great news when, like us, you operate internationally.

Put mobile first… when it’s appropriate

When we work with a B2B product used by people at work, we think twice. But mobile first is always the way to go when you’re talking B2C, business-to-consumer. Yes, websites are consumed on any and every screen size, but these days mobile should be the primary focus.

In the case of the San Diego County Fair the user preference was clear, with 90% of site traffic coming from mobile devices. On the other hand ten percent of an audience is ten percent worth having, so it’s doubtful we’ll ever drop desktop altogether, unless desktops themselves disappear.

A website isn’t an IT tool – It’s a marketing tool

Because IT plays a vital role in web design, it’s all too easy to start seeing it as an IT tool. It performs IT functions, of course, things like database updates and collecting payments. But it’s always primarily a marketing thing. Take targeting promotions at attraction level, for example. The Fair is a huge affair offering countless attractions, which makes switching the daily promotional slant really important. When you have the opportunity to drill down and market specific events on specific days, take it and run with it. It delivers a much bigger impact than a generalist approach and ensures the website is fulfilling its promotional duties as a marketing tool to the max.

Don’t forget the basics

It’s an empathy thing. As marketers it’s really important to remember that we’re also consumers, also human beings. If you’re searching an event website you need to know a whole lot of ordinary, everyday things that make your experience comfortable, smooth and pleasurable. They might not be particularly thrilling, but everyone needs to know where the restrooms and toilets are, where the car park entrances can be found, where there’s a First Aid station, the location of the nearest gas station, directions to the main stage, the list goes on. In fact, as we discovered, the most searched-for term on the Fair site was ‘water’ – simple is as simple does!

Scaling matters – Can you handle the crowds?

The San Diego Fair is a truly massive event. So it was vital to scale our infrastructure up in preparation for high traffic. This year we anticipated the traffic levels perfectly. We upgraded both the hosting and search to enterprise levels well in advance via Algolia – the hosted full-text, numerical, and faceted search engine capable of delivering real-time results – and arranged for WP Engine and Algolia to monitor the site for us 24/7. We made the site, they came in their millions, and they didn’t crash it!

The value of real-time search

The real-time search function we set up in Algolia made such a difference. Search has been the backup option on a website for too long – ‘if you’re lost, use this’. We gave it the power it needed, putting it front and centre, like Google search, to create a clear window into the complex world of the Fair. We couldn’t have done it without Algolia’s real-time auto-complete results.

Put your users first – Don’t lose sight of the fun

In this case, the website was all about fun. It was there exclusively to promote and facilitate fun at the fair. When the site is doing that, it’s doing its job: fully functional, a pleasure to use, designed to facilitate people getting the exact information they need quickly and effectively. It might sound dull but the end result can be measured in terms of the hours of fun people had at the fair, how easily they found what they wanted, how little time they wasted.

Take a look at the San Diego Fair site for yourself. As you can see it ticks all the right boxes, and we can’t wait to implement what we’ve learned this year, next year. Thanks to the team over there, from our team over here. It was a blast.