ARTICLE: Extreme Makeover - Website Edition with Sacramento Zoo

July 25, 2017

The Sacramento Zoo | Success by the Numbers


The Sacramento Zoo is a wonderful organization striving to inspire appreciation of wildlife and nature through education and fun recreation. Their goal is to create stewards of the earth, while serving as a resource within their community and worldwide. 

Despite their beautiful mission and vision, The Sacramento Zoo struggled with some pretty big challenges and that's when they decided to engage with Blackbaud to help them address those issues. 


I first met Jaime Wilson, Digital Media Manager at The Sacramento Zoo when the organization engage with us for a website redesign project. Jaime was already busy working with other consultants at Blackbaud implementing Altru - our comprehensive arts and cultural organizations' management software solution designed to improve communication between staff and members, to drive program participation and maximize efficiency in your organization. 

She explained to me that the zoo's biggest challenge was general awareness. Most people thought the organization was city-run and didn't realize they struggled for funding. Some didn't even know there was a zoo in the Sacramento area!


Brand awareness is always a tough challenge to overcome but together with the Altru consultants, our design team set out to deliver results. We started by outlining some goals and agreed that we would measure success by seeing an increase in revenue through the website in the form of donations, memberships, ticket sales, and event class registrations. 

Increasing zoo attendance was by far the biggest, most important goal since majority of the zoo's budget comes from that. We also knew that longer time spent on the website would mean that people are learning more about the zoo and therefore, we were boosting that brand awareness we were trying to promote. 


While our friends on the Altru team were working hard on setting Jaime up with the software, my team got to work on the strategy and the design of the new website. First, we did our homework and dug into the old website, researching what content existed, what needed to be eliminated and what new content needed to be developed. 

Next, we further researched the website audiences and arrived at a list of tasks for each. After all, we were not really designing a website for the zoo, but for their visitors and supporters. We conducted a user-driven website navigation exercise to get the most usable results. We ended up with a great site map that we were sure worked for our users. Once we had a clear idea of the new information architecture and understood how to make it work with Altru, we set out to creating wireframes. 

If you're not familiar with what a wireframe is, it may not look like much at first glance but trust me, fireframes are an essential part of content planning and website design. After all, it doesn't matter how attractive the website looks if there is no engaging content for each major audience. No content, no conversion!

Thinking mobile-first is at the core of our process, so we build the wireframes out into rapid prototypes and tested them with users to make sure people could successfully complete the tasks we wanted them to complete. 

We could finally breath once the testing was done. We knew that our strategy was bulletproof and that whatever content decisions we made checked out with the users. Applying visual design was the next step. After all that heavy lifting we did with strategy, I could really kick back and turn on my creative mode. I had a blast designing this site!

Check it out and tell me that photography cannot make or break a website... With the assets Jaime made available to us, I had an easy time turning them into captivating user experiences on the web. It was all about presenting the right content at the right time to evoke feelings of amazement and trust in the zoo, while making it an enjoyable experience for people to browse the site. 

We tested the site again once the visual design was finished, and tweaked a few areas based on user feedback. We were ready to go live and were excited (and a little nervous) to see what results we'd get. 


Here's a little snapshot on some of the website key performance indicators before and after go-live:

Comparing July 2016 (before go-live) to July 2017, we found that the zoo's page views went up by 8.22% and average session duration increased by 15.75%! People WERE spending more time on the website and exploring! That was a big win toward our goal of increasing the brand awareness. To make things even more exciting, we saw a big drop of 13.44% in their bounce rate, which meant that users were really engaging with the zoo's content. 


The Sacramento Zoo project is a success Blackbaud can be proud of. I wish I could say it's all because of the highly usable new website or Blackbaud's effective software solutions, but a big part of this success story is also the zoo's commitment to producing good content, discipline in updating the website according to the original strategy we formed and...doing what they do! They ware great and we're proud to be their partner. 

Written by Aga Siuda, Blackbaud Interactive Services 

In need of an extreme makeover for your nonprofit website? We have the dream team to make it happen! Learn more about Blackbaud's Interactive Services Team >

We love a good website. See what the team at Sacramento Zoo had to say about their experience with Blackbaud's Interactive Services. Check it out >

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