A Spektrix website with a difference
Saffron Hall is a state-of-the-art concert and recording venue in the market town of Saffron Walden, Essex, which opened in 2013. Aside from its ticketed programme of mainly classical music, Saffron Hall is also a pioneering model of community cultural provision and arts education, spearheading unique local initiatives such as Together in Sound, a music therapy project for people living with dementia and their companions, and Come Together, which aims to build an intergenerational creative community in Essex and beyond. And as if all that wasn't enough, by day the building doubles as the school hall for Saffron Walden County High School, a local comprehensive.
In short, Saffron Hall isn't just another venue in need of a way to advertise shows and sell tickets. But that's all their original website was designed to do — and when they came to us in 2018 it was already creaking at the seams.
As a charity and small venue, Saffron Hall wasn't in a position to pay for a full rebuild right off the bat, so we didn't try and force them into one. Instead, we worked closely with the hall's staff to identify and prioritise the most critical problems with their existing website, and devise an economical roadmap of gradual improvement.
A few years later, the result is a completely transformed digital platform that supports all of Saffron Hall's activities — all achieved for a modest annual cost.
Improving performance on the old website
Mindful of Saffron Hall's tight budget, we focused our efforts in the first year on picking off low-hanging fruit to improve the user experience on their existing site.
For example, we introduced a quick change so that users booking single-performance events were taken straight to the seat selection screen, eliminating a previous intermediate page that asked users to pick a date, even if there was only one on offer.
We also added a number of other subtle features, like upsells for food, and lazy-loading event listings that appear as users scroll, making it possible to see the complete list of events on a single page.
As we made more and more of these small improvements, the number of successful transactions increased by about 15% year on year. However it was clear that we were approaching the natural limits of the existing site — not just in terms of maximising sales, but of achieving Saffron Hall's other goals around community initiatives.
An Agile approach to the rebuild
Part of the problem with the old site was its content management system, WordPress. Although the previous agency had installed a number of third-party plug-ins to give Saffron Hall more control over page layout and content, they were ultimately tied to a small number of fixed templates.
While this worked fine for the conventional venue pages — event listings, visitor FAQs, etc. — it limited how effectively they could deliver other content on the site. Important pages highlighting their work in the community got lost in the "About" or "News" sections, while their learning and participation team were spending hours trying to twist WordPress to display their wide range of varied content.
To address these problems we wanted to move Saffron Hall to a new, more flexible CMS, but a full rebuild was still beyond their budget. Instead, we planned a phased rebuild, moving the site from WordPress to Craft CMS in stages over two years. This would allow them to prioritise key improvements, while spreading the cost over a series of smaller annual budgets.
Moving Spektrix events to Craft CMS
Although we knew Craft's features would be particularly useful for non-event content, ticket sales were still Saffron Hall's main source of revenue — and this was the part of the site that could be most easily lifted out of WordPress. So at the beginning of 2020 we designed and built a separate ticketing subdomain at events.saffronhall.com.
Like many regional venues, Saffron Hall relies overwhelmingly on a core group of regulars who attend multiple events every season. The new ticketing pages include a number of features designed specifically for them, to make the early rush of ticket sales smoother than ever before.
Intelligent filters on the listings page now let users combine date, genre, and available amenities in their search — which hadn't been possible on the previous site — and better yet, the site remembers your choices and how far through the programme you've looked, even if you navigate away to buy tickets for a specific event. That way you can pick up right where you left off, just like dog-earing a physical brochure.
Meanwhile, our "same seats" option means that if you're booking multiple events you only need to choose your seats once. If you find a seat you like on one event, you can pick it again for any other event, with just a single click from the listings page. Our site talks to the ticketing system's API and grabs the right seat for you, or takes you to the seating map if the one you want isn't available.
By taking the ticketing process out of WordPress and into Craft CMS we reduced the number of pages in an average transaction by about 40% — without reducing the average order value or quantity. In other words, people bought the same amount, but with much less hassle.
Our new ticketing section also introduced an updated look and feel, which we rolled out to the old WordPress site too, linking the two website’s navigation and search functions so that users wouldn't notice any friction as they moved between the main domain and the ticketing site. This alignment of styling and data, combined with the new ticketing section, led one of our directors to ask if we'd actually rebuilt the whole thing all at once after all!
Using Craft CMS to reimagine the website's content
As we continued to help identify priorities for the final phase, one thing became clear: although the different strands of their work (live music and community events) were clearly separate, there were still meaningful affinities between them. It was also important to the Saffron Hall team that users understand and explore everything they do, regardless of their initial reason for visiting the website.
For both reasons, we needed to make it easier for users to absorb more of the site's content, following their interests, rather than getting tickets in one place and community news and resources in another. At the same time, we still needed a clearly delineated structure to make it easy for new visitors to understand at a glance where to find what they were looking for.
To meet these competing requirements, we designed two new features — both of which depended on Craft CMS.
The first was a completely redesigned navigation, organised around Saffron Hall's four key user journeys — Book Tickets, Visit Us, Support Us, and Take Part — plus a fifth area, What We Do. Clicking on any one of these headings now summons a "mega-menu", where clear subheadings signpost the most important pages in each section. Better yet, these subheadings reflect the underlying nested structure of each section in the CMS, meaning Saffron Hall's staff can edit them easily whenever they like.
Another important feature of the new navigation is the option to highlight key calls to action. In the "Support Us" menu, for example, there's an inline donation widget to let users immediately add a donation (with Gift Aid) to the Spektrix basket; in the "Visit Us" section, the most recent operational announcements about on-sales and opening hours are automatically displayed, rescuing things like "Christmas box office hours" from disappearing in the news pages.
In fact, we eliminated the traditional news section altogether, because our research showed that nobody was using it. That brings us to the second major feature we built into the new site: the "content channel".
Previously, the news section had become a clearinghouse for all the awkward content that wouldn't fit elsewhere — things like season announcements and changes to opening hours, profiles of important donors, interviews with performers, calls for auditions, and showcases of the hall's community work. Anything, essentially, that wasn't a page with fixed information, like "Where to Park" or "How to Make a Donation".
Rather than trying to engineer that organisational pattern away by creating new sections to redistribute all this content, we embraced the chaos! After all, the problem wasn't useless or uniteresting content: it was that ‘News’ disconnected it from the other areas of the site.
There’s still a page where all this news and not-news lives in a single place, but visitors rarely view it there. Instead, staff distribute it throughout the site, enriching the different sections with useful, engaging and relevant content.
For example, in their Previous Projects section, they now pull in the three latest ‘Schools and Communities’ news items, as well as the three most recent projects. This provides an engaging, up-to-date snapshot of recent community work as well as a springboard into the full archive of each category of content.
Elsewhere, these "featured content” blocks power the latest announcements in the Visit Us mega-menu, as well as a new, lively About page. Rather than the typical About page you often find on venue websites, with some brief marketing copy and little else, Saffron Hall can now pull in unlimited categorised content to showcase everything they do and set people off exploring the rest of the site.
What difference has all of this made? Since launch, overall traffic is up 38%, and the bounce rate (single-page visits) is down 18%. More crucially, traffic to the commercial sections of the site has increased significantly — with over 200% more visitors to the Support Us section, 180% more to the What's On section, and a near 50% increase in the average time spent on these all-important pages.
Since launch, overall traffic is up by 38%
Bounce rate (single-page visits) is down by 18%
There’s been over 200% more visitors to the Support Us section
Creating completely customisable learning resources pages in Craft CMS
The last aspect of our rebuild was a new system for creating and sharing participant resources for Saffron Hall's various community programmes. These resources vary enormously from project to project — and even from week to week within a project! — so the new learning resources sections need to be highly flexible. These pages are often used by children, or by adults with dementia, so they also need to be easy to digest and highly accessible.
Using Craft CMS's intuitive drag and drop editor interface, we gave Saffron Hall unprecedented control over the layout and appearance of these pages. They can choose between a number of preset accessible colour combinations for each element, to allow them to clearly theme different project pages or add visual interest for younger audiences; they can pull in content from any other part of the site using the content channel; they can mix and match multiple layouts within each page to accommodate different sections; and they can embed a wealth of different media and third-party content to enable sharing of participant work no matter what format it comes in.
In short, they can efficiently create custom microsites for each learning project within the main website — and using Craft's native authentication, easily password-protect whole sections at once. This way, if someone enters their password to access page 6 of the Come Together resources, the site will unlock the rest of the Come Together resources as well.
Building a long-term support relationship
It's immensely satisfying working with Saffron Hall. But after three years and finally launching the new site you might expect us to have sat back and put our feet up.
In year four, we used Saffron Hall’s annual budget to launch a new microsite highlighting their online learning programme for primary schools, Saffron Sounds. Much of this content already existed on the main Saffron Hall site, and still does — but by using Craft’s multi-site feature, we’re also able to serve it simultaneously to the new Saffron Sounds microsite.
This means the parents and teachers who register for Saffron Sounds have a simplified landing page and user experience just for them, but anyone who already uses the resources on the main Saffron Hall site can still use all their saved bookmarks. Best of all, once we set up the back end, the only thing the learning team at Saffron Hall had to do was flick a single switch in the CMS, to enable the content for both sites at once.
Meanwhile, using Spektrix’s multi-domain styling support, we were able to create a new, branded registration flow for Saffron Sounds with just a few lines of CSS — no expensive new API integration required, and no impact on the main Saffron Hall purchase flow.
Most recently, in year five, we’ve come full circle and completely overhauled Saffron Hall’s event pages again, adding powerful new features based on our learnings over the intervening three years. You can read more about those changes in our insight article, How to supercharge your event pages with strategy, automation, and a slightly terrifying spreadsheet.
And for year six and beyond? We’re already scoping out new pages and features with the team to improve the site even further, and we hope to carry on this partnership for many years to come.