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Is Your Website Giving You Cause to Shutter?

Is Your Website Giving You Cause to Shutter?

My career as a commercial artist goes way back to the Pleistocene Era when I was just a starry-eyed art major in college, enjoying my curriculum of drawing, design, and art history. Out of all the courses I took back in the day, though, it’s my b&w photography classes where I really developed. That’s where I learned about composition and the fundamentals needed to create a good photo -- aperture, lighting, and all the other nuanced variables.

As a first-year photography student, I quickly realized that the majority of the work needed to create a good photo takes place before pressing the shutter. The development process in the darkroom should be a place for creativity, experimentation, and originality, not as a repair shop for poorly-composed and exposed photos. Inevitably, there will come a time when no tricks of the trade will help fix matters and, to your dismay, your only recourse is starting over, meaning all of that time and effort goes down the proverbial tube.

Worse yet, so much of photography is about capturing a unique moment, something that's usually impossible to recapture once the moment has passed. That’s a lesson that sticks with me to this very day, especially when it comes to designing and building a website.

Build a Solid Foundation

Digital tools allow web developers to change the design, swap out creative, and improve on what might otherwise be a poorly-organized and thought out approach. Like the darkroom, however, there’s only so much even the most gifted Photoshop wizard can do after the fact, or to put it bluntly, edit attractive lipstick onto a digital pig.

To extend an analogy from a previous blog, think of it like changing the color of paint and curtains in a room that was never well-built to begin with. The user experience might slightly improve at first glance, but the same ol’ structural issues will eventually rear their ugly head. In other words, change should involve improving the user experience based on the behaviors users exhibit when using your site, not deep-ceded overhauls of code that wasn’t implemented right the first time. You should factor in the ability to “change” your site at the beginning of development, not after it has been built and launched.

You know the old saying, it’ll be cheaper in the long run? Well, those sage words pack quite the punch when it comes to your website development. Changing the metaphorical paint and curtains in a well-built site is easier, cheaper, and less time consuming than a rebuild that takes it down to its binary studs. Granted, these types of considerations will add to the costs of your proposal, but if you don’t afford yourself this initial flexibility, your budget could very well suffer in the long run. Some of those upfront considerations should include:

  • ADA compliant code
  • An easy-to-update content management system that doesn't rely on 3rd party add-ons
  • Architecture that allows for changing tech and creative trends
  • Design that evolves with your brand and is always tailored to suit any changes in brand attributes
  • An interface that takes the particular needs of a gambler into account with a design that's easy to navigate and intuitive
  • A call-to-action that is both compelling and clear, spelling out what a gambler is to do next, whether that's making reservations or navigating through their player account in the CRM area

Advice From an Industry Expert

While some of those considerations aren’t mandatory items and their exclusion from your proposal could initially save you some money, a responsible web design proposal will offer the add-ons you should consider for the sake of your website’s long-term usefulness. I turned to our Digital Director, Amy Morais, for her insights on the topic and, as usual, she was very helpful in her advice.

A factor like website accessibility, for instance, is a mandate in Canada but not explicitly required for commercial sites in the United States. However, there have been successful lawsuits in the U.S., with plaintiffs citing the ADA’s accessibility requirements for places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. U.S.-based casinos should seriously consider testing their site’s accessibility performance, and factor accessibility into the scope of any site redesign or annual maintenance budget. These are both services that MRI routinely offers clients as part of our website development and assessment packages. I’ll give the digital floor over to Amy and let her own words shed a powerful light on the topic:

Accessibility can be a considerable update for an existing website. If accessibility needs are built in initially then they’re part of the base structure of the site, otherwise we have to go back and retrofit some of the site’s core features, which can involve rewriting a significant amount of code. It’s the difference between wiring a house when you build it versus rewiring the house after it’s built.

Similarly, it’s important to choose a CMS that has the flexibility and features to fit your needs, as your choice of CMS will become the foundation of your site. If a client has a WordPress site and asks us to switch them over to our custom CMS we essentially have to rebuild the entire site, because their existing page templates and functionality are so tightly integrated into the WordPress system.

This is why it’s essential to dig into a site’s needs and goals—from legal requirements to revenue streams to content hierarchy—at the outset of a project. When you create a solid foundation, then your site will be set up to evolve as new opportunities or issues arise. Beyond the logistical considerations of content management and ADA compliance, a forward-looking approach serves casinos in other ways as well. Asking questions about future operations should always guide your current site development:

  • Do you have any plans for expansion in the next two or three years? Will there be new restaurants, a hotel, or an event center opening? Will you be opening a new location or purchasing a new property?
  • Are there any changes planned for your club program? Will you be adding new benefits or club tiers?
  • Will you need to be able to update current jackpots, tournament standings, or promote your latest slot machines?
  • Do you have annual events to showcase, like a New Year’s Eve blow out or a summer concert series?
  • Are you considering publishing the site in more than one language?
  • What types of digital campaigns will you be running? How does the website need to support your advertising?
  • What types of metrics will you need to determine the website’s success? How can we best track hotel reservations, ticket sales, or offer redemptions that happen through the site?

These are some common examples, but it’s important to think through all of the potential scenarios that apply to your casino. You don’t want to be continually patching on rooms and squeezing in new banners and buttons once your website has been designed, developed, and launched. If you lay the groundwork ahead of time you’ll save money, time, and headaches as the market, your operations, and customers evolve.

At the same time, be sure to include website “renovations” in your annual operations budget, as a certain degree of change is inevitable. Just like your car or your house, your website requires maintenance and upkeep, whether that’s a software update on the back end or a shiny new set of rims.

A big thank you to Amy for injecting some advice from the front lines to give casinos some real-world insights into building an effective, efficient website that stands the test of time. Like I said up top, take the time to properly set up your website from its inception, be deliberate and thorough with your preparation and planning, and you'll reap the rewards. Don't wait until after you press the shutter button to start making your plans. And as always, MRI isn't afraid to get a little digital dirt underneath our nails and dig in when you need us.

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