5 Takeaways from RAGBRAI for your Website

Display of bikes on RAGBRAI 2010

Next week, I’ll be riding RAGBRAI, an absolutely insane, 500-mile bike ride in which one pedals across the state over 7 days. Each night, there are overnight towns that serve as the host for the 20,000-30,000+ riders, which largely means the town’s residents stay home for the day or gawk at the spandex-covered riders if they can. (The photo above is an example of the kinds of fun things small towns do to greet riders.) If my past 6 years as a rider are any indication, I’ll eat plenty of pie, meet interesting people from all over the world, see parts of the state I rarely encounter, and be utterly exhausted when I hit the pillow at night. 

I’m on Team #BEUMC, which is hoping to help the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church raise $10,000 for Africa University. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here. It’s a terrific institution of higher education, and I’d love your support.

Here are 5 insights I’ve gleaned from past RAGBRAI rides that apply to your website.

1. Not everyone rides (visits) for the same reason.

Every cyclist has a unique reason for doing RAGBRAI. Families ride in memory of a deceased relative. Unicyclists (yes, there usually are one or two!) do it for the extreme challenge. Some ride, quite honestly, for the parties and concerts and other fun.

Takeaway: It’s easy for a church, nonprofit or small business to forget that their visitors are unique and may want entirely different things. Try to evaluate your site periodically to make sure you’re focused on what the visitor wants to know, not just what you want to say. Your site analytics are one way to figure this out, but you can also simply ask people periodically for their feedback to know what they want and need from your site.

2. Your social pages and SEO matter if you want people to eat your pie.

Pie is a big, big deal on RAGBRAI. Riders all have their favorites they seek out (boysenberry for the win!) Churches have giant fundraisers where pie is a key highlight. Some riders name their teams after pie and create sculpted pies out of foam to attach to their helmets. One can certainly just stumble on the good pies, but people definitely search websites and social media for pie stops. Then they tell their friends and teammates.

Takeaway: Are you findable? Do you use great keywords on your site? Is your social media going to pique someone’s interest and inspire action? If you want people to find your variety of awesome “pie,” then be sure to make it known!

3. Be like the recumbent riders.

I really wanted to switch to a recumbent bike or trike for the ride, but things just didn’t quite work out in time. Recumbents are weird, sometimes challenging to ride, and have passionate fans. They’re awesome because they hurt less to ride, they are often very fast (except on hills), and – perhaps most enjoyable of all – the rider can easily look all around as opposed to forward/down like on a typical road bike.

Takeaway: Comfort matters, so make your site easy to navigate. Find your passionate fans. Site speed is important, so pay attention to it. And look outward, not just within your small circle of members and regulars, for your readers.

4. Stand out from the crowd.

Many teams wear something to help people identify them. Some teams are hard to miss because they’re incredibly large and have custom jerseys, like Team Butt Ice. Others attach unique items to their helmets – zip ties, toys, pinwheels. At least one team wears pink feather boas. These ways of being “loud and proud” help members to see one another, get people laughing and talking, and just make RAGBRAI more fun. Because let’s face it…staring at corn and soybeans gets old quickly.

Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to stand out. Your website does NOT need to look like the mega church down the road or another nonprofit’s website. It certainly shouldn’t look like you’re a boring place to be, either. Color, photos, stories, videos, banners and site copy all present you with opportunities for being truly unique. Sure, navigation and ease of use are still vitally important…but don’t fear distinctiveness. And for goodness sake, promote yourself creatively! Your people will know they’ve found a place to call home when they see your site.

5. Stories and connections are what make the bumpy roads tolerable.

As you can imagine, there are various strategies for surviving the boredom that comes with 5 to 10 hours on a bike seat. Some fill their ears with podcasts. Some blast tunes for others to “enjoy” from giant loudspeakers they pull behind them. A few livestream their experience. Me: I chat with strangers, and I’ve met some really amazing people from many states and countries. I rode with the CEO of a bike seat company (and was so impressed that I bought one of the seats as soon as I got home.) I’ve met inspiring, funny, and interesting riders of every age on into their 90s. I’ve entered into philosophical, political, or religious conversations for long stretches at a time. Whether the conversations last just a few minutes (which is often the case when I’m feeling like I can’t keep up with their riding pace) or several hours, they are truly what make the ride worth it for me.

Takeaway: When people visit your site, can they read and hear stories of people you’ve helped along life’s roads? Is it easy for them to connect with team leaders or staff who are relevant to their needs or interests? Have you collected and shared testimonials? Does your web copy include stories from your staff and leaders, and from past events you’ve held. Stories are the glue that gives your website stickiness, so prioritize them. They really do make a difference in making someone’s life better, easier, and more comfortable.

Need some partners to ride with?

If something above caught your imagination but you need help thinking through and implementing the options for your own website, contact me to start the conversation. I’d love to help make your dreams and goals a reality!

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