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Most Popular UK Zoos’ Websites Reviewed

The UK is rich with zoological gardens and today, we look at some of the most popular UK zoos’ websites. In this article we look at the London Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Chester Zoo, Bristol Zoo and Edinburgh Zoo websites.

When we write a proposal for a website build, the following article is exactly what we do in preparation. We perform the following peer review so we can learn from those sites that aren’t great and benefit from those that are. We want to avoid the mistakes and build on the success of others.

In order to compile our list of zoo websites to look at, we’ve picked zoos who appear on multiple most popular lists. We cross-checked lists from Zoo Federation, CheapHotels4UK, One Step 4ward, Tripadvisor and the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions to get our list of 5 websites we’re reviewing. We’ve then organised the list by estimated monthly traffic, from high to low.

How We Grade the Most Popular UK Zoos’ Websites

We look at each of the following when reviewing a site. Comprehensively meeting each criteria leads to a site that’s going to engage the audience and succeed at its role. Each of the 6 review criteria has elements we’re looking for. Each element being assigned a point value, the maximum score a website can achieve is 30 points.

Review Criteria

  • Structure – Can the content be found easily? A site’s structure is critical to the success of the site. It shapes how a user will navigate and digest the content – the whole purpose of the site’s existence.
  • Design – Organising each page in a manner where users get the answer quickly is both a science and an art. It’s critical to giving the user an enjoyable experience.
  • Content – At the heart of any website is the content. It’s what everything is built around, with the sole objective of delivering said content as effectively as possible.
  • User Experience – How easy is the site to navigate and operate? A site that frustrates or annoys is going to cost you visitors. If the website is there to generate revenue, then there will be real world financial consequences.
  • Features – Has the site got all the features it needs to maximise conversions and be a useful resource? Features are either critical to the success of the site or help deliver a rich experience to the user.
  • Development Quality – A site that’s slow, unreliable or buggy is going to have a detrimental impact. It makes your business look shoddy and drives away potential customers.

All websites are reviewed for desktop only at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Chester Zoo

The Chester Zoo website trades top spot for online traffic with London Zoo, averaging 350,000 estimated monthly visitors between March and May 2019.

Chester Zoo has undergone a refresh with a new site launching in late Spring 2019.

Structure

The Chester Zoo website is very nicely structured. It follows the tried and tested grid structure with each section having its own menu.

Each sub-section’s end pages have links to move laterally through the section. For example, you can move to another animal without needing to go back to the archive which is excellent structural organisation.

We feel the Chester Zoo website is very well structured and deserves full marks, 5 out of 5.

Design

Of all the popular UK zoos’ websites we’re reviewing, the Chester Zoo website is one of the more fun website designs.

There are some interesting nuances such as the Preventing Extinction navigation link opening a hidden drawer that slides into view above the menu. It seem quite unnecessary and breaks the structural continuity of the other site sections.

It would have been nice to see the Latest News section keep the sub-section menu theme going, perhaps placing the blog’s categories there for quick and easy navigation.

Overall, the design is very pleasant and fitting to the zoo and industry sector. It’s fun and engaging but isn’t perfect. The font that’s been chosen for call to action sections is fun but isn’t the clearest or easiest to read. These are important content blocks and need to be as clear as possible to read. Anyone with less than perfect eyesight will struggle to read it.

With the negative impact of some of the fonts used, the Chester Zoo website scores 3 out of 5 for design.

Content

The Chester Zoo website content is extremely well produced. The Meet the Animals section of a popular UK zoo website is a great metric to rate content. The Chester Zoo website has a comprehensive Meet the Animals section with each animal receiving a thorough write up. Each animal’s page has interesting facts and figures. They share just the right amount of information to make the pages’ content interesting and useful.

Throughout the site, the content is informative and easy to digest. It’s easy to give the Chester Zoo website 5 out of 5 for its content.

User Experience

The Chester Zoo website is for the most part easy to use and slick. However, once you dig a little deeper into some of the features, they become a little clunky and a bit buggy.

The Day Planner feature is an awesome tool for users but has a couple of very annoying bugs. For example, the sidebar links aren’t all active so clicking them doesn’t do anything.

Visiting the shop, you’re redirected to a sub-domain. There is a link in the header to go back to the main site which is good. Only problem, it takes you back to the homepage and not the page that you were originally on.

The Latest News section is well developed and utilises the very popular Load More button to paginate the blog. But, after loading a few more pages of content and then going to a post loses your place. It’s an easy fix to keep the page number loaded so returning to the archive returns the user to the page they were originally at.

In general, the Chester Zoo website is a pleasurable experience. However, with the couple of issues surrounding links and pagination, scores 3 from potential 5 points.

Features

All the usual features are present on the Chester Zoo website and are well developed. Each has been well conceived and executed, for the most part.

The Day Planner feature we touched on previously, is a fantastic tool that other popular UK zoo websites don’t possess. However, it’s buggy and this takes away from its impact. As we touched on, the sidebar links are inactive and this is a simple issue to resolve. If there’s no content behind the links, don’t show them!

With the negative impact of the Day Planner, we can only give the Chester Zoo website features 4 out of 5, still very respectable.

Development Quality

Development quality for the Chester Zoo website is easy to review. It’s very well put together, with only a few bugs. The site responds well to user inputs and the front end is consistent throughout with no visual bugs.

4 out of 5 for development quality. If not for the broken links in the Day Planner, it would be 5 out of 5.

Final Report

The Chester Zoo website is a new site and as such, the hope would be for a very high score – if not a perfect score. As it happens, the site scores 24 from a possible 30 which is very good. However, a few easy fixes would see this score head toward 30.

That said, while the site scores well, we feel it is over-designed. Fonts have been used because they’re cool and funky but compromise the user’s enjoyment. Some features are a bit gimmicky and unnecessary.

London Zoo

London Zoo is world-famous and on of Britain’s most popular zoos. It attracts over 1 million visitors per year to the zoo and an estimated half million visitors to the website each month.

As London’s premier zoo, it has to compete with the plethora of attractions that reside in London.

London Zoo Logo

Structure

The London Zoo website structure is excellent. It uses the same organisational structure that we identified as the best option for a zoo website. Each section is clearly labelled and accessible from the header navigation. Upon navigating to a sub-section, the sub-section’s menu quickly gets the user to the page they’re seeking.

The separation of primary and secondary content is on point. Nothing is tucked away in the footer or hidden within a sub-section that can’t be accessed directly. It would be nice to see every section have a sub-section menu but overall, the site is well structured. As a result, it is quick and easy to navigate.

Looking beyond the overall structure of the site, there is room for improvement. The London Zoo blog lacks any kind of categorisation of posts. Subsequently, there’s no ability for a user to filter blog posts by category and drill down to articles of a particular topic or subject.

Another important factor of zoo website structure is the grid structural system. This is again something we’ve identified as critical to zoo websites. London Zoo does this well. From an animal’s page, all the other site sections that relate to the animal being viewed are quickly and easily accessible. This comprehensive connectivity is excellent and exceeds what we would see in a silo structure.

Structurally, the London Zoo website is well organised and deserves the solid 3 out of 5 rating we’re giving it.

Design

When you land on the London Zoo website homepage, a slider dominates the screen. However, it doesn’t really rank above the other content on the screen. When considering visual hierarchy, it is critical that there is at least 2 tiers. In the case of the London Zoo website homepage, nothing grabs the user’s attention and steers them toward a single element of the page.

Moving through the site, the design does remain consistent and simple. However, this simplicity is a little too simple and the simplicity causes elements to merge into one. Web design is all about separation of content and steering the user to what you want them to engage with. The London Zoo website design, unfortunately, doesn’t do this.

From an aesthetic perspective, the design is plain, simple and lacking in imagination. It’s a very functional design which, for the industry, is a negative. An injection of creativity could make the site more engaging and a lot more fun to look at. This is important as you want the marketing material to project the experience of visiting what it’s marketing onto the user.

As one of the most popular UK zoos, you would expect London Zoo to be leading the way in cutting edge zoo website design. Sadly, this is not the case and as a result we give the London Zoo a 2 out of 5 for design.

Content

London Zoo clearly has a well defined content strategy that is well executed. Each page is engaging with accompanying imagery that compliments the text superbly.

The character of the content is light and direct. It is energetic and enjoyable to read which results in good user engagement. Reading through the site leaves little doubt about the message the content is trying to send.

The images used throughout the site are well suited and high quality. This makes the site visually appealing from a content perspective.

The only criticism is there could be more content. What exists tickles the user’s interest but may not always satisfy the desire for knowledge. Overall though, the content is excellent and deserves 4 out of 5.

User Experience

Overall, the London Zoo website is an enjoyable place to be. It is simple to use and well constructed. The bugs that exist don’t impact too heavily on the user’s ability to navigate and consume the site.

There is nothing on the site that we found, that results in frustration or confusion. That said, due to the site’s design, it’s a fairly forgettable experience. This is the only negative but it’s a big one. As such, the London Zoo website loses 2 points and gets 3 out of 5 for user experience.

Features

The London Zoo website has all the necessary features you’d expect from a popular UK zoo website. The features, such as Meet the Animals and ticket booking, are clearly thought out and well executed.

There are areas that could be improved though. For example, the ticket system doesn’t include any navigation or even a back button. This breaks the user’s journey through the site as it results in them being “stuck” on the purchase ticket page.

As the features the site has tick most of the boxes for critical features and are generally well produced, London Zoo’s website score 3 out of 5.

Development Quality

For the most part, the site is bug free and well produced. However, navigating to the London Zoo News section reveals a few bugs. Headings’ layouts break a little when the length of the post title exceeds a certain number of characters. Little things like needing more padding after the content before the call to action take the shine off the site’s finish.

If a user is on an animal’s information page, such as the penguins, then clicking the buttons to change tabs reveals very basic and half finished tab panels. The sidebar isn’t persistent, coming and going with different tabs.

From a performance perspective, the London Zoo website loads quickly and reliably, essential for one of the most popular zoos in the UK.

It is these sorts of issues that detract from the overall quality of the site and simply shouldn’t exist. With the lack of polish, the site scores 3 out of 5.

Final Report

Overall, the London Zoo functions fine but it is a very functional site. It doesn’t inspire or excite the user as they navigate through the pages. The bugs and rough elements that crop up take away from the overall quality.

Our final score for London Zoo website is a very average, middle of the road 18 out of 30.

Colchester Zoo

The last of the over 1 million visitors per year, Colchester Zoo website sees an estimated 125,000 monthly visitors.

Colchester Zoo’s website, that features in this review article, launched just a few months previously on March 20, 2019.

Interestingly, looking at estimated traffic, for the months January – March 2019, the Colchester Zoo website had an average of 95,000 visitors. Since, April – June has seen an average of 145,000 visitors.

Colchester Zoo Logo

Structure

The structure of the Colchester Zoo website is second to none. It is clear and obvious where everything is, easily accessible and linked laterally nicely. The grid organisational structure is popular with UK zoos’ websites as it is the optimal way to arrange the sub-sections. As such, it is no surprise to see Colchester Zoo implementing the grid structure.

Throughout the site, the hero section shadows you with the 4 top priority links. Having links to the ticket system, shop, day planner and zoo map at all times is superb structurally. Users are never more than a moment away from the top 4 highest priority site sections.

The use of top bar navigation menu, sitting just above the main menu, allows for three tiers of content. Navigation links that are important to a sub-set of users but not necessarily zoo visitors are easily accessible, again opening up the site’s content and getting people to what they want quickly.

The Colchester Zoo website structure and organisation is a very good example to follow and for that reason, we’re giving it 5 out of 5!

Design

The design of Colchester Zoo’s website is very well produced. A clear and defined design ethos has been employed that has resulted in a very pleasant website design.

For the most part, text is clear and easy to read. The only exception is the yellow used as a background for action buttons, the white text is very difficult to read.

As a result, this minor issue results in a 4 out of 5 score.

Content

The Colchester Zoo website is easy to read but there simply isn’t enough. The events lack any real information other than when they are on. They don’t explain what the event’s all about or sell it particularly well.

The Meet the Animals section, a core element of popular zoos’ websites, has inconsistencies in content presentation. It feels almost unfinished or at least, minimum passable content.

Imagery used is good quality and well produced. It makes for a visually pleasing experience when browsing the site.

With the general lack of informative content, the score is reduced to 3 out of 5.

User Experience

The user experience of the Colchester Zoo website is generally very good. You’re lead through the site in a nice, natural manner and everything is easily accessible.

One thing that would be nice would be the ability to navigate to other events from an event’s page. Little things like this round off the user’s experience of a website.

The Meet the Animals section does cause a little confusion. The animals are grouped but by what metric is unclear. Navigating to the Chimpanzee Lookout presents chimpanzees but also a crocodile? For categories with just one animal, it’s a bit confusing what the page is about. It’s clear what the thinking was behind the organisation of the animals section but it hasn’t been executed quite right.

With the issues surrounding the animals section, and the missing convenience tools, out of 5 we rate the user experience at 3.

Features

The Colchester Zoo website has all the features you’d expect and need to plan your visit. The features could do with a little more development either technically or from a content standpoint.

As mentioned, the Meet the Animals section has a few negatives. The zoo shop ideally would be part of the main site to save jumping back and forth. At present, clicking shop opens a new tab to a sub-domain and then you’re brought back to the main site via certain shop links, such as with buying tickets. Ultimately, you end up with multiple open tabs which is annoying.

With this all considered, the Colchester Zoo website scores a 3 from potential 5 for features.

Development Quality

The website is very well developed. There aren’t any bugs that we’ve found in our quick run through. The animations are slick and the site responsive. Performance of the Colchester Zoo website is very good and supports a high user engagement ratio.

We award Colchester Zoo full marks for development quality – 5 out of 5!

Final Report

To sum up, Colchester Zoo website is very accomplished and a quality production. From the technical perspective, looking at the site, it’s superb. The content is lacking but a well developed content strategy could remedy that and push the site up a few echelons to one of the best popular uk zoos’ websites there is!

A final score of 23 out of 30 for the Colchester Zoo website.

Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo has for a long time being Scotland’s most popular attraction. It draws around 600,000 annual visitors to the Scottish capital.

Another popular UK zoo website that has had a refresh for 2019. The Edinburgh Zoo website sees an average of 115,000 estimated visitors to the website every month.

Structure

The Edinburgh Zoo website utilises, what we call, a silo structure. Each section of the site has lateral access to content within its own section and calls to action to other sections, such as ticket sales.

The Edinburgh Zoo website is well structured and organises the content intuitively making it nice and easy to find what you want quickly. There is nice use of secondary header navigation to take users to other sites that are part of the same network.

We find little wrong with the implemented structure and score the site 5 out of 5. While it’s not the structure we would implement, the chosen structure has been well executed.

Design

The Edinburgh Zoo website has been designed exceptionally well. Everything has been very well thought out in terms of visual hierarchy and separation of content. It’s immediately apparent what content is from what section and commands the attention of the user.

The fonts that have been used for content and headings have been chosen well. There, the heading fonts stand out to the user and content is very legible and easily consumed.

Combined with the images used across the site, the Edinburgh Zoo website scores top marks. 5 out of 5 for design.

Content

Content is king. Edinburgh Zoo’s content strategy is very well conceived. Throughout the site, the content is consistent and relevant. More importantly, it is engaging. As an example, each animal’s Meet the Animals page has a lot of very informative content. However, it is arranged in a manner where it doesn’t overwhelm and is a joy to read.

The Edinburgh Zoo website once again scores top marks. We give the content at 5 from a possible 5.

User Experience

Not much can be said about the user experience of the Edinburgh Zoo website because, simply put, it’s very good.

The only drawbacks are there are micro-sites that are made to feel part of the main site. However, the difference in design, font and structure does break up the user’s journey. If these micro-sites were all part of the main site theme and thus, looked the same, the Edinburgh Zoo website user experience would be perfect.

With the aforementioned gripe about continuity in user experience, we score the Edinburgh Zoo website at 3 from 5 for user experience.

Features

What features the Edinburgh Zoo website has are very well produced. That said, there isn’t beyond what we’d expect from one of the most popular UK zoos’ websites.

Considering the location and prestige of the zoo, we expected to see more features than other sites. As a result, the Edinburgh Zoo website scores 3 out of 5.

Development Quality

Everything on the Edinburgh Zoo website just works – which is perfect. That’s the best and only sign you want when talking about development quality.

There are no visual bugs and from our run through, we haven’t found any technical bugs such as broken links or hesitant input responses.

It’s an easy one to rate – 5 out of 5!

Final Report

Overall, the Edinburgh Zoo website is excellent. The site’s produced to a superb standard. However, we’d like to have seen more in terms of features from the site. That said, the Edinburgh Zoo website leads the way with a score of 26 out of 30!

Bristol Zoo

Of all our reviewed popular UK zoos’ websites, Bristol Zoo receives the fewest physical and online visitors.

Bristol Zoo receives an estimated 500,000 visitors per year with the Bristol Zoo website seeing estimated average traffic of 55,000 monthly visits.

Structure

The Bristol Zoo website has two structures used within it. These are silo and vertical drill-down. Silo is alright for a zoo website but we feel the vertical drill-down doesn’t fit well. Especially when combined with another structure.

When we navigate to an animal’s information page, we see quick links to other sub-sections of the site. However, upon navigating to the Education and Learning section and then drilling down to Other Learning Opportunities, we suddenly find a mass of otherwise hidden pages.

Having to take two steps to find content that is otherwise inaccessible is poor structure. Particularly with a site with so many sub-section as popular zoo websites have. As a result, the Bristol Zoo website receives just 2 out of 5 for its structure.

Design

The first thing you notice about the Bristol Zoo website is how simply and quick the homepage is to consume. The design is fun and light. As a result, it’s a pleasure scrolling through the pages and taking in what each page has to say.

Everything about the design reflects the sensation a day at the zoo should give. It has energy and excitement.

The only annoyance is the changing header background colours. It’s a bit random and on the homepage, the orange header is reflected in the orange heading font colour. This doesn’t remain as a feature for other pages that use an alternate colour header.

The Bristol Zoo website design is excellent and if not for the weird header colours and inconsistency there, would score full points. However, we’re giving the design 4 out of 5.

Content

The content of the Bristol Zoo website is very good. It’s informative but written in a manner which is light and engaging. Furthermore, there is plenty of it which is key. Reading through an animal’s information page is informative and interesting.

Throughout the site, images have been produced to a superb standard and support the written content.

The Bristol Zoo website content scores the maximum 5 out of 5.

User Experience

While the Bristol Zoo website is very nice to look at, it is a veneer that is quickly shattered once you start using the site.

There are numerous issues of low to medium severity that detract from the overall user experience. On numerous pages, there are boxes with 3 headings in.

They look like general info boxes but are in fact calls to action and contain links. These links are critical as they lead to “hidden” content and are very easily missed by a user browsing the page. There is absolutely no indication or prompt they’re links.

More serious an issue is the manner in which the site is structured. As previously discussed, the Bristol Zoo website structure negatively impacts on user experience.

On many pages, there’s a section titled Further Information. The title suggest more information about the current page’s content. This is not the case and it’s just general information.

While the site is generally nice to use, these user experience issue are numerous and some, serious. The site scores 1 out of 5 because of it.

Development Quality

Generally speaking, the Bristol Zoo website is well produced. But, there are areas where more attention to detail is required.

On a meet the animal page, there’s an on-page navigation bar to jump around the content. However, after clicking a section title, the navigation doesn’t follow you down the page so it becomes redundant. On the same page, the animal images in the sidebar are skewed.

The header search button triggers a search box to appear. However, there’s no animation which would polish the reveal of the search input.

These are just a couple of examples of where the development quality is lacking. Overall, the site runs very well but lacks the polish of a top quality website. Consequently, the Bristol Zoo website scores 2 out of 5 for quality.

Final Report

Landing on the Bristol Zoo website homepage will grab a user’s attention immediately. It’s a very nice website to look at and the content is excellent to read. However, the overall quality and confusing structure is almost certainly going to cost the site traffic. It’s certainly going to be causing dead zones around the site where users simply never find the content.

Sadly, we can have awarded the Bristol Zoo website just 13 out of 30. With some work on refining and polishing the site, it can score much higher.

Wrapping Up

If you’ve made it this far, well done. It’s been a bit of a long one. But, it just goes to show how much detail we put into even the simplest of tasks. Even something such as a quick review of a few websites.

It’s been fascinating to see how different popular UK zoos’ websites are. Furthermore, it was very unexpected to see that 3 of the 5 have launched the first half of 2019.

As always, if you’d like to talk something over or need some assistance with something, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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