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Last week I was at the Arts Marketing Association Digiday where Carol Jones made the comment that “… it’s not about the tech, done properly you don’t even notice it”.

Immediately my thoughts jumped back to our first brochure (about 1990!) which started with a quote that “… the true test of successful implementation of IT … will be when we do not notice it is there”.

Believed it then, believe it now.

Russell

Personally, I would say yes!.

Let’s start by explaining some things.

Back in the day we accessed the internet via a desktop computer, or maybe a laptop, screen sizes and computer speeds were pretty low, slow and inconsistent. But at least we knew roughly a few things about our potential visitors.

They would probably be viewing our sites either at 800×600 or 1024×768 (and there are some here who actually remember 640×480!), or as screen sizes increased and TFTs became common place, most users began to view our sites using 1280×1024 screens, this was fine. I could design my site to fit.

Now, things have moved on, once a mobile site would and could only be simple text, maybe a little colour and a couple of tiny pixelated images. Now mobile is here, tablets, netbooks and other strange net connected devices are cropping up. So where does that put me when designing a new site?

Now we  have to cater for a whole range of devices. Previously there was no choice in the matter, M.website.com or www.website.com. One pretty basic site and another rigid one.

We’re talking websites here, so if you’re wondering about when to make a mobile site or app, you’ll have to come back for that.

This is where Responsive Web Design comes in. Instead of developing a website specifically for one screen size, we can now detect the browser/device/tablet/phones viewable space, and adapt the design to fit.

Take a look at our new site built in this manner.

On my beloved 27″ iMac, instead of seeing a postage stamp, I see it in its full glory, then on my mobile I get the full experience, just nicely folded down.

Same site, same code. But with a little thinking it scales up and down gracefully.

Should we?

So, when you are next developing your website, think about the bigger picture, as well as the smaller one. If you have no need or the budget for a native app, I would say build a responsive site.Check out this website, pop in the address for your site,  or ours :) and see how it renders at different sizes http://www.studiopress.com/responsive/

Cover of JAM May 2012“By the end of 2012 there will be more connected devices than people on Earth”: the first sentence of Heather Maitland‘s article really kicks off The latest edition of JAM is a very timely look at mobile marketing. A host of excellent articles that build up to the final one (well it’s in the middle really) by Roger Tomlinson, which is the most poignant: the impact that social media development has had on how people buy. But more of that later.

Heather has done an excellent job on summarising where we are and where it seems to be heading- smart phones, tablets, Facebook, twitter, shopping …it’s big business and one we can’t avoid. After all the mind blowing stats, comes the little one, and for us the key one, basically you’ve got three chances before people give up on your mobile site.

So what makes for a good user experience? Well Heather starts us off with a good checklist ( if you want it, then buy a copy of JAM!) and the following articles start to put flesh on it.

Loic Tallon in an interview with Helen Bolt, talks us through how to create a good mobile experience. Same hymn sheet as me I think : talk in terms of the experience and the technology comes later; be specific about objectives…spot on.

Amy Clarke tells us not to neglect our email – for most it is still a bigger pool than our Facebook fans ( and it has less distractions ), but remember that more and more people are reading it on their phones, so follow Amy’s advice and make your email mobile ready.

Jim Richardson talks about apps or website optimisation, otherwise called responsive websites (these scale and change their layout depending on the device they are viewed on – have a look at Masque-Arts and change the width of your browser). Faced with the cost of app development and fragmented smartphone platforms, he thinks that arts organisations should take step back from apps and consider how their website performs on smaller screens.

Chris Unitt then looks at some latest stats and follows on from Jim’s article in comparing responsive sites to mobile specific sites.

Then we step into the world of the app! Vicky Lee gives us the background to developing the amazing StreetMuseum app from the Museum of London (what do you mean you haven’t installed it? Do it now and be inspired). And Allegra Burnette discusses integrating mobile into the mix at MoMA.

To this point the articles have given us an insight of what to do, how to do it and some fascinating peeks into what has been done. Roger‘s article is the key as it is really the why. Marketing had changed, it is more intrusive than ever before. Social media pushed it down this path and the mobile world has consolidated this – marketing really has become a brand in your hand. As Roger says it is up close and personal. By taking our marketing into the social media world we are butting into conversations among friends. We must be careful here as the potential for rejection is very high. Roger‘s observation is that we are now helping people to buy not selling. Of course that is what the best selling had always done, an no matter how we approach it selling is the end goal. So it’s marketing Jim, but not how we know it.

The Journal of Arts Marketing is published by The Arts Marketing Association

One question we keep getting asked is “how do I stop our newsletter being thrown into the junk mail box?”. If you are involved with email marketing, and I include newsletters in that, then this is obviously an important consideration. Avoiding the waste basket has been the goal of direct marketeers since direct mail started and the advice for email marketing to a large extent is very similar.

The easiest way to avoid the junk mail box is to get the recipient to mark your emails as safe/not junk. A lot of this centres around showing the recipient you know them, what they are interested in and in return you are interested in what they have to say.

1. Be personal: first of all address the recipient as an individual. Try to make sure that you know whether they like to be addressed by their first name or more formally. Do they know someone in your organisation? If so, can you send the email from them? Are they members of your friends scheme? Then send it from the membership manager – it just reinforces the relationship.

2. Divide and Conquer: What do you know about your recipients? Do have any purchase history? Have they told you what they like? Do you know what links they have taken previously? You probably have a vast amount of information available so use it to segment your lists and send them information they would be interested in. Do you have a group of large value contributors? Then give them special treatment. Are there people who are just not interested? Then don’t email them and try to find out why they aren’t interested – quality not quantity counts.

3. Communicate: don’t just instruct – “our next performance is on ….”, “new products in the shop…” – encourage your recipients to communicate. Ask for their feedback, direct them to places where some feedback has been published already, direct them to your facebook page and twitter account. Let them converse with you in the medium they are most comfortable with.

4. Test, Monitor and Analyse: Email marketing should not be fire and forget. Keep looking at you stats. What do people click on? Which articles have no interest? What is the best time of day to send your newsletter? Which layout works best?

5. Get the technical stuff right: Deliverability and legalities. using a trusted mail server and using a verified sending address is a great help in getting your email to the intended recipient. Make sure that you include a simple way for a recipient to unsubscribe in every email; treat you email as any other communication from your organisation and include your physical address; Don’t mislead in your subject line.

If you want to get started then take a look at Masque Mail, our low cost emailing solution or get in touch.

Just been having a look around some of our friends sites and I am still surprised at how many don’t get the basics right when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO).

I think the trouble is most people think that SEO is hard and takes a lot of work. Well, it can be time consuming if you want to go the whole hog, but basic SEO is fairly simple. Don’t think of it as just getting up the rankings on Google, think of it as a service to those who want to see what you have to say. What you are trying to do is make it easy for them to find you and decide to pay you a visit – that second element is the oft forgotten part of the process.
So what can you do that doesn’t take huge amounts of time? Here’s 4 things you can do:

1. Treat every page as a landing page: When you think about it what is the liklihood of a saerch result returning your homepage? If someone searches for your organisation by name, then probably your home page is what they are looking for. But if the are searching for some information (say a play or a ballet or some artefact or other), then the chances are that information is not on your home page – it is going to be deeper into your site. So you need to think of the best way to let people find that page – so treat it as if it is its own home page.

2. Give every page a unique title: You’d be surprised how many websites have the same title for each page – this is not good, although it is easy. Not only important in SEO terms but it is the page title shown in a Google search result. By the way, Google uses the first 69 characters so make them count: it is your way to grab the readers’ attention. more on page titles…

3. Give every page a description:  Another metatag that is often missed is the description. This gives you a chance to say what the page is about in a succint way. Google uses the first 156 characters in their search results, so it is this which will bring people to your site – no point of appearing high up the lists if they don’t click through. more on descriptions…

4. Give your pages real names: there are differing views on the importance of this in the SEO world, but I think it is good practice and a great help to your visitors. Even outside of search it is much easier to refer someone to a pagename that describes the content than a random stream of numbers and letter. more on page names…

For more SEO ideas take a look at Masque Arts Search Engine Optimisation.

Further to my post the other day about David Bintley’s incredible new version of Cinderella, we find that BR are actually producing a second version!  The same score, on the same scale and with the same ambitious production values… but with a very different choreographic team.

Following on from the hugely successful Ballet Hoo! project, BRB are working with local youth groups in the exciting project “Ballet, Birmingham and Me” (or BB&Me for short) to create this second version of Cinderella.

Follow the trial and tribulations of this amazing projects at BB&Me.

Working with CMS: Content Management System

In today’s web world any kind of design, which is going to be continually updated with content, needs a CMS. This database stores your site content and allows the site admin to work with an interface which means you can then add, modify and remove content at your will.

Although a CMS can be designed and programmed specifically for a site it is necessary for you to first consider the type of CMS you are looking to work with. Free website platforms such and Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are available. Although a cheaper option maybe attractive you must match the best CMS available according your requirements – just because it looks cheaper in the short run doesn’t mean it will be over time.

The Relationship Between CMS and Design Brief

A problem we often come across when designing and working with clients is the relationship between the CMS and your design brief. I have begun to think why you shouldn’t specify your CMS as part of your design brief. With some potential clients we can sometimes find the first problem we come across is that the amalgamation of the brief for the technical side (content management system [CMS] and the customer relationship management [CRM]) with the design itself. To solve this problem you should assess these as two separate items and each should be approached separately.

A good CMS will support just about any design that it is thrown into the mix and any designer should conversely also be able to work with most CMS. In regards to implementation, we would always carry out all of the associated work anyway and it should be our main job to make sure the CMS templates correctly implement the design.

Of course it is also possible that over time we can see multiple designers working on a project, even on different parts of a sites design. So by having the technical infrastructure independent to the design company itself can give you much more flexibility. If you are attempting a much larger revamp of the site, why switch your CMS?

Keep the CMS at the Top of the Design Process

We should always put the CMS at the top of the design process; it is imperative that this is done first, before any of the design work. Lay the groundwork of the project with your CMS from this the rest of the design should flow. This is so that the CMS forms the foundation of any website allowing the website process to be much more productive.

Birmingham Royal Ballet published their planned productions for the Birmingham Hippodrome today and you can find the listing here.

What is great, for us, about this is that it shows some of the new features in Masque Repertoire (our content management system for the performing arts), allowing all the information about a production to appear on one page together with links to the booking pages on the theatres web site. Take a look at the Romeo and Juliet page to get the idea.
This is just the first phase in our redevelopment with lots more features being added. We have worked closely with BRB for several years to develop a system that is easy to use and quick to update when you have more information to impart.
From a technical point it has been a fascinating challenge to get the underlying database structure correct and then to build the web program to bring this all together into the web pages – depending on what’s coming up performance wise this might generate 1,500 pages or more – and is handling about 5,000 page views a day.