Cog embedded themselves in our team, they came to shows, drank in our bar and really got to know us. That insight meant we trusted them and took risks in creating a unique design for the site. Their solution perfectly meets the needs of our audiences and is hugely adaptable to suit our eclectic projects and programming
Soho Theatre is a remarkable organisation. Through force of personality and singular bloody-mindedness, they have created a powerhouse of new theatre, comedy and cabaret. At the core of the set-up is their venue, slap-bang in the heart of the capital, with three-main performance spaces and a buzzing bar, turning round a dozen or more festival-style shows, six nights a week, in a building that is alive with rehearsals, classes, performances and workshops, all day long.
Their reach extends out to festivals, including Edinburgh; they tour shows across the UK and the world, including major tours in Australia and India; they have announced a second London venue (in Walthamstow); they’re pushing into broadcasting with Soho Theatre On Demand; and they are plotting all sorts of other plans.
Their previous website had launched in 2010. We remember because we pitched for it and lost out. We were gutted. Even more so when the site launched and it looked great.
But 2010 was also the year the iPad launched and changed the way we all viewed the internet. Looking at that site, seven years on, it felt clumsy, fixed in size and more focused on organising information than it was in communicating with audiences. It was time for change and this time we convinced them that we’d be their perfect partners.
We met with Artistic Director, Steve Marmion, in a booth in the Soho Theatre bar. He talked about audiences and the importance of inclusivity. He spoke with passion about the breadth and quality of the work and the need to be respectful but not precious about audiences. And, he told us that, unusually for an Artistic Director, he considered the most important job for the website was to help people buy tickets.
We delved into their site’s analytics. With more than a million unique visits in twelve months, there was plenty of data to work with and lots we could learn.
- 57% of traffic came direct – from site links, bookmarks or social media rather than search engines
- A very high 79% visit on working days and almost half during working hours
- The What’s On section was the most popular area of the site, with 79% of traffic but the bounce rate was high
- The next most popular pages were About Us, with just 3.5% and then Get Involved and Writers at 1.5%.
- Only 19% of visitors arrive at the home page, with the majority of visitors landing directly on a show’s page.
- Around 2% of visitors interact with your skyscrapper ads (which take almost a third of each page)
- The mobile experience was poor, leading to very high bounce rates
We convened a kind of focus group, from across the organisation and ran a workshop, in the Downstairs performance space. We talked about messaging, fundraising and charitable status, the huge turnover of shows, the difficulties of having an archive that people access and get irritated aren’t bookable.
Mostly we talked about audiences: who comes and how, who doesn’t and why, who never comes to the venue but is still a valuable part of the Soho community etc. We created personas to represent many different audiences and mapped their potential journeys through a new website.
Working with the team at Soho Theatre, we mapped all of the new site’s potential content on a site-plan, allowing us to see how content would be grouped and navigated.
The biggest challenge to address was how to convey the spirit of Soho Theatre whilst still making it easy for people to navigate the huge number of events.
We discussed and presented a number of different potential solutions but settled quite quickly on the concept of giving visitors control via tags and filters.
Initially, we concentrated on the home page and, perhaps controversially, we decided to remove the option of allowing visitors to select ‘What’s On’. Instead, people are invited to pre-filter the selection.
After discussing different approaches we settled on a tiered tagging system. Pink for genre and performance type, blue for date ranges, yellow for price and black to link to specific pages directly. The Soho Theatre team have complete control over this selection and can add or remove options whenever they want.
The home page also features a full screen video which is there to capture the essence of this busy venue. But it’s also really easy to swap out to other video content. So, when the organisation needs to focus on specific areas (such as the Edinburgh Fringe or their international touring programme, the video can represent that).
We provided a selection of different videos, shot in two days throughout the theatre, the bar and in the street outside, and edited to provide a variety of content.
For those users who prefer different ways of navigating, we designed a full-screen menu with a list of all content (on the right) plus some marketing messaging (on the left).
Throughout the site we concentrated on providing flexible templates that could be used in their simplest form (for one-night events) and be built in a modular way into complex layers of detail (for long runs or West End transfers).
The result is a simple to use system (for Soho Theatre staff) that provides powerful full-screen, digital ‘posters’ that reflect the bold, graphic approach that our clients take to all of the publicity materials.
To tackle the other big challenge (of archived events still being visible to search engines) we worked with the Soho Theatre team to create protocols for which events would be automatically removed and which would stay but be properly ‘archived’.
Those events are excluded from searches (unless the ‘show archives’ button is selected) and the usually bright colours are swapped to black and white. We also remove any booking buttons and add a clear ‘archive’ tag above the show’s title.
Giving site visitors the power to decide how they want to filter events is a simple idea but it relies on speed of delivery and exceptional integration between the front-end of the site, the content management system and the venue’s external ticketing company, Spektrix.
We have a lot of experience of integrating with Spektrix using their API but we knew that we’d be pushing beyond its usual capabilities so we met and chatted through what might (and might not) be possible.
By building our own version of their API we were able to streamline the process and pull through exactly the data we needed in the form we needed it.
This integration allows us to provide filtering in a huge variety of ways, including price range, date range, location and accessibility.
Any website is only as good as the team who are updating it. As with all new websites (or new teams) we provided a half-day training session to show them how to import data, upload images and update content.
The Soho Theatre team do a brilliant job of keeping their huge number of events speedily updated and always looking brilliant.
“Cog embraced our challenges, made sense of our particularly complex events’ offering and were great fun to work with. They created bespoke integrations with our ticketing system (Spektrix) whilst helping us subtly interweave other critical interactions for our audience. The new site looks great and has already shown positive signs in terms of the breadth and volume of our online sales”.
James Bush, Sales & Box Office Manager
Content Management System: WordPress
Launched: December 2017