Your website is a huge investment. It takes a lot of time, people and money to get it up and going and then to keep it running right (a website that is like a German clock…?)
I think it often feels like owning a home, where you just redid the bathroom and now the roof has a leak (I’m not a homeowner, I wouldn’t actually know) and you never feel like you can get ahead.
And I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy to get ahead. That’s why large organizations have entire teams dedicated to maintaining the website.
But I also believe that even a theatre manager juggling sixteen other priorities can single-handedly turn their company’s website into a smooth running machine. As long as they know what to focus on improving.
So behold: the six things to focus on when improving your theatre company’s website (and you’ll find out, in the end, it’s actually just one).
Your content is why people are coming to your site.
I know how this sounds, like I’m only saying that because content is my job. But think about it. How often do you visit a website because you just want to see design (unless you’re a web designer and you’re looking for inspiration)?
You might enjoy the design (hopefully you do) but that’s not why you’re going. You’re going to interact with the products, the events, the topics, these digital representations of entities communicated via words, images, blocks, pages…
In other words, the content.
On every page, you want to be asking:
- What is my audience looking for?
- Does the content help them or get in their way?
- How can I improve their experience by surfacing the right content at the right time?
How do you do this? The best way is to ask them.
For example: when you’re on the page for the show:
- Why are you there?
- How did you get there?
- What do you want to know?
- Why do you want to know that?
- What are you looking for next?
If you can’t ask them for whatever reason, you can make some assumptions. Then test them, edit and go again.
Along with uncovering user needs and making sure you’re meeting them, here are some other content considerations to make it easier for users:
- Short paragraphs: keep away from walls of text or users will keep away from you
- Headings and subheadings: break up your content into sections and label those sections using descriptive headings and subheadings
- Bullets and numbered lists: making a list longer than two? Use bullets or numbered lists (like the one you’re reading) to make it easier for your readers
- Bold and italicized text: bold or italicize sections of text that you want to draw attention to
- Pull quotes: have a particularly compelling point you want to hammer home? Format it as a pull quote
- Visuals to illustrate: images, diagrams, icons used well can break up your text and illustrate your points
- Links: link to relevant content whenever you can (within reason)
- Short, readable sentences: longer sentences are harder to read so keep your content interesting but easy for your audience to move through
Content is an ongoing process. It’s never done. But if you’re doing it right, it will improve over time.
Now that I’ve thoroughly insulted every designer, let’s give them second billing. To their credit, they almost came first because design is important. And improving it can have a really big impact.
Overall, the thing you want to understand about your website is that it’s first and foremost a product. It’s something that people use. And they’re using it to try and get something out of it.
That means that while they might enjoy being on your site (something we should strive for), they’re not going to enjoy trying to figure out how to use it.
So keep to the website standards we’re used to. Here are the main elements to keep in mind to improve your website design:
- Visual hierarchy
- White space
- Dark mode
Get some more tips on how to improve your theatre company’s brand, both online and off.
Your website is not just a cool narrative experience. In fact, that’s not its primary function.
First and foremost, it’s a product that people use to complete certain tasks.
And your cool narrative experience? No matter how cool it is, it needs to support usability.
How’d do you do that? By identifying what tasks your users are trying to accomplish and helping them do those as easily as possible.
What would those tasks be?
Obviously buying a ticket to a show would be one. But so would…
- Learning about that show.
- Reading an actor’s biography to remember where they might have seen them.
- Finding your theatre.
- Learning more about an issue that’s central to your play.
- Immersing themselves in the world of your play.
- Understanding some key words used in your play…
When you understand the tasks your users are wanting to complete, you can plan your content and design to help them do those.
Here are the 5 principles of usability:
Learn more about improving your website’s usability.
People living with a disability are used to having to navigate a world that was not built to make them feel safe, much less welcome. They shouldn’t have to.
Accessibility means making sure that everyone can easily use our products and spaces.
On your website, here are the primary ways you do that:
- Contrast: make sure when you’re pairing colours, they have enough contrast (smaller sizes require higher contrast)
- Headings and subheadings: use proper heading tags to label your sections so a user with a screen reader can easily navigate
- Alt text for images: provide descriptive alternative text for images you display
- Closed captioning for video: enable close captioning for videos you embed
- Transcripts for audio: add transcripts to any audio file (like a podcast) you have on your site
We have the ability to create experiences that are accessible to all. That is a good reason enough.
But making accessibility a priority benefits everyone as the principles help us access content when one or more of our senses may be limited .
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It refers to the set of tactics you can take to help your website rank better on Google searches (known as organic).
To do good SEO, you don’t have to do black magic, crack the internet code or speak to machines. You just have to think about how your audience is searching for content you want to show up for.
And then make sure you optimize that content for those searches. Here’s an overview of some quick ways you can optimize your content for searchers.
- Page titles: make sure they quickly communicate the topic of the page
- URLs: keep them short, descriptive and readable; once you publish your page, don’t mess with your URLs
- Meta descriptions: provide a compelling summary of your page that’ll encourage a click
- Headings and subheads: these make up the outline of your page—make them descriptive of the sections they introduce
- Content: provide the best possible content for the topic of the page in a way that’s easy to read
- Internal links: make sure you’re linking to this page from other pages on your website
- Image file sizes: size images at the dimensions they’re displayed, use 72 pixels per inch resolution, use JPEG (or better yet WebP) whenever you can, and compress them
- Image alt text: provide a short description of the image to help it rank as well
- Schema markup: okay so maybe SEO involves a little whispering to machines—use structured data like Schema.org to better describe the content on your page (is it a person, an event, an organization…)
- Local SEO: optimize your business profiles and local directories to improve your chances of getting found for localized searches
Further reading: Improve your theatre company’s SEO.
Not long ago, the internet was the wild west, full of shady marketing tactics, manipulative copy, interruptive popups, ads masquerading, data harvesting and so much more (it’s a wonder people felt we needed a “dark” version of this…)
Sadly these tactics are still far too frequent, usually citing some sort of effectiveness. But it doesn’t matter whether they work or not (they don’t). As publishers, we have a responsibility to our users: to provide value through consent.
Not trickery, not manipulation, not sleight of hand.
Here are a few ways of implementing consentful design on your website:
- Use a consent management platform (cookie banner) to allow users to opt-in before loading cookies on their browsers and change their mind at any time
- Don’t spam users
- Allow users to opt-in to marketing promotions (like your newsletter)
- Allow subscribers to easily unsubscribe your email
Building a more user-friendly web
Your website’s its own show. Except it’s always in rehearsal. You rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, then put it in front of an audience. And they tell you what’s working and what’s not. What’s funny, what’s not landing, when they’re bored, when they’re at the edge of their seats.
The more interested you are in giving your audience the show that they want, the better your website will work.
Focus on your user. Fixate over their needs. Obsess on their experience. That’s ultimately how you improve your website.
Looking for more ways to improve your website? Check out my post on 19 ways to take your website to the next level.