Exbury Gardens - case study

Exbury Screen ShotExbury Gardens is a major tourist attraction within the New Forest National Park.  The gardens appeal to both families as well as gardening enthusiasts, also railway enthusiasts are attracted to the 1 ½ mile narrow gauge steam railway that provides a 20 minute tour of the grounds.

“Clickfire hit the mark with a very impressive pitch presentation and have delivered the goods since. We are extremely pleased with the results and the customer feedback. We will continue to work with Clickfire in further developing the Exbury website.”

- Commercial & Marketing Manager at Exbury Gardens,
Nigel Philpott

The Challenge

Exbury gardens had their website for a number of years, whilst it served its purpose well, it needed more of a modern, clean design and to utilise newer technologies to improve usability and navigation.

The main areas that needed to be addressed were:

  • The site design looked dated.
  • It was confusing to navigate with inconsistent use of menu structures. 
  • It didn’t meet the latest accessibility guidelines in line with the DDA. 
  • Existing videos were quite slow to load and in the case of the steam railway videos, very small on screen. 

The Objectives

The main objective of the project was to create a website that:

  • engaged the target audience and increased the number of visitors throughout the seasons
  • conveyed the unique essence of Exbury
  • widened the audience demographic
  • clearly demonstrated the variety that Exbury gardens offers as an attraction.
  • was easily and efficiently updatable with a flexible content management system with multiple privilege levels
  • met the latest accessibility guidelines in line with the DDA
  • was coded in a search engine friendly way
  • was fully tested for cross browser compatibility
  • was intuitive to use ensuring that content was in logical places
  • provided a fresh, clean, modern looking site with better use of photography and flash animation to engage visitors
  • included optimized videos ensuring minimal download time and to also use larger, more visually satisfying footage
  • increased the number of enquiries and bookings
  • increased the number of people subscribing to the e-newsletter
  • raised awareness of the extended services Exbury offers such as weddings and corporate events

Target Audience

  • senior citizens
  • families of all ages
  • gardening and horticultural enthusiasts
  • steam railway enthusiasts
  • event organizers
  • wedding planners
  • tourists and holiday makers
  • creatives such as artists, photographers and sculptors

The Solution

Clickfire re-worked the overall design, focusing on a clean modern layout with better use of photography and flash animation to engage the visitor.

As with any site the home page flash animation was critical and needed to convey key messages and images quickly, clearly and concisely to the target audience. Creating interest in the 4 main areas of the site with quick links through for: Gardeners, Families, Railway enthusiasts and Wedding Planners, Clickfire ensured that users were taken quickly to their area of interest.

A key piece of information for any visitor to Exbury Gardens is when it is open and how much are the tickets. Clickfire integrated a drop down panel of all the key information was included in the header of every page so that users always have access to it wherever they are on the site.

All image galleries used on the site including visitor photos are now driven by the online social photo service ‘Flickr’. Clickfire chose Flickr as it provided the greatest flexibility for Exbury and encouraged visitors to the Gardens to revisit the website. The galleries in turn are shown as thumbnail images, which when hovered over reveal a larger view of the image or if clicked on, a light box screen, where the user can browse between all the images within the chosen gallery without leaving the page they are on.

The current flowering conditions now adopt the same functionality as the other galleries on the website with the additional feature of a promotional box, which automatically switches between photos within the gallery. This is an important addition to the site as the gardens are constantly changing.

Clickfire completely re-worked Exbury’s interactive tours using a single interactive flash animated slideshow interface. As with the image galleries ‘light box’ technology has been adopted ensuring that the user isn’t taken away from the tour overview page, allowing them to switch between tours easily.

From the DVD ‘Heavens with the gates open’ Clickfire were able to extract and optimize sections of key footage for use on relevant sections of the site. These were then uploaded to YouTube thereby enhancing the social aspect of the site whilst making key pages richer with added interest and user interaction. This can be seen on the pages: ‘Exbury during WWII’ and ‘The Gardens’.

Clickfire also devised a history timeline to reflect key dates in the history of Exbury Gardens alongside world events. With the use of flash animation Clickfire have created a fun and informative user interactive experience.

Exbury holds events throughout the year, which need to be promoted on the site. Clickfire created a module which meant that this section not only automatically defaults to the relevant month of the year, pulling through the corresponding key events in chronological order, but ensures that past events are automatically removed therefore only ever displaying current and up and coming events for the year ahead. The ‘What’s On’ box also automatically pulls through the top two events.

The Benefits

When asked about Exbury’s experience of the whole project process, Philpott commented that Clickfire demonstrated: “excellent management in steering the Exbury team through the unchartered waters of website design to realise a successful outcome.” Philpott adds “Clickfire have provided us with a site that looks great and is easy to navigate”.

Philpott comments on the completion of the new website and the overall service Clickfire provided. “All queries were answered in a very timely fashion and Clickfire were always available to discuss ideas. They were very patient with the Exbury staff but persistent enough to see the launch of the website was on time!”

 “It was vital that the website presented Exbury in a good light and attracted additional and returning visitors. The new website has been a success,” concludes Philpott. “We look forward to continuing our relationship with Clickfire.”

The next phase of the Exbury Gardens website sees Clickfire developing an online booking system for the steam railway special events. 

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