Laptop showing Mendola website

Case Study

Refresh the websites of two large, well-established artist representation agencies.

Client: Mendola Artists + Rapp Art
Project: Mendola and Rapp Website Refresh

Sitebased SEO
WordPress
Admin Interface

Our directive was to replace the existing sites with a fresher, more modern design, while providing new logos, visually stunning layouts, and better search engine optimization.
Three key areas of functionality for each site were: a filterable portfolio, robust site search, and a clean admin interface.

Highly-customized WordPress site.

goals +

objectives

Goals + Ojectives

Tim Mendola contracted us to refresh two websites for his large, well-established artist representation agencies. The existing sites had started to look dated and were not coming up well in search results compared to the competition. One of the sites was ten years old while the other was seven years old, and they were both showing their age. Both websites were built on the same template and management system provided by a digital agency based in New York. At the time that Tim contacted us, that agency was no longer as responsive as needed for the agencies’ needs. Our goal was to replace the existing sites with a fresher, more modern look, while also providing new logos and better search engine optimization so that individual artists would rank higher in organic searches.
Before
After

challenges

Challenges

What type of website to build

The client needed a website that could be updated easily and frequently while providing managed access to the artists whose work was showcased on either site. We recommended the use of WordPress for both sites and noted that many prominent, high-­scale sites are built on WordPress, including Mercedes-Benz, TechCrunch, The New Yorker, BBC America, Sony Music, The Walt Disney Company, and many others. Tens of thousands of WordPress sites are added each day.

By default, unless there’s a very good reason not to, it makes sense to develop new, content-­rich websites with WordPress, particularly given its strengths in Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Integration. There is also an enormous ecosystem of WordPress themes, widgets, and plugins so that most functionality can be had off the shelf (OTS) at a minimal cost. In order to get the most out of WordPress, however, a company often needs the technical expertise provided by professional designers and developers.

3 Key Areas of Functionality

For Mendola Artists and Rapp Art, there were three key areas of functionality:

  1. The Portfolio
  2. Search
  3. Admin Interface

The Portfolio

The artwork had to look professional, be high-resolution, and be easy to filter and search through. It also had to be secure and accessible to individual artists.

U

Search

The search feature had to be powerful, flexible, and filterable.

Admin Interface

The administrative interface for managing content had to be efficient, reliable, and secure.

branding

Logo + branding

We decided to go with black/white logos for both sites, Mendola and Rapp. This allows all focus to be on the artists’ artwork without being distracted by the site brand.

We worked extensively with the client to develop mockups for key pages such as: home, portfolio, contact, about, etc. Once we developed a style guide, we then translated that into responsive layouts for additional breakpoints. The outcome was a set of unique layouts for desktop, tablet and phone.

Discovery

The project began with an initial call with Tim and other Mendola Artist stakeholders. To create context for design decisions, we asked about the business of artist representation and the role the website plays in it. We also discussed who uses the website and what they use it for and went over a list of major competitors.
In addition, we went over the business objectives and priorities for the website and narrowed down ideas with respect to design aesthetics (websites, products, gadgets, etc., that represent the desired direction for the look and feel) and the high­level elements of the Mendola Artists brand. Since there were two web properties involved, we went through the same process of discovery for both sites.

hosting

WordPress Hosting

When designing a WordPress site, it’s important to get the right kind of hosting for that site. A small site without a lot of content or with low-levels of traffic might work well with one of the well-known providers that are available. In our experience with this project, we found that WPEngine offered the best combination of performance, reliability, and cost. We initially deployed the site to a different provider but ran into caching issues and image problems that prompted us to move both sites to WPEngine. When using WordPress for commercial use, it’s worth noting that most managed hosts provide staging, automated backup of site content, monitoring and alerts in case a site goes down, and technical support.

In addition, we went over the business objectives and priorities for the website and narrowed down ideas with respect to design aesthetics (websites, products, gadgets, etc., that represent the desired direction for the look and feel) and the high­level elements of the Mendola Artists brand. Since there were two web properties involved, we went through the same process of discovery for both sites.

themes

+ plugins

Themes + Plugins

As mentioned above, we also researched gallery themes and search plugins for the client to choose from. In order to make that selection process more useful, we installed the theme examples in a functioning WordPress site with representative artist and image data. The client was able to view and interact with live portfolios and test basic site functionality. The client was free to choose the same theme for each site or select different themes, though, even if the selected themes were the same, we assured the client that it would be easy to customize the two sites extensively in order to differentiate them.

Portfolio Management Training

Migrating the artist and portfolio content from the old sites to the new sites was a significant undertaking. In order to do this, we worked with Mendola Artist staffers to use the WordPress-­based CMS in order to migrate images most efficiently. Moving the images and installing them on the new sites gave us the opportunity to teach teach Mendola Artist staffers how to prepare the content appropriately for optimal SEO results.

Site Customization

Customizing the theme was an iterative process in which we discussed options, made decisions, implemented features, reviewed the site elements, and then repeated the process again. This was the most variable aspect of the project and, taking that into account, we estimated two customization iterations for each site. When we began working on the sites, we felt that two iterations may be enough. That may have been more than we would need. As with any project, it’s very hard to tell until we get there . . . and for this project, it turned out that we only needed one customized iteration for each site.

Social Media Integration

Social Media Integration refers to the steps taken to ensure that the relevant social media sites are being used to their full advantage. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, a Social Media Integration campaign for this client’s sites also included Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube as well as Pinterest and Instagram. In addition to adding to the client’s online presence, Social Media factors into SEO, particularly since Google weighs their own properties (Google+, YouTube, etc) heavily in their search algorithms, and many people have become accustomed to using Facebook as a type of search engine/vetting tool.

seo

Site Based SEO

We reviewed the client’s initial sites and determined that they were not fully optimized for search engines, which accounted for their under­performance on search engine result pages (SERPS). The initial sites did not use meta descriptions for the images and page elements, robots.txt, alt texts, meta titles, calls to action, or have essential keywords on key landing pages.

The original sites also did not use any H1 or H2 Headers and most images were missing height and width attributes (which would make them load faster). Both sites had blogs, but they were not updated frequently enough, nor were the social media accounts being used to their fullest potential.

We optimized each website as a whole as well as all pages, posts, and images. We performed a keyword analysis ­based on the existing websites, competitor websites, and online communities/social media sites and then focused on the use of long and short-tail keywords to make the new sites more visible to search engines. We also ensured that all consumer­-facing content was easy to read online while all meta data (meta title, meta description, alt texts for images, etc) was written and deployed according to SEO best practices including robots.txt, sitemap(s), optimized header tags, proper image attributes and alt tags, and optimized page naming and linking. The site was also designed to be responsive for optimal viewing on any device.

Pre-launch

Once the site­based SEO and Social Media Integration were complete, we conducted a final round of quality assurance testing and bug fixing in preparation for launching the new sites. When approved, we switched over the mendolaart.com and rappart.com domains to point to the new sites.

Post-launch

Once the sites were launched, we submitted them to search engines and conducted a training session with client’s staff on how to use HootSuite for scheduling social media updates and developing content on an ongoing basis for SEO.

Site Maintenance

Since the sites have launched, we have continued to support the client when hosting issues have come up or when there was a need to update any WordPress elements such as the theme, plugins, or the version of PHP they are using. We also continue to maintain the customized features we built into the site, from plugins (for images and social sharing) to search filters.

Site Refresh

Several years after the launch of the two new websites, Tim Mendola asked us to modernize them once again. Styles move fast in the art world and he wanted the sites keep up. The priorities for the refresh were:

  • Redesign from a mobile and tablet first perspective
  • Incorporate an Instagram-like tiled feel with a minimalist and contemporary home page
  • Improve navigation of images in the portfolios including the ability to swipe through them
  • Add drag-and-drop functionality to the admin interface
  • Simplify and streamline searching
  • Add the ability to share individual images in addition to entire portfolios
  • Add animated thumbnails

results

Results