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IMAmuseum.org’s 1st Birthday

It was one year ago today that we launched the current version of IMAmuseum.org. We are admittedly still proud of our website as it took a large group of IMA staff six months of dedicated work to create what you see today. In a blog post, we introduced the world to the new set of features of the site. Today, we thought we would take a brief look back at those features and see what worked and what needed a little adjusting throughout the year.

Front page of IMAmuseum.org as seen on 2/1/2011.

With the exception of changing images in the blocks, the front page has seen virtually no changes during the last year. We originally toyed around with the idea of making the main banner image somewhat dynamic, with rotating images, but eventually opted to let it remain static until a true need arises.

The interactive calendar on IMAmuseum.org.

The calendar is among the most novel features of the website, providing a simple “month-at-a-glance” interface. This has seen little change in its first year as well. Museum calendars can be littered with complication, and we like to think this clean approach brings a sense of clarity to users.

The IMAmuseum.org collection search showing advanced options.

Another feature that has held up fairly well is the collection search. You can see the set of advanced search options in the screenshot above. While looking through search logs, we can see that most users don’t seem to use the “Department”, “Materials”, or “Object type” search filters. We have received a lot of positive feedback and seen moderate use of the slider tool for accession and creation date though.

Live search results when searching for "superbowl".

The Apple-style live search, sprinkled with a little bit of administrator search boosting, has proven extremely useful. We watch our website analytics heavily and try to understand what users are really searching for based on their terms. Using this information, we can boost specific content for specific search keywords. Above, you can quickly find our losing Super Bowl bet from last year. (Be sure to follow this year’s bet as well).

Three major exhibition sites created within IMAmuseum.org in the last year.

We decided that we would produce all major exhibition sites (commonly called microsites) under the IMAmuseum.org umbrella once we launched this new site.  The site was designed in such a way that dramatically different designs could be “sandwiched” between the header and footer. This can especially be seen in the new and visually impacting Thornton Dial exhibition site.

The IMAmuseum.org shopping cart.

I’ll admit. Up until this point I have been a little self-congratulatory. When it comes to the eCommerce features of the IMA website though, we have had to do a fair amount of updating and improving. I don’t know that any of us quite expected the amount of work behind running, maintaining, and supporting an online store. We also took quite a risk by providing the ability to purchase memberships, retail, tickets, and give donations within a single cart system. Here are some of the lessons learned from the first year:

  • Applying membership discounts online is hard! We are still actively trying to make improvements to ensure members can quickly and easily log on to the site and have their account aware of their benefits. Building a system that is capable of respecting the many nuances of our specific membership rules is also a continuous effort.
  • Users do not like to leave the site to pay. When we originally launched the site, all payments were made through Google Checkout, which involved the user leaving the IMA website to pay and then being redirected back to the IMA site. While we had good reasons for using this at the time, the frustration experienced by users did not account for those. We have since switched to a payment provider which allows users to checkout completely without ever leaving the website. Since this change, we have seen a huge decrease in the number of shopping carts abandoned.
  • Have support processes in place. The software development team didn’t quite realize that they would be acting in a custom support role. While many of the features of the website “run themselves”, an eCommerce operation definitely requires the offline touch as well. We are just now getting formal support chains in place for online customers that need assistance with online purchases. This isn’t to say there wasn’t anyone to help in the last year. It was just a matter of bouncing around e-mail and involving too many people.

Let us know if there are more ways we can improve our site in order to better serve the needs of the online visitor.

Filed under: New Media, Technology

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