Last year, I still remember a conversation between my niece and her friends as I drove them towards the town's cineplex. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
Carla: Jeremy said he saw the movie and he said it sucked. I don't want to waste my money.
Mandy: Really? Then I don't want to see it either.
Robin: Hey, let's go to a haunted house!
Carla: Yeah, that's a great idea!
Me: Uh, we're almost at the theaters. If you're going to a haunted house instead, let me know which one.
Robin: I'll find one on my phone. Here's one, House of Terror.
Jackie: Does it look good?
Robin: Not sure. Can't tell what it's about. Can't even read it. Here's another one, Chamber of Terror. It looks a lot like the last one. Don't see a Facebook page either.
Jackie: Any pictures?
Mandy: Forget that one. The actors look younger than me.
Me: Okay, I'm passing the cineplex now...
Robin: Here's another one. Terror Trail. They're open now and they're right off of Main Street.
Jackie: Oooh, check out that dude with the chainsaw!
Robin: They've got a digital coupon. We can all get two dollars off.
Carla: Perfect! Let's go there.
Every October, this same scenario plays out over and over again in towns across America. Whether it's a haunted house, trail or a multi-attraction event, the competition for your customers' entertainment bucks are fierce. And it's not just other Halloween events that are competing for their hard earned money. Football games, movies, fairs and other events can be attracting your audience away from your attraction. You need to make all of your marketing dollars are working effectively, and that includes your website.
Far too often, business owners don't understand what goes into an effective website. Your web company may not either. Before you pick a web design service because they specialize in creating graphics and logos for the haunted industry, consider choosing a web company that has a track record in creating successful websites of all types. If they can produce a wide range of web pages, from medical equipment to restaurants, they most likely can produce any type of website, including your haunted attraction. And it may be more unique than someone who is designing every other haunted website in town.
Here are five things to think about before launching your haunted attraction website.
1) Put a Lot of Thought into Your Visual Design
Visual design is a rather broad term for all of the visual elements of your website, including logo, fonts, white space, layout, colors, etc. Many haunted attraction websites can create an overload of these elements, thinking more is better. And while having a cool design is a must for your attraction, having too much of a good thing can create a jumbled mess. Here are some things to consider:
Your web users scan, rather than read. They look for fixed points (anchors) that steer them through your website's content. So a page that has too much detail can overwhelm users, confuse them and cause them to look somewhere else for the content they want.
Your web users are impatient. If a page takes too long to load, the message isn't clear on the page or if the navigation seems confusing - your web visitors will leave faster than teenage girls run away from the chainsaw dude.
Sure, your users want something that is cool. But they also want something that is organized, clear and to the point. Think back to the scenario with my niece and her friends. They were in the mood to go to a haunted attraction at that very moment. They looked for something that gave them the information they required. As soon as they found a website that met their requirements, they stopped looking. That haunted attraction received their money. The others lost out. How fast can your users process the necessary information on your website?
Does your website have enough white space (or in this case, black space)? Does the design of the images and spaces on the page draw the user in toward the content you want them to find? Or do their eyes dart to and fro, unable to easily digest the information in a manner that will lead to a sale? Are the fonts readable? We've seen countless haunted attraction websites with 'cool' horror fonts that are virtually unreadable.
One of the goals of any website should be to remove the question marks - that is, to make sure all of the necessary info is given quickly and efficiently. Does your overall visual design fulfill that goal?
2) Optimize for Mobile Devices
30% to 50% of your website traffic is coming from a mobile device. Those percentages will continue to rise. During the Halloween season, your mobile traffic might be even higher.
Before long, people who access the internet through a desktop PC will be in the minority. Having a mobile optimized website is critical for any haunted attraction. So, if your web company doesn't know how to optimize your web site for mobile or worse yet, tells you don't need to, it's time to find someone else.
In a nutshell, there are two ways that most web companies optimize for mobile devices:
Responsive - This method works by using CSS media queries to detect the device's screen and adjust the styling of the website so it is optimized for a mobile device. In other words, your website gets resized to the dimensions of the mobile device's screen.
Adaptive - An adaptive website design uses a sophisticated auto-detection script to identify each device that visits the website, then delivers the best version of the site to the device, based it's size and capabilities. This also allows you to show different content than what a mobile user would find on a PC.
If a haunted attraction chooses to go with an adaptive website design, the mobile user may find information that will quickly allow them to make a choice about the event. Where is it located? How much? Is there a coupon offer? Is there a phone number to contact them? Is there a video of the attraction? Instead of searching through a website for all of this information, an adaptive web design shows only what a mobile user may want to optimize their web experience.
You can learn more about responsive and adaptive mobile optimization here.
3) Whet their appetite year round
A haunted attraction has only a few short weeks to make a profit. We don't have to tell any of you the risks involved with a seasonal business like this. Every marketing element must be carefully calculated and every advertising dollar must be invested wisely to ensure maximum return.
Your website will see a lot of traffic in October, but how do you keep visitors coming back during the rest of the year? How can your website continue to work for you the other 11 months of the year? The simple answer to that is give them a reason to come back. If your site remains stagnant till the next Halloween season, few people are going to bother to visit. To keep a haunted attraction website active during the off-season requires some diligence and pre-planning.
Does your haunted Halloween event change themes every year? If so, then your website should reflect this. Make it an event. Announce it on your social media network and drive traffic to your site. Don't wait till a week before you open either. Build excitement up months earlier. Maybe offer clues during the winter or spring months, then make the big announcement, complete with the new website look, in the summer months.
Take a page out of the book of how the big boys, like Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. They start to give clues as to what the houses might be in early summer, then begin announcing the houses in July to build anticipation. Fans appreciate this and share these updates with their friends. Universal turns their fans into brand ambassadors - and so can you!
Writing a weekly blog is a great way to keep your customers engaged. It also positions you as an expert in the subject of Halloween and can lead to newspaper and television interviews, which can be free press for your attraction.
What other things can you do with your website during the off-season? Hold contests? Create behind-the-scenes videos? Keep last year's customers coming back through the year and you'll be ingrained in their mind when you open up this October.
4) Get People to Subscribe
If you plan to offer content on a consistent basis (see above), you want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to subscribe to your site. Now you can send update alerts, coupon offers, and notices of contests, etc. Just do it sparingly. If you send too many emails, the recipients will ignore you or, even worse, become annoyed and opt-out. It'll be like the boy who cried werewolf.
We suggest sending no more than one email per month in the off-season. Even during the Halloween season, we wouldn't advise more than twice a month. The most important thing to remember when emailing subscribers - is to have relevant, engaging content. If you don't have something interesting to share with your fan base - wait until you do!
5) Don't Forget Social Media Integration
In our digital world, your website and social media network are your attraction's virtual facades. Word of mouth is still Halloween-themed attractions, but many people will also buy a ticket (or not) based on what they see and read on your website and social media sites.
Remember, your website's goal is to remove any questions (or barriers) the visitor may have about going to your attraction. For some, they may want more proof before deciding that your event is worth the ticket price. They may want to check out your Facebook page, your Twitter account, even your Pinterest page. Do you have social media buttons on every page of your website so that visitors can quickly and easily become fans? Likewise, is it easy for your potential customers who find your website via your social sites?
Just like your website, a social site that is stagnant is a turn-off. You may want your characters inside your attraction to appear dead, but not your business. Regular updates on both your website and social sites with engaging, meaningful content is a great way to keep interest high all year long. It takes work, but these efforts will increase awareness and drive traffic back to your website - so when October rolls around, they'll be lining up at your attraction, not your competitor's.