Mystery score

Mystery score

Web Site Basics

A companion to the publicity basics page, because I've been surprised at how many arts organizations have web sites that aren't necessarily meeting the needs of their audience.


DO make it easy to find information about your next concert. If you're a small organization, put all concert info right on the home page. If you're a big organization presenting dozens of performances a year (that means you're a big-city orchestra or opera company or, say, the Proms), put an obvious link somewhere on the home page. Putting it another way: information about your next concert should be no more than one click away and the information should be easy to find. 


DON'T bury information about that next performance on a non-obvious page.

DO make it easy to buy tickets. Make it as easy as possibly for people to give you their money.  Because you want people to buy tickets, don't you?
  • Make it easy to find prices.
  • Make it easy to buy tickets on line. You can use PayPal (I know of several small Bay Area organizations that do this), you can use a third-party vendor such as Brown Paper Tickets or City Box Office, you can have a custom page for credit card entry, but make it easy.
  • If you've got the budget to use Tessitura (again, big-city, big-budget organizations that perform in big venues), for the love of God, get the choose-your-own seat module. Do not make your customers loop through the ticketing process multiple times before they are assigned a satisfactory seat. (That means you, LA Opera.) Some percentage of them will give up on you, meaning you didn't succeed in selling a potential audience member a ticket.
  • Make it really easy for people to get subscriber prices regardless of how they buy the tickets. This means you, San Francisco Symphony.
  • If you're using Tessitura or other ticketing software, I assume it can tell you how many people get into the system without buying tickets. That's important to know and think about.
  • Regardless of which ticketing software you use, web analytics programs can tell you whether or not people navigate to the ticket-buying page.
  • Even if you're a big-city orchestra presenting many programs, have a single page where a user can scroll down and see all of the programs. See the Boston Symphony Orchestra web site for a fine example of this.  (There are many things I hate about the BSO web site but they get this right.) I do not want to have to click ten thousand times to view all programs for the year (yes, this means you, San Francisco Symphony).
  • Set up your calendar listings so that the user is returned one level back. If I look at a concert in November, 2010, on the SFS web site, when I exit that concert, I see the calendar for the current month. That's not the behavior I prefer to see.





A small additional word about choose-your-own-seat software: if Brown Paper Tickets can do it for the El Cerrito High School theater, where Berkeley Opera performs, your organization can figure out a way to do it too. Okay, if you're a small chorus with open seating for your concerts, this is not a big deal. But if you're LA Opera or a small theater company, it is a big deal.

Do tell ticket-buyers up front about those pesky per-order or per-ticket "convenience charges" so that they are not surprised by additional charges added only after they click the Check Out button. Your audience members' blood pressure may rise at the sight anyway, so warn them in advance!

Do consider dropping them entirely by rolling legitimate costs into actual ticket prices! It is galling to be an out-of-town visitor who cannot just walk up to the box office to avoid these charges. If it's a per-ticket charge and you're planning to visit NYC for two weeks, attending six opera performances, those $10-per-ticket and $2.25 fees add up mighty fast. Yes, that means you, Metropolitan Opera.

Don't time out a user session when someone is trying to buy tickets! (This means you, San Francisco Symphony. And you, Metropolitan Opera.) If you've got a hard session limit of 20 minutes set, configure that fancy system for which you're paying a lot of money to increase the timeout limit by at least five minutes every time there's an addition to the shopping cart. Someone trying to buy 2 tickets to 15 concerts, with seats in different parts of the house, can easily hit a hard time limit. This has happened to me. And a friend reminds me that he set up tickets for an out-of-town opera company, oh, hell, the Met, only to have his order time out while he tried to figure out his login credentials! You do want to sell those tickets, right? 

Do increase web server capacity when you know your ticketing system will get slammed. I have heard plenty of horror stories about what happened when the Royal Opera House releases tickets for, say, the Fall opera season.

Do make sure that some staff and board members of your organization check out the web site and go through the ticket ordering process. If there are issues with either, it's better for you to hear about them from a sympathetic party rather than a crabby blogger like me.

Do get some ordinary folks to try out your web site and comment on it.

Don't make people open PDFs or Word documents to get full information about your site! I had to open a PDF recently to see what L.A. Opera's ticket return policy is! For crying out loud, get that stuff on an HTML page where it belongs. PDFs and Word documents are major carriers of viruses; you don't know who has what version of Word or Acrobat Reader; they are SLOW to open in some browser and on some computers. Don't make people wait!


Do assume that people visiting your web site have slow and stupid old computers, because a high percentage of them are using slow and stupid old computers, not the hotrod that you personally use.

Do think about accessibility issues. This topic is too complicated to really get into in a single blog posting, but there are many, many web sites out there discussing how to make your web site accessible for users who have visual impairments or blindness of different types, whether they are completely blind and use screen readers or they're color blind or partially sighted. Suffice it to say that it is not that hard to modify the HTML on your pages to make them easier to use.

Just a few minor points -
  • Don't make any web site functions or information dependent on color coding. About 10% of the population has limitations on what colors they can see.
  • Don't use teeny tiny fonts or fonts with super-light stroke weights.
  • Don't use white-on-black or, even worse, purple-on-black. Looks snazzy, but much harder to read than black on a lighter color.
  • Don't embed text in graphics.
  • Don't use Flash!
Do make it easy to find the all-important Contact Us page. Put a link on the home page and, in fact, on every page. You want to hear from your audience members, whether they are happy or unhappy. You want journalists to contact you with questions. If your group can be hired for special events, you want to be contacted. So don't bury this page.


DO keep your Press Release page up to date. 


DO make sure someone is reading and responding to email people send to info@yourorganization.org and any other email addresses you list on that important Contact Us page. (This means you, Berkeley Opera, and you, San Francisco Opera - don't put a feedback@sfopera.com email address in your programs unless you're going to reply to the email you get. Even when it's from a pesky blogger like me.)

Do make any music on your page optional! Use a Listen to Us link instead of automatically launching an excerpt from your last performance or recording. Keep track of how many people click the link and how many don't.

Do make a list of the specific tasks you expect people to accomplish on your web site, then check to see how many clicks each task takes. Don't make people click too many times; they will give up. Don't make people scroll too much, either.

Don't make your web site look like a ransom note. Stick with a headline font and a body text font and leave it at that.

Don't have any blinking text at all on the page. It looks amateurish and silly and it's really annoying.

Don't center all of the text on any particular page.

Do think about the layout and where you want links to be on the page. Make it consistent.


DON'T put a blog on your web site....and then post 3 times in 8 months. That is not a blog, especially when all three postings are "OOOO, I'm so excited by [foo]." If you're not willing to post content regularly, take the blog down or, better, don't start one.

Don't hide content by only having important information linked to a second-level page. (This means you, ABS.)

Do have a page with venue information, including a map from the mapping web site of your choice. If you're SFS or SFO and you perform in one place, just put the address on the home page and on various second-level information pages.

If you're a small chorus or orchestra (Cal Bach, Philharmonia Baroque, NCCO) that performs each program in three or four locations, have a Venues page with an easy-to-find link on the home page.


Do hire a pro to help with all this stuff. And do get some trusted testers to try out all the functions before you launch.