The zoo sector is one we’ve loved working in since 2017. Thanks to our time with Houston Zoo, we’ve learnt what features are critical to a zoo website. Our input helped Houston Zoo form the brief for their new website that launched at the end of 2018.
The objective of these features is to create a zoo website that delivers content users are going to return to. While the primary role of a zoo website is to drive ticket sales, building a loyal following should be a top priority too.
At the heart of any zoo is the animals. The potential of this feature to drive a zoo website’s ticket sales is enormous. At the end of the day, this feature is the zoo’s shop window.
Potential visitors are going to look at the website’s animal and enclosures section and decide if they’re going to visit or not. It should be vibrant, full of information and packed with rich media. All too often we see an animal’s profile page bare of content and lacking anything of real value.
The animals and enclosures section of a zoo’s website needs to link within itself and to the ticket sales section. While it does educate with regard to the animals, it’s also the primary sales funnel for tickets.
We’re yet to see an animals and enclosures feature done in the manner which we think is the perfect. Many zoo websites lack information about enclosures altogether. But, these pages could link directly to or include a map of the zoo so visitors can plan their trip and get a sense of where everything is. Thus, improving the general user experience of both site and zoo.
Arguably the most difficult feature of a zoo’s website to get right and do well. It must be a simple process for users to find the ticket they want and purchase. It’s very easy to get creative with the checkout system but this can confuse and distract the user.
Once a purchase is complete, customers need to be able to find a record of their purchase and download or view copies of tickets. Nothing is more frustrating or worrying to a customer than wondering where their ticket is or if they’ve actually purchased one. Access to support is a must and a well produced support system can aid in reducing a zoo’s costs.
The difficult part of the ticketing system is getting it to integrate nicely with the zoo’s admission system on the gate. This where picking the right ticketing partner is essential.
Anytime a user feels any anxiety around whether or not they’ve got their ticket, if they know where it is or how to use it – the feature has failed. The last thing people want to feel is anxiety as they’re approaching the zoo’s gates. Get it right and it sets your visitors’ mood as a positive one before they’ve even seen their first animal for the day.
In modern times, conservation is a huge part of a zoo’s purpose. By having a feature dedicated to the zoo’s involvement in conservation efforts, the zoo’s website can drive interest wildlife conservation.
With heightened interest, greater engagement with the public can help with awareness, volunteering and fund raising – all key elements to the success of the programs.
Another feature that every zoo website should have is a calendar and schedule of what’s going on at the zoo. Visitors can pick what day they want to visit and plan their day based on what’s happening at the zoo.
The feature opens up the possibility to have a day planner tool for visitors to create their own itinerary. This level of user engagement can place the zoo firmly as a favourite of visitors.
Anytime a zoo’s website features give a user more than they expect, it increases the chances of that visitor becoming a repeat visitor and recommending the zoo to other people.
One of the most powerful features of any zoo’s website is the blog. A blog is a blank canvas for you to develop and produce any content you want. The primary role of a blog is to house content users are going to enjoy reading that isn’t purely promotional or marketing material. This gives content producers the freedom to write about anything they like.
Two secondary features of a blog, which are of huge benefit, are direct user engagement and search engine optimisation. A blog provides a place for users to comment and speak directly to each other and the author. Secondly, the blog’s content is going to rank on Google. Creating a series or group of articles surrounding a particular topic is going to rank the blog well. Visitors to these articles might not have otherwise found your zoo’s website as the site’s promotional pages may not relate to the query the user submitted to Google.
A good blog will generate return traffic. Users who enjoy the produced content will return daily to check for new content. This is incredibly valuable and should be a goal of any website. The blog can then be utilised to promote other features of the zoo’s website.
Brand loyalty and brand following are invaluable to any business. A zoo’s website is ideally suited for community based features. One of the most effective methods to build a loyal following to create a sense of community.
This can be achieved in several ways, two of the best are through user to user engagement and user submitted content.
One option is to give users a forum where they can discuss topics and interact with each other and zoo personnel, should zoo personnel wish to. Many companies have built their entire business off creating a loyal fan base through the use of forums.
Another option is to create a comprehensive commenting system. A system where users can follow one another and receive notifications about new comments on a thread or in response to one of their own. This generates conversation and bring people back to the site on a very regular basis.
If the zoo produces a lot of content, and has a site that can support it, curated content is a very powerful vehicle for connecting with site visitors.
By giving users profiles from which they can pick interests, notifications about new content can be sent to them. This content can be targeted to exactly what they like to stay up to date with. In return, the conversion rates of emails will be much higher and a following will start to grow.
A lot of zoos were founded decades ago and have evolved as time goes by. Giving people insight into this evolution is the cherry on the cake. It’s not necessarily a feature that a zoo website needs but it certainly completes the overall online presence.
Due to the nature of the feature, it’s best built as a microsite. This allows complete free reign over design and can be a very artistic site. It permits a more media driven experience than the typical website design. All the while, it can be linking back to the main site.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, we hope you’ve enjoyed it. Perhaps, even given a little insight into what features your zoo’s website is missing or can improve upon.