A new website and digital strategy for the opera

When I started my job as marketing director for Austin Lyric Opera, I knew I wanted to put my stamp on its digital marketing efforts. I wanted to put all that I have written about and all that I have learned over the past years to action. What follows is a brief overview of what I did and how I did it:

A new website
Tracking conversions
Online advertising
Social media
Mobile site
Final round up

A new website

Coming in, the opera was stuck with an all Flash-based website: it was complicated and time consuming to make even the smallest of updates; mobile devices could not load the site; and no data could be collected. The first priority was to change this. You simply cannot build a working digital strategy without the foundation of a solid institutional website that can drive ticket sales.

In redesigning the website, from architecture to graphic design, these were the four key development concepts:

Driving conversions

  • All roads should lead to a conversion. The ticket buying process needs to be straightforward, simple and seamless; from campaign source to order confirmation.

Data collection

  • How do patrons get to our website? What do they do when they arrive? We need to track the entirety of the sales funnel.

Highly customizable

  • A responsive website that can handle breaking news, custom landing pages and continuously revolving sales and institutional messages.

Easily manageable

  • Staff with little technology skills should be able to make basic website updates and embed multimedia elements.

I knew I wanted a website built on WordPress and having watched the development of Venture Industries by Drew McManus, I was surely impressed by the proprietary elements on top of the standard WordPress installation that Venture offers. Doing due diligence, I talked to and received several proposals from other web development agencies. One proposed Drupal despite my insistence on WordPress, and all proposed a budget in the $15,000-20,000 range. I knew I could do better. I went with Venture and I set a $10,000 budget.

Drew McManus’ Venture brought together the opera’s in-house strengths and Drew’s strengths in the performing arts and online user experiences. The work broke down like this:

In-House Resources (Client)

  • Planning: entirely redesigned site architecture and navigation
  • Content: content migration, creation and population; and integration with third party box office
  • Design: custom graphic design template along with home page and interior page layouts.
  • Development: basic custom CSS changes.

Custom Work (Venture)

  • Adapt client’s graphic design into custom PHP templates.
  • Designed custom admin interface.
  • Designed custom search bar that appears in the top, right hand corner of every page.
  • Removed slider overlay for unobstructed full width image while maintaining use of standard action button.

Work was completed in a 3 month time frame. That’s fast. The actual money spent came in far under budget, totaling $6,500, and broke down in two components: $1,500 for the custom work; $4,000 for the annual Venture license.

A quick note about the $4,000 annual license fee. This includes hosting, support, updates and a myriad of other benefits and services. In a way, Venture is like purchasing a Photoshop license for your organization. Having Photoshop doesn’t automatically guarantee you beautiful design; you have the best tool at your disposal, but you still need a graphic designer. Having Venture doesn’t automatically guarantee you a great website; you still need someone in-house.

However, the support and the best practice / brainstorming you get with Venture are superb. Other agencies would bill hourly. Furthermore, if your in-house resources are not as strong, you can outsource more of the work. I was impressed by the custom work we received for the money we spent. You can do as much or as little custom work as you’d like or as your budget allows.

The end result was a beautiful, highly effective new website that met all the criteria outlined in the four key development concepts: driving conversions; data collection; highly customizable; and easily manageable.

Aided by a new ticketing solution launched simultaneously, and a new digital strategy, we increased online single ticket sales from 28% to 55% of total single ticket sales while delivering a greater ability to analyze patron behaviors, track conversions and account for advertising spending.


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