Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, named by TripAdvisor as one of the top ten best aquariums in the United States, is a vital part of local culture in Sarasota, Florida, providing recreation and entertainment for people of all ages. But they do far more than just show visitors a good time.
The non-profit marine research organization boasts a 10.5 acre aquaculture campus and aquarium in Sarasota, a field station and public exhibit in Key West, and field stations in Summerland Key and Charlotte Harbor. And they not only use these world class facilities to put on a wide array of educational programs for the public year-round but they are also heavily-involved in marine research, studying sustainable fishing practices, reef restoration, new technologies for assessing ocean health, and more.
The good folks at Mote consider themselves “guardians of the sea and all living things that depend on it." But Mote was concerned their website wasn’t doing all it could do to showcase their considerable efforts and satisfy bigger organization goals.
Indeed, as “scientists, explorers, and stewards of the ocean,” it’s not just Mote’s job to get their hands wet. Human beings impact ocean health more than any other force of nature, so communicating the importance of their work to the public drives the support necessary for creating lasting change through funding and public awareness.
The Mote website was struggling to fulfill that aspect of their mission.
It was cumbersome, outdated, lacked any search functionality, and was almost impossible to navigate. The website structure was highly complex, with almost 70,000 pages recognized by Google, but due to improper organization, only 20 or so of those pages were being read by visitors.
This meant tens of thousands of outdated, sometimes erroneous, pages of content were floating around for no reason. A black abyss of chaotic information that at best was a place for possible aquarium visitors and benefactors to get lost, and at worst was destroying their brand.
It was clear site visitors were leaving uncertain about the extent of what Mote Marine Laboratory did and how they could contribute.
Big Sea Design implemented a thorough discovery process to unearth the organization’s true goals and strategic focus for the next five to ten years. With a better idea of where they were going, we structured a more encompassing and intuitive information architecture to showcase the greatest areas of importance for the institute (research), while still making obvious allusions to their public-engaging aquarium and educational programs.
In addition, we made sure all new content and headlines focused on impressing visitors with the power and importance of Mote Marine Laboratory’s extensive research undertakings.
Mote is a huge organization with over 32 ongoing research programs doing world-class research on six of the world’s seven continents, but none of that was highlighted or obvious on the existing website.
So, we created robust research program pages to allow researchers and their teams to link published articles, findings, grants, collaborations, and social media posts about their research. We then tied the research programs into the main content in a way that would appeal to the lay-person by sprinkling relevant “Field Notes” and “Fin Facts” throughout the site.
And we left clear calls-to-action on each research program to direct users to support that program financially, which they can now do through online donations.
It was imperative to put together a content plan that was robust enough to suit such an information-intensive firm’s purposes while keeping it scalable for future growth.
Working closely with Mote, we restructured and redefined their approach to content creation, establishing publishing guidelines and editorial suggestions for precise direction. Research programs are now all treated equally throughout the site, with intentional randomization but a thorough search feature for visiting researchers to find relevant research and programs.
Researchers also now have the ability to show photos of their work, and team members are shown working on each program so that interns and research assistants gain notoriety through their work.
The results of these efforts show in the stats. Specific research programs are getting specific search engine traffic, and researchers can now find info on-site by browsing or using the comprehensive search function.
What was once a black hole of information is now a valuable research tool. People are spending a lot more time on the site now that they have great content to look at and easy ways to explore. Bounce rates are down, page views are up, and pages per session are up.
Mote’s website is now engaging visitors in a way that wasn’t happening before, drawing their attention to information that is most vital in regards to the overall mission.
Mote Marine Laboratory has now “baited their hook.” Their website is an online asset that works for them instead of against them. They can now rest assured that it does its thing around the clock to educate the public, raise financing, and inspire change while they work on saving our oceans and changing the world!