Within the last year, I noticed that The Belfry Theatre (http://www.belfry.bc.ca) in Victoria had redone their website. I like it so much that I often use it as an example to show people of how a website should be done. Not surprisingly, the site is build on WordPress, and it seamlessly integrates social media.
I interviewed Mark Dusseault, the publicist at the Belfry, about their new site.
RC: Why did you decide to redo your website? What did you identify as not working with the old one?
MD: We’ve always tweaked our website year to year – I think you have to – technology changes and you have to address how your audience uses and engages with your site. This past year was a more radical change as we moved from building the site with Dreamweaver to a more custom job.
Many things weren’t working with the previous versions – we couldn’t feed our site from our online resources (Flickr, Facebook, YouTube) and while we could update the site in-house it was quite a tedious process.
RC: Who was involved in the planning of the new site? How long did it take?
MD: About two years ago I read Getting to First Base by Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot from Capulet Communications, (note: this book is now called Friends with Benefits) and then was fortunate enough to meet them in person to talk about what our website could be and what we needed to consider. As we in the theatre tend to work from season to season it took about a year to redesign the website. I spent most of that time thinking and gathering ideas to incorporate.
I mapped out the site, roughed out some page designs and then Darren Giles, our web designer and Sam Estok, our web developer, brought their skills to the project and we tweak along the way. Once we decided on the direction, it took about two weeks to design the navigation menu, add the copy and build the pages. Sam has his head deep in code so he’s always looking for new ways of tweaking things. I should add that the site is essentially designed and built in-house – Darren used to work in our Box Office and Sam is one of our technicians.
RC: Why did you decide to make it so clean and simple and white? Was there any opposition to this? (ie: some people might think it was boring)
MD: It’s an aesthetic we like and I think it works well with and reinforces our offline marketing and branding.
RC: Was there opposition?
MD: You bet – everyone has an idea about what a website should look like and what it should do. I probably get an email stating “your website sucks” five times a year.
We get two kinds of complaints, one aesthetic – those who feel we should have more pictures on the index page and and the other technical – those who don’t like how the site works on their mobile devices.
Most of the changes we have made over the years have been as a result of what people say they would like to see – right now we are working on a redesign and, with Sam on board, we have the skills to address the technical aspects of making the site more mobile friendly. That said I think people need to have some patience – how many different browsers does a designer or developer have to take into account? I think it’s really tough to stay on top of all the technology and have a good sense of design – you tend to get one or the other.
RC: What platform did you use to build the site?
We were not keen to mess with our SEO so Thesis and WordPress were a great combination for us.
RC: My favorite thing about your site is how you incorporate social media right in. Whose idea was this, and how hard was it to accomplish?
MD: Incorporating social media into the site came from reading Julie and Darren’s book and from studying what other sites were doing. In our site Sam got the API’s from each online channel and then made the code changes. This doesn’t have to be hard (there are a ton of wordpress plugins to help you) but you need to consider the aesthetic too.
RC: What has been the reaction to the new site?
MD: Overall, and with the exceptions noted above, the reaction has been positive. People, especially the media, have embraced the site’s ability to deliver things like photos, videos and our calendar – this certainly saves me a ton of time.
The site will change over the next couple of months – the navigation menu will be reconfigured, a mobile version will be released and we are looking to add every webpage from every show we have done since starting our first website back in 1996.
RC: Thanks, Mark!