When it came down to finding out how well the websites in the semi finals of this tournament were actually converting visitors of the site into potential visitors of the country, Wales and the Republic Of Ireland saw off Croatia and Spain respectively.
The Final Criteria
First impressions, the use of social media to attract visitors, and the ability to convert visitors have been our criteria in the previous three rounds. For the final, we're going all out and will be using the various analysis tools we have at our disposal here at NB. We're going to rank each site out of 10 for the following:
- Accessibility (how accessible the website is to users on mobile phones and other devices)
- Content (the quality and volume of content featured on the website)
- Marketing (how well the website is marketed online, including search engine optimisation and social media)
- Technology (how well designed and built the website is)
- Design (how engaging, attractive and consistent the layout and typography are)
Wales (visitwales.com) Analysis:
We were already impressed from earlier rounds with the Welsh website's mobile version, which is simple to use and looks quite good. We've tried it on both iOS mobile and tablet devices and can find no significant issues. It's very easy and clear to navigate, and we'd probably go as far as saying that the scaled-down mobile version of the Wales site is superior to browse in comparison with its desktop counterpart.
Search engines judge a website heavily on content these days. Keywords are out, compelling content is in. The stronger the content on a website, the more likely Google will rank it highly. For the most part, the Welsh content is easy to read and is plentiful. It's hugely important that websites are constantly updated with content which is shared via social media and similar channels too. 85% of the content pages on the Welsh website have been shared on social media at some time or another, and the heavy amount of sharing suggests that the content is very appealing. Fresh content is key too and we've found that on average, an update is made to the site every 2.5 days. Making changes this regularly will be doing a great job of giving visitors a reason to make repeat visits.
As we've already mentioned, the Welsh are doing well to have their content regularly shared on social media. We've found that they have a very high influence on both Twitter and Facebook, both excellent channels for brand building and customer communications. Search engine optimisation also revolves heavily around incoming links to a website, especially from other websites that Google considers to strong. We've identified that the Welsh have 103,000+ links to their website, from roughly 2,700 sources, making it really well linked to. Websites can also control the text which appears in a Google search result, and well written headings and summaries can make a big difference. The Welsh site appears to feature a heading and summary for every page, so they've obviously paid attention to this. A minor gripe would be that some of their titles are a bit long, and this could receive a few negative marks from search engines, however this would be an easily fixable issue.
We expect that not everyone knows about all the things hidden away in the back end of a website that makes it work, but this stuff is as absolutely essential as all the content and marketing efforts that go in to make a site user-friendly for the general public. Sometimes technical errors, such as broken links, can have a negative effect on the website's SEO performance. Unfortunately for Wales, we found 24 broken links on their website and we'd highly suggest they rectify these as soon as possible. Websites that are slow to load are also always very frustrating, so we ran a speed test on the Welsh site and found that the average page takes 3.9 seconds to load (on a simulated 4mb broadband connection), which isn't bad, but we've seen faster! While the technological elements of the Welsh site are acceptable, there is definitely room for improvement.
The NB design team took a look at the Welsh site and felt that it was perhaps just a bit too stereotypical of destination marketing websites. It lacks something that makes it truly unique. The layout, whilst clean and user-friendly, isn't overly engaging. Unfortunately some of the more impressive images on the homepage are covered with unnecessarily large transparent blocks. The interactive map however, is a strong design feature, and the animations within this are a nice touch. We also feel that the typeface is a great choice, and consistent throughout. Its style and use of characters found in the Welsh language is telling of the country's culture and this is an important thing to get across on a destination website.
Republic of Ireland (ireland.com) Analysis:
When first landing on Ireland.com, the impact of the main image is slightly diminished by quite a large cookie notification at the bottom of the screen. Particularly on mobile, this is quite obstructive, taking up about a third of the screen. Once this banner is dismissed, both the desktop and mobile versions of the site are clear and easy to navigate. Clear text and typography with well presented calls to action for transport and accommodation allow the visitor to get straight into some exploration of the destination. Underneath the 'hood', Ireland.com has a few hidden issues. Most of the pages are not W3C compliant, a standard for measuring code quality, accessibility and browser compatibility. In addition, alternative text is rarely used and there are a couple of broken links, both of which lead to user frustration. Not a great start.
Unfortunately, the Ireland site doesn't score too well on content either. Although it is easy to read and is well written, many of the pages don't include a large amount of content. For a destination marketing site, this could be seen as beneficial where images can do a lot of the talking, but in the grand scheme of things, websites still need comprehensive and compelling content in order to properly engage visitors and perform well in search engine results. In addition, there are very few pages that have been shared on social media suggesting that this is a significant area for improvement for the Ireland team. Scoring might be harsh but it's the final! You have to bring your A-game!
The Irish make a bit of a comeback with their marketing efforts. They have pipped Wales on incoming links with over 218,000 links from 8,800 websites, that's more than double the Wales score. The Ireland site is very quick to load and makes use of Open Graph tags to optimise the pages for sharing on social media. It's just a shame that the pages are only shared occasionally so Ireland have to be marked down for this. Most of the pages are well optimised with titles and descriptions but similarly to Wales, some of the titles are too long and some are missing descriptions altogether which is no use for search engine results.
As already mentioned, the Ireland site falls down on a few technical issues regarding W3C compliance and alternative text for images. There is also no print stylesheet meaning you could easily use up all your ink by printing a page that isn't even readable. We ran the same page speed test as on the Wales site and Ireland loads in 2.1 seconds which is a fair bit quicker than Wales. Ireland may have the pace, but lack of organisation behind the scenes leads to a rather mediocre score here too.
The Irish site does a better job than the Welsh one when it comes to immediately giving the feel of Irish heritage and culture when a visitor first lands on the page. The big fixed image with it's overlaying content is very striking too. The layout is a little more unique than the Welsh effort, which helps distinguish the site from other, standard destination marketing ones. The choice of typeface is interesting, but we're not entirely sure it works. There seems to be a bit of inconsistency with the styles of fonts used throughout the design, whilst the Welsh site has a much better balance. The map illustrations are very nice, but unfortunately don't do much other than look good. Some interactivity here would have elevated this design feature. Finally, we're less keen on the choice of accent colours (blues and greys). These colours don't really spring to mind when you think of Ireland, and the use of Irish-associated colours could have made a big difference here.
Full Time Score: Wales 7.46 Republic Of Ireland 5.26
Gareth Bale and co. were unfortunate to be knocked out by eventual champions Portugal in the footballing event, but Wales go all the way to the title with their destination marketing.