In July 2018, we launched one of our most exciting projects yet: The Buffalo Museum of Science’s new website. Any big website refresh requires a lot of planning. So many technical and organizational details have to be part of designing, building and launching a project as big as this one. This one had an extra requirement as well; Parkway launched the Buffalo Museum of Science’s new digital presence on the same day the Museum unveiled both the restored Kellogg Observatory and its updated brand.
When we take on a project like the Buffalo Museum of Science, our first step is to take a step back and look at everything. With rotating exhibits, lots of events and tons of ways to get involved, it would be easy to miss important information when moving to a new website. Our goal was to simplify the user experience with streamlined navigation and other technical and organizational updates.
The Parkway Digital team reimagined how a parent, grandparent, tourist or science enthusiast would navigate the Museum’s website. The most important pages, including Visit, Exhibits and Events, are now front and center in the menu.
This change lent itself to a more straightforward URL structure too. A streamlined header, footer and URL structure not only helps users find what they’re looking for. It also helps Google and other search engines determine what’s most important on the Buffalo Museum of Science’s website.
Important information fills each of these top-level pages. Thanks to a more user-friendly layout, it’s pretty easy for a website visitor to find what they’re looking for. Museum hours are at the top of every page, users can search and sort events, and you know exactly where to go to donate. We paired these powerful updates with original imagery and lots of white space to keep them easy on the eyes. Of course, these updates had to be mobile friendly too.
We knew these big changes to the website’s sitemap would pay off in the long run. However, we needed to make sure user experience didn’t disappoint in the meantime. This meant a lot of redirects added to the website’s directory. A long list of redirects was just the beginning of our technical updates.
Parkway Digital also automated some of the tasks Museum staff were spending a lot of time on, like booking birthday parties. A four-part form now allows parents to request a date for their child’s birthday party online. This not only gives power to parents, but it also reduces the strain on Museum resources, which can be scarce.
To increase both speed and reliability, we moved the Buffalo Museum of Science’s DNS Services to our preferred platform, Cloudflare. By placing the updated website behind Cloudflare’s Web Application Firewall, we gained the ability to utilize Cloudflare caching as well. Lastly, we moved the Museum’s website to our preferred web host, WP Engine.
Because the Museum launched its website during such an exciting time, we waited a while to make sure organic traffic growth was here to stay. After 18 months, we can safely say that a focus on user experience did benefit the Buffalo Museum of Science’s presence in the search engine results.
Organic sessions increased by 50% in the year post-launch, as compared to the year previous. Perhaps the two most important pages, the website’s home page and Visit page, enjoyed a 16% and 30% increase in organic sessions, respectively. While this new traffic is exciting, perhaps more gratifying is how people interact with the new website. These visitors view almost 20% more pages each session, spending about 30% more time on the website. Bounce rate decreased by almost 20%.
Why did such simple changes make such a big difference? Simplifying the website’s structure made it easier for people and search engines to understand what was important. Plus, minimizing the menu to a few important pages helped visitors find the right page in just one click. Making the essentials, like the details you need to visit and how to become a member, front and center is good for visitors and the Museum!