2010 Orchestra Website Review: Evaluation Criteria & What’s New

Now in its seventh year, the Orchestra Website Review generates a great deal of interest regarding how orchestras of vastly different budget size can be compared on an even playing field. Happily, the answer is very straightforward…

In order to adequately examine an orchestra website it is useful to define the factors which contribute to an effective offering. At the core of every good orchestra website is the ability to generate revenue and create awareness which is accomplished through six distinct channels, each containing well defined quantifiable elements. When orchestra websites are examined from this perspective it becomes a straightforward process to identify the key elements for each section; as such, whether or not an orchestra has a budget that accommodates professional graphic design and employ full-time website specialists capable of creating an aesthetic web signature isn’t as important as designing a website that allows users to easily absorb crucial information and bolster the core goals.

As a result, these websites were not examined on the subjective basis of color schemes, layout, graphics, or other aesthetic qualities so long as those issues did not have a negative impact on basic functionality and site performance. By conducting the reviews under these conditions, evaluations are not only fair but orchestras of varying budget size can be evaluated on an even playing field.

Evaluation Criteria

Orchestra websites were graded on six categories, each with multiple sub-categories:

Category 1: Performance Schedule – 20 points maximum

  • Patrons need to be able to log onto an orchestra’s website and be able to gather information about the latest performances as well as upcoming events directly from the home page.
  • This category contains two sub-categories which covered layout & organization features as well as monthly concert schedule displayed in a calendar-style navigation.

Category 2: Purchasing Tickets – 20 points maximum

  • In addition to being able to find concert information quickly, patrons also need to be able to securely complete a ticket purchase for any given performance in no more than five minutes.
  • This category contains five sub-categories covering features such as single ticket and subscription sales, ability to select seating, box office information, and secure purchasing options.

Category 3: Making Donations – 20 points maximum

  • There isn’t a professional orchestra in the U.S. that doesn’t need donations. As such, encouraging patrons to donate online to a variety of programs is a crucial component for every orchestra website.
  • This category contains two sub-categories addressing issues such as providing secure commerce servers and a variety of one time and preplanned giving options.

Category 4: Orchestra Information – 15 points maximum

  • Learning about an orchestra and having easy access to contact information and educational program information is crucial to an orchestra’s ability to establish meaningful connections with its community.
  • This category contains five sub-categories covering biographical and contact information for music directors and musicians. Staff and board listings with related individual contact info were also considered essential as well as providing copies of institutional transparency documents.

Category 5: Dynamic Content – 15 points maximum

  • An online presence reaches far beyond an organization’s core website. Regularly maintained and sincere social media outlets, blogs, and other related off site new media efforts should be a cornerstone of a coordinated online marketing strategy.
  • This category contains five subcategories including educational offerings, traditional media content, and PR contact information from previous reviews as well as introducing sub-categories measuring how well each website utilizes extensions, signals, and authoring tools.

Category 6: Content & Functionality – 10 points maximum

  • If patrons can’t find your website then it won’t really matter how nice of a site you develop. Orchestras need to be able to present large amounts of information and e-commerce solutions to their patrons without overloading them or making it difficult to find what they need. Accuracy, current information, uniqueness of offerings, and providing institutional transparency documents all play an important role in this category.
  • This category contains five sub-categories covering issues such as URL clarity, navigation structure, “searchability,” site performance, and legal notices.

Who’s In, Who’s Out

2010 marked an increase in the minimum review standards and as a result, several organizations were removed from this year’s review, including California Symphony, Huntsville Symphony, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Long Island Philharmonic, Mississippi Symphony, Wichita Symphony, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Similarly, the Charleston Symphony, Detroit Symphony, and Honolulu Symphony were left out due to their respective temporary suspension of concert activity.

An Important Disclosure

One of the byproducts from conducting the Orchestra Website Reviews for so many years, listening to so many marketing and IT professionals pinpoint their frustrations with developing an online presence, and working directly with numerous groups on these efforts is a precise knowledge of what arts organizations need to improve those efforts. Over the years, I’ve searched for a way to bring all of this together by creating a system designed especially for performing arts organizations and over the past season that goal was finally achieved with the release of The Venture Platform.

When I announced Venture several months ago, some readers wondered if the Orchestra Website Reviews would continue to be impartial and the answer to that is an undeniable “YES!” Simply put, the evaluation criteria are almost exclusively quantitative so there’s simply no way to implement favoritism. Consequently, it will never matter whether any orchestra in the review is a Venture user or not because Venture is a publishing platform architecture and not the actual content.

What this means is I don’t create content or graphic design for Venture users. Instead, I recommend they continue using their existing resources or point them toward resources they can explore on their own terms (get in touch if you’re interested in becoming a recommended provider).

During the initial stages of designing Venture’s business model, I made a very conscious decision to refrain from becoming an uber-provider; meaning, not only providing a top notch architecture but also providing all of the custom development, graphic design, and marketing strategy that goes hand-in-hand with such products. The reasons are twofold:

  1. That would have obviously created a conflict of interest with the Orchestra Website Reviews and losing the objectivity for something with this much positive impact would be a sincere disservice to the field.
  2. It goes against my business philosophy of collaboration over profit-at-all-costs driven competition.

All of this boils down to what a publishing platform architecture is all about and how it rarely intersects with what the Orchestra Website Reviews are designed to measure: how well organizations present their concert schedule, sell tickets, facilitate making donations, provide organizational information, utilize dynamic content, and on overall content and functionality.

As a publishing platform, Venture makes these tasks as easy as possible while also encouraging creativity but it doesn’t generate content for users. Consequently, a Venture user can still garner a low score if they don’t use the architecture to build an amazing online presence.

In the end, all of this allows the Adaptistration Annual Orchestra Website Review to continue as the gold standard of unbiased, objective, and constructive benchmarking for performing arts organization website effectiveness.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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