It’s no secret that running a theatre company means budgets are tight, and we are constantly weighing and prioritizing our spending. For several years we kept pushing off our company’s website, and in doing so, did not realize the impact this had on our ticket sales. This past summer, we overhauled our website, and in the very first show of our season, our online ticket sales jumped tremendously for our musical.
We realized that when people are looking for things to do or when they first hear about our show, they immediately turn to the internet for more information. If your theater’s website is old, not Google-able, has grainy photos, misinformation or broken links, your potential audiences will not be confident about the quality of your production and may pass on attending. Your patron’s first impression is no longer the moment the curtain rises, but when they visit your website. Show your audiences that your theatre is engaging, vibrant, and powerful by putting it on your website.
When planning a new website, it’s easy to jump ahead to the “fun stuff” and brainstorm ideas for advanced features or look to other websites for ideas of digital bells and whistles and cool looks. Design trends are still important because they can provide you fresh inspiration and new techniques, but the implementation of those techniques and styles needs to be intelligent and focused. Begin the process by defining the goals and purposes of your website. Know what you want visitors to do once they arrive there. Do you want people to purchase tickets, know their rehearsal schedule, or contact you for more information? Perhaps the answer is all of the above. Answering this question helps you to focus and determine exactly which elements should go where.
Clear goals are the framework over which your entire site is built; they'll help you determine if your content is compelling and if your site design works for you or against you. Once you establish your goals, it becomes easy to let go of fun ideas that don't perform well and make good choices about the types and frequency of content.
Another important component of good goal setting is that it drives visitor behavior. When people land on your website they want to get right to the good stuff. There's nothing worse than going to a website and being unable to find what you are looking for because the website isn't clear about what it is, why you should be there, and what you should do. Organize your site around your goals and you'll find that visitors stay longer and respond better to your call to action.
For our theatre company, our website has three main purposes, with targeted audiences:
- To provide information about seeing our shows and drive ticket sales to our public audiences.
- To provide information about rehearsals and programming for our current company members.
- To provide information on volunteering and donating for our guardians and public.
With goals in hand, it is time to begin strategic design. Strategic design is making something for a specific purpose, so of course, your website should fulfill that purpose through its design. Use your website goals as a guide to inform how your website is designed and built. Many website designers start with a concept called “chunking.” "Chunking" is dividing the site's content into manageable chunks of information. Content within each chunk can then be arranged hierarchically so that the most important topics within a chunk will appear first in a navigational system.
Our three goals gave us three natural chunks, and then we asked ourselves what information we wanted to prioritize within each chunk. Deciding what we wanted to prioritize gave us a clear hierarchy within each chunk. We took our chunks and turned them into the navigation bar at the header of our website, with a drop down menu under each with the prioritized hierarchical information.
It’s often helpful to draw your organizational system out on paper, and we used a card sorting technique for this. In traditional card sorting technique, a pile of index cards is labeled with the names of major content elements, and then the designers sort through the cards to organize them in a way that seems intuitive and logical. We used our classroom whiteboard with sticky notes so that we could jot down new or better names for categories. As a group, we quickly agreed on the major content navigation (our three goals/chunks), and then were able to figure out which elements go where and which were extraneous.
With the pre-production and table work finished, it is now time to do the actual creating and let your artist shine. If you are like me, though, you don’t even know the first thing about coding. We knew that we needed a “drag and drop” website builder. Options like that include Wix, Weebly, and Square. We chose Wix because it was cost effective (they have free options!), user-friendly, allowed multiple website administrators, would also host our website, and their templates made it very easy to begin. We’ve loved using Wix because it has also been easy to integrate our other technical tools like Google Calendar and Remind.
For each of our website goals, we knew there was something we ultimately wanted our website visitors to do. We want our public to purchase tickets, our students to join our theatre family, and our guardians to volunteer and donate. Knowing what we want visitors to do helped us develop clear call-to-actions and determine each page’s visual layout. A call-to-action (usually abbreviated as CTA) is an image or line of text that prompts your visitors to take action. It is, quite literally, a "call" to take an "action." The action you want users to take could be anything: register for your advertising mailing list, sign up to audition, get a coupon, attend an event, etc. Remember that just as your content should serve your purpose, your site should be structured to serve your call to action and your call to action needs to put users on a path to get immediate results. You can draw focus in many ways to your CTA’s as your begin the design process, and we designed our CTA’s as buttons with a highly contrasting color that stood out from the regular palette.
Designing a website may seem like a daunting challenge, but as long as you keep your goals in mind, you will find the process interesting and enjoyable. Throughout the process, you'll come up with more questions, more goals and learn more about your company, your audience, and the internet than when you started. The “secret” is that you probably already know your goals but you may not have written them down or clearly defined them.
What are good examples of theatre websites? Which do you think effectively achieve their goals and how do they achieve them?