Halloween is less than a week away and it’s officially crunch time for all things horror-related. If you celebrate Halloween, there’s a good chance that you are either looking to or already have checked out a haunted attraction in your area.
But while haunted houses and other haunted attractions can be a good and scary time, they’re also businesses. Like most businesses, they need to have a Web presence to promote themselves, pass out critical information and, most importantly, interact with potential customers 24/7. Also like most businesses, haunted attraction sites have a particular style associated with them.
This style is determined by a large number of factors including the nature of the business itself, especially how seasonal it is, what customers are usually looking for in a haunted attraction and the relatively limited number of design firms that work on these sites.
However, in that style there are a lot of great lessons for other webmasters, including bloggers. While this is definitely a broad generalization, as someone who has visited dozens, if not hundreds of haunted attraction websites, not counting the site for the one I operate, I see a lot of things that these sites do right and a lot of things they do wrong.
As such, here are my lessons that everyday bloggers can glean from haunted attraction websites, including both the things everyone should emulate and the mistakes to avoid.
(Note: To illustrate this article, I’ll be using websites for haunted attractions in and around my hometown of New Orleans, LA.)
What Haunted House Sites Get Right
Obviously, haunted house sites do a great deal right as the haunted attraction market has been growing year over year, including a new year-around attraction in New York’s Time Square.
When it comes to bringing in customers, it seems haunt sites are doing their part.
But how they do this is actually pretty straightforward, haunted attraction get a lot of things right (usually), including:
- Great Branding: Haunted attraction sites are usually very visually appealing and are branded to work well with print, TV and outdoor advertising that accompany it. It builds an instantly-recognizable presence that customers remember.
- Keeping it Simple: Haunted attraction sites usually have less than a dozen pages including a home page, ticket information, calendar, an about page and directions. It’s easy to find the information you need and the site never strays far off message.
- Social Media: The haunt industry was one of the first to start heavily using social media, all the way back to when Myspace was king, and they are very good at it. You’ll be hard pressed to find a professional haunt without a good Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube and other social media presence.
- Discounts and Reason to Visit: If you want the best prices on tickets, you usually have to visit their site. Though House of Shock here recently ran a Groupon and a few other daily deals, most haunts save the best deals for their site.
- Great Call to Action: When you visit a haunted attraction site, you know instantly what they want you to do, namely buy a ticket, and they make it very easy to do so. They even offer great incentives for buying online (see above point).
For the most part, haunted attraction sites do their job very well, however, there’s still a lot of things that they get wrong and problems that may actually be costing them at least some customers.
Where Haunt Sites Go Wrong
For all of the things such sites do right, the fact we can generalize them so broadly isn’t a positive sign. After all, you’ll be hard pressed to, at a glance, tell the difference between two haunted attraction sites as visually they are often very similar.
But that isn’t necessarily the biggest problem that they face, there’s a slew of other issues that help to keep the humble haunted attraction site from reaching its full potential, including:
- Flash-Heavy Design: If you thought Flash-based Web design was dead, you haven’t visited a haunted attraction site lately. Just look at The Terror Test site for proof. Most, haunted attraction sites use Flash for the entire layout, not just elements that need it, slowing loading and hurting visitors without Flash. It also, in many cases, limits the ability to copy and paste relevant information.
- Poor Mobile Support: Haunts are getting better about this one and many haunts have mobile versions of their site, but many still lack a good mobile version. Very annoying for people looking up information on the road.
- Auto-Playing Music/Sound: My biggest pet peeve. Many haunted attraction sites auto play music and/or sound on loading, including The Mortuary here in New Orleans. Makes it awkward for anyone visiting the site in a public place, such as a computer lab.
- Designing for Print: Most haunt sites look like posters, meaning visually they are great but functionally the navigation is often out of the way or otherwise navigating the site is confusing. The Midnight Productions Site, which operates the 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, is an excellent example of an attractive site that can be tough to navigate.
- Limited Information: Most haunt sites skimp on the details to promote a sense of mystery but leave off important details like how long it takes to go through the haunt, average wait times, etc. This can be important for people planning a trip on a schedule.
While some of these problems are minor, they all make getting information off of haunted house websites a chore. When you visit several in a year, this can make the process of getting the info you need tedious and really turn off a customer that might be on the fence about stopping by.
Still, despite the drawbacks, I think haunted house sites do a lot more right than they do wrong and, as such, offer a lot of valuable lessons other webmasters should pick up on.
So what can bloggers learn from all of this? It’s simple: Your site needs a clear, effective message, good branding and to be easily accessed by everyone who needs it (access in every meaning of the word).
You have to ask yourself what every haunted attraction has to ask itself when building its site: What do my visitors want? What do I want from them? And how can I make it easy for those two needs to both be met?
If you can do that with your website, even if your traffic isn’t very high, you can be very successful. After all, the easiest way to improve your station with your site isn’t to attract more visitors, but to make better use of the ones that you have and that’s something haunt sites do very, very well.