The authors of a new series of marketing guides outline the issues behind the titles. Roger Tomlinson looks at how websites can work to market the arts.
Some say that Internet usage is moving into maturity, being used by over 55% of the UK population (with over 80% of those likely to be arts attenders). This cuts both ways: the ?late adopters? are much less tolerant of websites that don?t appear easily to meet their needs, and may not be web savvy enough to make awkward websites work for them. And arts organisations with websites now have larger numbers of users, many of whom are more demanding while being less tolerant of eccentricities.
Is this why some arts organisations are now on their third website, often working with yet another development team? During the research for a new guide to effective websites it was clear that being on the Internet has not been a satisfactory experience for most arts organisations. Most continue to be frustrated in achieving their aims. And it has not been a satisfactory experience for many of their users, frustrated by ?broken? sites and links, hard to navigate content, difficult to access information, and failures to provide obvious functionality. This is bad for public relations, and it probably impacts on attendances and participation.
We can, however, take heart from the fact that many arts websites are actually better than commercial implementations, worthy of excellent ratings in any field. But can we take solace that amazon.com scored only 72% in a Nielsen review of website usability in 2003?
The problem is that while usage is maturing, the Internet is still a relatively new medium, with web developers on a steep learning curve, and sometimes breaking new ground. Most website implementations are actually ?action-research? and organisations and their users have suffered in the process.
Now that the Internet is a real world tool, in use by the majority of the population, we need to remember a website is not some side entity. When we create an online presence, we expose our organisation to the prospect of large numbers of visitors, with high expectations of us, who want effective and usable websites, which work satisfactorily on their computers and Internet connections. The (possibly) surprising conclusion is that simple, straightforward, websites work best.
?A practical guide to developing and managing websites? is published by Arts Council England and written by Roger Tomlinson and Vicki Allpress. It is available as a PDF at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk