by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter
When you allow your customers or partners to participate in your website through an information portal, online community or some other means, you want that interaction to be as user-friendly and smooth from their end as possible.
The Missouri Division of Tourism faced the problem of a very difficult-to-navigate set of online presences. The public-facing website was geared toward the government organization’s “customers” – tourists. The group also maintained an internal “industry portal” where businesses around the state could enter their information to reach the visitors on the public tourism website.
Essentially the public website involved the Division’s consumer marketing efforts, and the industry portal represented its B2B marketing efforts.
Both sides of the Web presence had usability issues, and creating an easy-to-use version of the industry portal, the key component of the Division’s B2B marketing effort, was a priority even during a time where budget dollars were scarce.
This case study looks at the steps taken by the Division to correct the fundamental usability issues around the old industry portal, and implement a full redevelopment that allowed for much easier interaction for its B2B target audience while adding new features to the new portal version.
Find out how the Missouri Division of Tourism was able to increase the listings in its industry portal by 35%, and how those new listings directly impacted website visits on the tourist side, breaking the one million visit mark for the first time in 2011.
The pain point that led to the redevelopment of the industry portal was a tag structure built into the old system. Essentially people visiting the tourist site could only search for listings by using the tags built into the system, and not by searching for terms they were interested in.
For example, someone looking for outdoor wine activities couldn’t simply search for the key phrase, they had to find that information using the tags, such as actual cities where those activities might be found.
This was a problem for both the Division and for its B2B clients with industry portal listings. The online directory was free for tourism-related businesses to create and maintain listings, but usability for the people those businesses were trying to reach – tourists – was less than ideal.
Not only that, the usability of the portal was no better. Companies creating a profile on the portal had to wade through the more than 2,500 tags and select those that would help them be found by tourists.
Creating a portal listing was also a major issue.
Katie Steele Danner, Director, Missouri Division of Tourism, explained, “Entering the information can take (a business) as long as two hours.”
She added if the process was stopped for some reason there was no way to save an incomplete registration.
Danner said, “There was no way to save that basic information, or any of the information that you had uploaded between stages. So you had to finish the entire form which was five different screens in one setting or you would lose all the information that you had done before you completed that upload.”
The Division understood it needed to improve the industry portal and created more business listings in order to improve its service to its main focus – tourism in Missouri.
The entire redevelopment occurred over a two-year period because of budget constraints, but the redevelopment became a priority for the organization.
Step #1. Fix the most pressing website issue first
The main problem from a usability perspective for the businesses with portal listings was the tag structure
and lack of keyword and keyphrase search capability.
The tags were reduced from more than 2,500 to about 1000. Still a large number, but the number included every city and community name in the state and other similar tags.
For businesses, the number of granular choices went down significantly – such as “ice cream parlor” – and instead were offered more broad tags like, “snack shop” and “restaurant.”
“We basically grouped together things under one topic, or one heading, and eliminated the very specific tags,” stated Sarah Luebbert, Director of Communications, Missouri Division of Tourism.
Along with removing a large majority of the tags available for portal users, the search capabilities were improved by allowing those businesses to input open-ended descriptions. The Division encouraged businesses to be very descriptive in that text box and made sure they included keywords and phrases in the description.
This allowed a redesign of the consumer site to make it much more search-friendly by including these descriptions and giving the portal users much more visibility to consumer site visitors.
Step #2. Simplify the registration process
With the tag and search issue corrected, the next stage was to ease the registration burden. Where the previous process required a full registration with no way to save the inputted data midstream and go back later and included five very lengthy screens, the redevelopment divided those screens into separate data groups, including one "quick form
” that a business could use to create and save a listing.
The old registration included about 120 fields in the five-page process and the new registration has a total of 45 data entry points combining fields and check boxes.
Luebbert explained the process of reducing the number of fields,
“We had to break the fields into classifications of those that were absolutely necessary, what fields helpful but not required, and what was additional information but not really relevant in the decision making process or absolutely necessary.”
She continued, “The latter of those we removed immediately and the “helpful but not required” we decided to discuss and justify keeping them in place. We also combined a few into a more broad category.”
The “quick form” has 18 fields including:
- Name of company
- Physical mailing address
- Twitter handle
- Facebook URL
- Hours of operation
- Description box for keyword and keyphrase entry
Once a business completed the quick form, it could go back anytime and through a control panel choose one of the other four additional data groups to complete, or change any information that had previously been entered.
Luebbert said, “Basically we took what was a very large pizza and broke it down into slices. Now the form is much more user friendly and it is similar to a lot of other online forms.”
The old portal interface was editable, but only after filling out the entire form and to edit the user had to scroll through the entire five pages to find whatever data they wanted to change.
Step #3. Allow registrants to preview the listing and track progress
Another key change in the portal redevelopment was adding a preview feature so registrants could add to or change their listing, save the information, and immediately see how those changes impacted how the listing would look to visitors on the tourist website.
“We were always stressing to people, ‘Make sure that you fill out as much of the form as possible,’ and people didn’t always understand it until they saw one listing that was really full of information,” said Luebbert.
She added, “They didn’t really realize how much information they were lacking on theirs.”
A progress bar
was also added. Since the process went from one long form that required fully filling out, to a new system that broke different data sections into parts that could be filled out at any time, the progress bar allowed users to know how far along they were in the registration process.
Luebbert explained, “People see, ‘Okay, I am at 40% here. If I add a photo I will be at 50%.”
She said the progress bar helped encourage industry portal users to continue filling in more sections of the listing, and the preview feature was an asset that helped users understand how their listing actually looked on the consumer site.
Step #4. Add new capabilities to the listing
When you allow your customers or partners to place listings or profiles on your website, it’s a good idea to continue to think about capabilities that might be useful or desirable to your target audience.
Since the Division’s B2B target audience was businesses involved in Missouri tourism, adding a coupon functionality was a perfect fit.
Industry portal users were given the capability to add coupons to their listing to make it more attractive to visitors on the tourist website. Users can change or update their coupon offerings as often as they like.
“It is small business assistance that we bring to the table,” said Danner. “That is, value add that we can provide, and some of these businesses are owner/operators themselves and they really do not really know about marketing.”
In this way the Division is able to provide its B2B clients with a user-friendly portal, and even provide assistance on how some of the smaller businesses can improve their own marketing efforts.
Step #5. Add a social media element to the listing
Social media is firmly part of B2B marketing. According to Forrester Research, 86% of B2B technology buyers use social activity for work purposes. Even if the numbers might not be quite as high, it’s a pretty safe bet that B2B buyers in other sectors are using social media for business, as well.
For the Missouri Division of Tourism, adding social media elements to industry portal listings was an easy decision to make during the redevelopment.
“What we are finding,” said Luebbert, “is that the smaller companies aren’t creating a full website, but they are using a Facebook page as their website.”
In response to this, the Division added a social media field to the listings so businesses using the portal could make their social networks very visible to users of the consumer website, as well as make those links very sharable.
Luebbert added since the consumer site is built around tourism, they are considering adding a TripAdvisor field to the industry portal, as well. She said these links would provide even more value to their B2B client’s listings.
Danner explained what made the overhaul of the industry portal such a priority in times of tightening budgets, “The biggest complaint I had (after starting the job in November 2009) was the lack of functional use with the website.”
There are two key metrics from the effort:
- The first is the most significant – in 2011 after the two-year process was complete – industry portal listings rose by 35%, or more than 600 new listings.
- The second actually illustrates the impact of the improved listings. In 2011, for the first time the B2C tourism website broke the one million visitor mark.
- “That was very exciting for us,” stated Luebbert, “and we can’t help but think that has a direct impact from the upgrades and updates that we have been doing to the industry portal.”
Another result of the redevelopment is the industry portal now has a functionality where users can update their information at the various large Missouri city convention and visitor bureaus and that data is automatically updated overnight at the Division’s industry portal.
Danner added her final thoughts on the redevelopment, “I think a website is kind of like a house. You have to constantly perform maintenance and upgrades to keep it up to standard, or to keep it where you want it so we are always going to be doing upgrades or improvements to the website.”If you found this case study helpful, sign up for the free weekly B2B newsletter.
Useful links related to this article
1. Old tag structure
2. Portal quick form
3. Form progress barMissouri Division of Tourism industry portalSteadyRain
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