Robin Pope Safaris (RPS) new website was WildWeb’s biggest project, in 2013, and from kick-off to the final whistle, 6 months in the making, was a labor of love.
Who exactly are RPS.
RPS, in short, is one of Southern Africa’s premium safari holiday and tour operators. Their safari holiday collection is impressive. They have architecturally stunning safari camps and houses, located in Malawi and Zambia’s most stunning tourist destinations and host guests from all over the globe. They are also the pioneers of the popular ‘Walking Safari’, which they have been offering since 1991. In short, they are quite a big deal and to have them come to us to re-launch their digital space was welcome challenge.
Tackling RPS’s digital ambitions was always going to be tough. The criticism of their old website was their navigation. They simply had a lot of important content that was not easily, or clearly, accessible. Unless you knew where you were looking, it was hard to find key information for some of their safaris, itineraries or camps. The reason being was that most of their camp properties and safaris had enough information and media to satisfy one website alone.
Stating it simply, the main challenge facing us was unifying this vast array of content into a seamless and elegant design that would be easily navigable by first time visitors.
More definitively, we wanted to manage and integrate the respective properties and safaris with each other then share each with the respective destinations. Seamlessly.
Then finally, once we had that sewn up we had to launch the website with a strategically thought out plan in order to carry over their good audience base, and try increase it over time.
Kicking it off, we brainstormed and put together a wireframe of how we saw it all working and fitting together. We conceptualized the design and presented some options. One was approved. We were then ready to start the tricky job of coding it all up. Up to this point the project was similar to how we tackled most other projects. Usually this meant putting our heads down and getting stuck into the build phase before presenting the completed work right at the end. But a project of this size would be mean presenting an overwhelming amount that RPS would have to consume, in one go. We saw this leading to possible stuttered feedback and perhaps worse, a U-turns on key development. That would heavily cut into both time and resources for WildWeb and RPS.
Therefore, we decided to trial the idea of bringing RPS directly into the build itself. Not recommended with smaller builds, but clearly necessary in this situation. RPS were also willing and we set up a hot line and strategy moving forward.
One of the main ideas was to set up weekly touch points with RPS, where we would present and discuss the progress and aim for the following week. Any feedback was dealt with during these meetings, which meant that everyone from the client, project manager and developers knew what needed done. More acutely we invested in an online project management system called Basecamp that would see to the more technical aspects of development and be a repository for specific discussions, tasks and feedback. This helped moved everything along systematically and methodically.
Overall, the key factor we learned, involving RPS in the build phase of the project, was the importance of managing expectations as well as enlightening us with valued communication (after all they know their product and brand best). The simple pleasure of sharing small victories along the way was also a bonus.
Technical challenges solved.
One clear case of having RPS involved in the build phase was
Working out exactly how to best integrate the three main focus areas of the website – lodges, safaris and destinations.
The difficulty for us, here, was how to manage specific camp property content and media in one area while incorporating other essential information and content into its related safari itineraries and destination pages.
A rudimentary solution to this would have been to simply duplicate this content across the sections and pages of the website. But the issue would be maintaining this going forward. For example, changing camp information, or a camps image, or even adding a new camp, would mean adding this in twice or sometimes three times. Keeping track would be a nightmare.
We all wanted the website to be intelligent enough to distinguish its content and hand out specific information to the desired areas. A few solutions were discussed in detail, In the end, RPS’s contribution was key (after all, they know their brand and product best) and we were able to customize a comprehensive Content Management System where RPS were able to add, edit and logically designate content for each of the camps and safaris, as well as the countries destinations. And, in the end, a tutorial and hand over was not even necessary as RPS were involved in the concept and population, throughout.
Launching the website.
A concern, when launching a new website, is loosing some of your current audience. A champion of RPS’s old website was their SEO campaigning, which netted a good stream of visitors, each month. And because their brand name is well established, repeat visitors were also a mainstay of their online stats.
Our goal was to attempt to carry over all these positives into the re-launch. The test facing us was having Google and other search engines re-map the new website. This usually causes a dip in viewership. To combat any traffic downturn, after the launch, we aggressively punted the re-launch through RPS’s social media accounts (mainly Facebook and Twitter). We also put out a newsletter alert, to RPS’s email subscribers, broadcasting the new site. Finally, we propped this up by running a Google AdWords campaign as well as a Facebook advert (both were in the budget).
It was a success. If you take a look at the Analytics’ graph below (of robinpopesafaris.net) you not only see a spike when we launched the new website, at the end of May / beginning of June but a carry over (and a slight increase – but still too early to really tell) of month on month traffic, ever since. Win!