Discovery first, design second

Ely Cathedral dates back to 1083, gained full cathedral status in 1109, and more than a thousand years later it’s still going strong. In addition to a working place of worship for the local community, it’s also a popular filming destination — The Crown filmed many scenes there — and welcomes more than a quarter of a million visitors a year to marvel at its unique architectural features such as the octagonal central tower.

Their previous website had been built up over many years, and as a result was no longer fit for purpose. The custom CMS made it difficult for staff to maintain the site, and as a result it also offered a poor user experience for visitors. The site didn’t work well on mobile, hid key information in an overly complex navigation, and made it difficult to accomplish basic user tasks like finding service times or purchasing a visitor ticket.

Ely were looking for an experienced agency to guide them in rebuilding a user-first site that would better serve its diverse range of audiences. Through a detailed research and discovery project, we collaborated with cathedral staff to identify who their core users were and what they needed to do on the website — and made sure our new site put these key user journeys at the heart of the design process.

<p>The new website lets Ely showcase their events through a beautiful new design, which looks great whether you're on mobile or desktop.</p>

The new website lets Ely showcase their events through a beautiful new design, which looks great whether you're on mobile or desktop.

Rebuilding the website to increase Spektrix sales

A key goal for Ely was to increase the number of tickets they sold online and reduce pressure on their frontline staff and volunteers. Before we even started to think about improving their ticketing integration, however, we needed to understand how selling a ticket fit into the larger life of the website and the Cathedral itself.

To that end, we carried out an in-depth content audit and review of their analytics to understand how visitors were actually using the previous site. We also talked to the senior team across all parts of the cathedral — visitor services, communications, fundraising, clergy, musicians, and so forth — and with Ely’s account team at their ticketing provider, Spektrix. This helped us better diagnose where the pain points were, both online and offline.

The biggest issue we found was that the current website made it difficult for users to find out how and when to visit the cathedral, and to understand the different ticket options. For example, all visitors needed to purchase a visitor ticket, but some of the cathedral’s guided tours already included admission in the price — so some visitors wishing to attend multiple tours would end up paying twice, buying the wrong thing, or requiring extra help from staff when they arrived.

Working directly with Spektrix and the cathedral staff, we designed a totally new purchase system to rationalise these complex rules and conditions around admission and distil them into a simple, intuitive experience. As a first step we helped Ely reconceive how they built events on their system: guided tours no longer include admission, and instead are set up as supplementary add-ons to the main “Visitor Ticket” item.

A powerful custom basket page lets users easily customise their visit with extra tours and add-ons, without having to leave the purchase flow.

Decoupling tours and admission — while keeping them related behind the scenes — means the website can now walk users through the process at every step, explaining what they need to complete their purchase and preventing “impossible” orders from ever reaching cathedral staff. For example, if you find the Octagon Tower Tour page and want to book tickets, the new site will explain that you’ll also need regular admission tickets — and better yet, it will go away and add these for you, so that you can just click “checkout” and get on with your day.

More importantly, this means the new site can suggest extra activities to complete your visit. As soon as you add an admission ticket, the basket page looks up what else is happening the day of your visit and gives you the option to find out more about those activities and add them to your order.

Finally, the new site makes it easier to start your order in the first place, because you can now add tickets to your basket from any page of the website via the site’s navigation bar. No more struggling to find the “Buy Tickets” page!

Though lockdowns over the past two years make it difficult to draw direct comparisons with sales through the previous website, Ely are on track to sell more tickets online in the new website’s first quarter than they have in any previous quarter since moving to Spektrix.

<p>Users can now start their visitor ticket purchase from any page of the website, using the responsive ticketing widget in the navigation bar.</p>

Users can now start their visitor ticket purchase from any page of the website, using the responsive ticketing widget in the navigation bar.

Using audience personas to make sure the new site works for everyone

Although day visitors are obviously a key source of revenue for the cathedral, our discovery phase made it clear that they were far from the only audience for the website. The local community, worshippers, volunteers, donors, and many others needed the website to serve them, too. In short, it couldn’t be just a visitor attraction website, and this was part of the reason the old site was so difficult to navigate: over time, nearly everyone in the cathedral’s senior team had felt their core audience wasn’t being catered to, resulting in more and more items being added to the homepage.

Based on our research, we devised a new design that made it easy for each of those key audiences to accomplish their goals without having to clutter the navigation (the old site listed over a dozen different sections). As a result, potential donors can now donate from any page of the website; parishioners can easily find who is presiding over upcoming services from the homepage; and clergy can share their thoughts on faith in newly designed “Worship” and “Community” sections.

Clear rewards from a user-focussed approach

In the first weeks after launch, engagement metrics have borne out this user-focused approach. Users are about 50% more likely to return to the site, about 50% less likely to leave without engaging, view nearly 150% more pages per visit, and spend 220% more time on the site.

While these stats reflect traffic across the whole website, the trend is especially clear for the crucial “Plan Your Visit” pages. The proportion of website sessions that include a Plan Your Visit page has doubled since we re-launched the site, while the bounce rate (single-page sessions) has halved. In other words, the site accomplishes Ely’s goal of making it easier to plan a visit and buy tickets, without sacrificing on content or experience for their other users.

Long-term planning and future improvements

Ely Cathedral itself took some 300 years to build. While this stunning fact makes the current leadership’s ambitions for the website seem modest, it was still a relatively large undertaking — so rather than trying to cram everything through a single bottleneck before launch, we worked with them to prioritize requirements and phase the project. An online shop and some other smaller features, are due to launch in early 2022. We’re also due to carry on learning, making improvements and requests that arise as people use the new site.

We’re excited to work with Ely to grow the site, actively over the first year post-launch and hopefully for many more years to come as well.

Profile photo of Andrew Ladd

All things arts, culture and heritage Speak with Andrew