Representing a thousand-year old community online

Durham Cathedral were about to start remodelling their website. They wanted to make the content of their 150-plus pages more appealing to their target audiences. These included visitors, regular worshippers, teachers, researchers and potential volunteers.

The Cathedral also wanted to slim down the navigation options which had grown in past years.

I was very keen to pitch for this project. I love history and had studied Early Modern History including the Reformation. I had also been reading the Last Kingdom series about the Danes and Saxons in which ‘Dunholm’ is a key location. Plus I’d worked on renovating the Cathedral during a Duke of Edinburgh project when I was a teenager.

Solution

I acted as temporary web editor remotely for two days a week for four months. Web migration tasks and writing SEO content included:

  • Research – a secret shopper visit, an online survey, looking at Google Analytics and key competitors such as York Minster
  • Creating content – adapting content from existing pages and marking up missing areas, writing SEO metadata descriptions, streamlining navigation choices and incorporating staff feedback
  • Populating content – loading all the content into the new website and flagging up issues in bug-logging software
  • Checking content – checking every web page and every link worked on the test website
  • Snagging and mop-up issues – after a website goes live, there’s always something to fix and this proved to be the case again.
  • Training – writing How to manuals and delivering a training session on how to write user-friendly web content

Results

It was tricky balancing the needs of the visitor with a place of worship. However by working closely with the heads of each department, I think the new website hits the right notes.

My secret shopper visits revealed some amazing highlights that the previous website barely touched on. For example there is a LEGO replica of the Cathedral and in the Open Treasure section you can dress up as a monk. There’s even an airlock. All this went into my new Family-friendly adventures page.

Traffic is a real problem in the narrow medieval streets of the Durham peninsula. I therefore made sure to create a Getting here page with lots of links to Park and Ride information and public transport.

One area that had become rather tangled was the Volunteering section with a separate page for every role. Also some pages were duplicated in other areas. The volunteering roles page means potential volunteers can see all the available roles in one go, rather than seeing them in a further navigation menu. I also grouped similar roles such as Servers, Stewards and Vergers on one page to save space and allow people to read about the distinctions of each role.

Best in Show

I’m proud at how dividing up text with headers and questions transformed the tone of the content.

The how to pray page brought together snippets of information from around the website. It also better reflects the friendly nature of the cathedral, which has Listeners and Stewards to support anyone who would like to workship.

Take a look:

Durham Cathedral website