Creating a surf-tastic website

As I am simultaneously working on a new website for an organization I serve, and trying to avoid doing my taxes, I thought I would write a bit today about what makes a good website.  Since I teach arts marketing, I thought the task of designing a website (or more accurately, telling a designer what to do) would be easy.  Turns out, no.  Like art and obscenity, we all know a good website when we see one, but we don’t necessarily know how to make it ourselves.

I think the main thing to remember about a website is that it is NOT just for information.  Many people use websites as fancy bulletin boards, posting news about upcoming events along with static information like the mission statement, history and contact information.  To me, that falls into the forbidden category of “getting the word out, ” and it’s a pretty expensive way to do that.

One of the ways to think about a website is that it is a virtual space – and the space that audiences may well visit more often than your actual space.  It should reflect your personality, give your audiences a feel for what they will experience, and make them feel welcome.  That means plenty of pictures, writing that reflects your brand, and plenty of opportunities to interact.

Here are some other thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. A good website should be magnetic.  A good website entices people to visit and then entices them to stay.  This means that, instead of thinking of a website as something that is there if people need it, like a yellow pages ad, it should be actively marketed as a place to visit and have features that encourage people to explore.  All promotional materials should provide basic information but reference the website, enticing people with the promise that there will be much more to discover there than we were able to give you in the flyer or on the poster.
  2. A good website should be sticky.  This means that once you have gotten people to the website, they shouldn’t find it easy to leave.  Partly this is content, but stickiness also relates to technology.  If someone opens a window to another website on your site, will they be able to find their way back?  Or will they see something shiny elsewhere and leave?
  3. A good website should be elastic.  Once people enter, they should be able to spring from place to place and back again easily.  This means having links throughout the website, so people can get where they need to be from a variety of places.  How long will patrons stick around if they see a sentence like, “for more information on how to rent our space for your event, contact us” and there is no link to details or contact information?  If patrons need to go back to the home page and find the “contact us” tab, they will be gone before you can say “click here.”
  4. A good website should be social.  A 2009 Nielsen study says that customers trust the word of other customers more than they trust any other form of advertising.  You’re missing an opportunity if you don’t have a place – or several places – on your website for patrons to give feedback, react to their experiences, comment on blogs, or take polls.

If you market for an arts organization, chances are that someday you will be explaining these things to a designer.  You’ll get the website you want if you are able to explain these things and provide content in a way that makes your goals clear.

Happy surfing!

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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4 Responses to Creating a surf-tastic website

  1. jancarlomarquez says:

    Great read! I completely agree with all your ideas. As a designer I always find it challenging to work on a homepage that is eye-pleasing but equally functional without being too cluttered. I think most visitors are won and lost on the homepage and that is why it’s the cornerstone of any good website. Instead of using links with words, pictures are much more effective. My new obsession is using features like the “lightbox,” which has replaced pop-ups. It’s mostly popular with photos but I like to use it to load external websites. For a restaurant that I manage the website for, we have a link that opens up a box where visitors can rate the restaurant on Yelp without ever leaving our site. We have just integrated this feature so I’m anxious to see how it works out.

  2. Betsy says:

    I was so happy to see that you posted on this topic! Since I started with New Visions, I’ve known we need a new website. We are currently working on a strategic plan that includes a new logo, new website…and now, since Marshfield Clinic is remodeling the lobby, the Gallery is ALSO going
    to be getting a beautiful face lift!

    So, the time is now and I’ve been working with the Board to determine the “personality” of New Visions that we want to put forth…an organization that was born in 1979 yet is working to maintain a fresh and visionary (like our name implies) approach.

    I’ve been looking at a lot of websites and, when I have a strong reaction to one and want to hang out for a while, try to understand what exactly is making me stay. We don’t want to create too much of a niche that only our peeps feel comfortable. We want could-be peeps to want to hang with us (virtually or physically) too. Just curious, Ellen – would you be willing to share your top two favorite websites?

    • Wow, Betsy, telling you my favorite websites is a lot more difficult than telling you my least favorite — and I don’t want to do that for fear of losing friends! 🙂 I will think about it and post later. In the meantime, anyone else care to share?

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