Aquarium's Site Migrates to Better Habitat

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Putting the right online face on an organization that annually attracts 1.6 million visitors is not easy. That's the challenge the National Aquarium in Baltimore faced with its old Web content management system.


The information architecture at the aquarium's site at www.aqua.org was not equipped to let staff make changes quickly without the IT department's help. And the site, as it was configured, did not reflect the new $75 million, 65,000-square-foot extension to the premises, which is now home to the newest exhibit, "Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes."


The aquarium turned to RedDot Solutions' CMS Web content management solution for an improved site that targets the aquarium's different audiences: potential visitors, members, donors, volunteers and teachers.


"Beyond some of the traditional challenges that nonprofits face, including limited funding for software and human IT resources, the aquarium had a great site with information that wouldn't change with the new site," said Darren Guarnaccia, director of business development and technology at RedDot, New York. "We wanted to quickly and easily import or reuse most of that information and keep the site simple to update."


The task was to move most of the content from the old version of aqua.org and ensure that the new site was easy to update for non-technical aquarium employees.


The makeover also was a chance to benefit from features of RedDot's CMS that were unavailable or underused in previous releases and aqua.org's old design.


Keep in mind that the old site did help visitors with directions, hours of operation and the ability to buy tickets online. Information on the aquarium's animal collection also was displayed. But usability testing confirmed issues with the preexisting information architecture. Moreover, the site could not convey the expansion in the aquarium's 25-year history. Nor could it mirror the excitement around the "Animal Planet Australia" exhibition.


Consider the features incorporated with the new Web content management system. The number of templates was cut from 100 to 20. Workflow was streamlined. Address and design challenges were tackled. Interactivity and the use of technology on the site were increased. Standards for content classes, folders and naming scheme for pages were established.


Now, all content can be managed within RedDot CMS versus the old system where audio clips and online newsletters were excluded. Moreover, aqua.org can use new features in recent upgrades like auto bread crumbing, active templates, folder-based assets and structure workflow.


"To aid in the migration, we developed a process to map out the flow of content from the existing site to the new one," said Hans Keller, the aquarium's chief technology officer. "We spent many hours dissecting the original Web site and its components. Once we identified each item, we listed what information we needed to determine how to migrate the pages, what was the hierarchy, what needed to be done in what order, et cetera."


The aquarium got help with documenting each template, its content, structure elements and the pre-assignments. The aquarium took this document, mapped it out and starting combining and grouping the items to create a list of new templates. These new templates included the content, structure elements and pre-assignments.


"This was our guide for our designer to create the new templates and our guide with what action needed to be taken once the new templates were delivered," Keller said. "This process was all done on the front end, which forced us to properly plan for the Web site upgrade. By front-loading this planning process, it greatly reduced the amount of time that was required to migrate the content once the new design templates were received."


The new aqua.org uses animation like a swimming shark and a flicking snake tongue. The eye of a water dragon follows the computer mouse on the screen to direct online visitors to information on the aquarium's animals and marine life, details on new exhibits and information on conservation.


A special section for children called the Kids Club was created, with Seymour the scuba diver navigating the user to contests and quizzes. Visitor information in an easily navigable format also was used.


Potential site visitors have access not only to standard information, but also details on behind-the-scenes tours, pricing, directions and listings of nearby attractions and hotels.


Many nonprofits face similar Web content management challenges. They want funding and resources to be focused directly toward the purpose for which the entity was created.


"Our primary goal is that the content creators or owners should have the tools at their disposal to quickly and easily update, change or remove the content that they're responsible for," Keller said. "RedDot has been a very cost-effective application for the aquarium in achieving this. In addition, as with most nonprofits, we do not have a large IT staff, and it has significantly reduced the overhead on IT for managing the Web site."


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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