The sheer mention of "redesigning the website" puts people and organizations into a cold sweat. The doubting Thomas say it's something that should be avoided for as long as possible, costs a fortune, and disrupts the business in the process. That may have been the case in years past, but with modern content management systems, it's quite a different story.
Today, companies and organizations can learn a new software platform, build a new site, and successfully migrate from the old site to the new with virtually no interruption to the business.
Just ask the people who run Belfast Waterfront, an ultra-modern conferencing and entertainment center that has hosted meetings for organizations ranging from the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (ASGBI) and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and presented live performances from Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance to Grammy award-winning Train.
Using the website to promote the company's newly extended conference facilities
The original website, built using a custom designed CMS back in 2007, was focused on live events and performances.
"Back in 2012, we made a decision to substantially expand the venue's conferencing facilities," explained Janice Crowe, marketing communications manager at Belfast Waterfront. "Following that expansion, we recognized that we needed to improve not only the functionality of the site, but also expand the range of content so that each of our key users' needs were addressed."
"It was determined that a more modern CMS was in order...and a dramatic redesign of the site was an absolute necessity," added Lisa Turkington, digital marketing executive at Belfast Waterfront. "This is a spectacular venue, located in the heart of Belfast and offering stunning views of the River Lagan. We wanted to give visitors a sense of what our venue could offer and for them to enjoy a unique and memorable user experience."
Partnering with local digital agency
Not having the internal resources to develop such a site, Belfast Waterfront put out a tender [equivalent of a request for proposal, RFP] and ended up partnering with local technology and design agency i3 Digital. A series of meetings were held so that the i3 Digital team became intimately familiar with the organization and the venue. Similarly, training sessions were held so that the Belfast Waterfront team could start getting accustomed with the new CMS platform.
"It's invaluable to spend some time away from your desk, away from your normal work routine," explained Turkington. "Spend the time and actually think about who your key users are, what kind of information they are trying to find, and the best ways to put that information at their fingertips. There's no substitute for brainstorming like that."
Dramatic imagery and mobile experience top the list of requirements
Together, Belfast Waterfront and i3 Digital determined that the site should feature a carousel of dramatic photography... showcase a wide variety of meeting spaces... accommodate fluctuations in site traffic (shows and concerts tend to create spikes in Web traffic once dates are announced)...support online ticket sales...collect information about website visitors...and present a very favorable impression of the facility on smart phones and tablets.
"Some 60 percent of our site traffic is already coming from mobile devices," noted Turkington. "So the mobile experience is crucial for us."
The Belfast Waterfront website project started in Aug. of 2015 and took just six months, with the new website going live in Jan. 2016.
Three million page views - and counting
"When I think back to what we had before versus what we have today, they are worlds apart. Since the website launch, we've had nearly 3 million page views and 1 million total visits. I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome."
The new site is live but... While the hardest part of the job may be over, keeping sites like Belfast Waterfront vibrant and alive takes a sustained effort over time.
"Building a well-designed, well maintained website is an evolutionary process," concluded Neill Murphy, Technical Development Manager for i3 Digital. "The site is constantly evolving," confirmed Mark Lyness, Marketing Manager at i3 Digital. "It's not static, not something that you do just once and forget about it."
"In addition to the daily and weekly updates that Lisa and the marketing team are making," he continued, "we like to do a technical re-assessment every six months, to make sure that the site is at peak operating efficiency and taking advantage of all of the capabilities that the CMS platform has to offer."
What comes next?
"Well," said Turkington, "we've already launched a site for Ulster Hall, our sister venue. We used the same approach, the same principles."
"Now that the Belfast Waterfront site has been up and running for more than a year, we're certainly thinking about what comes next. Something that we're working on at the moment is the creation of a 3D model of the building so event organizers can experience the facility online, as well as a VR-ready virtual tour of the venue. We're looking forward to launching these very soon and enriching the user's experience of our website."
About the Author
Jim Panagas has been writing about software and technology for more than two decades. He's currently serving as the director of PR & analyst relations for Kentico Software.