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A satisfying mixture of cutting edge web design, charming images and delightful usability makes the Visit Suffolk website a joy to get lost in, as much as the county itself.

Did I sound too much like an actual tourist board there?

Possibly, but it’s genuinely difficult not to be charmed by this site. Offering an experience that is not unlike exploring any attractive UK destination. In my experience I’ve certainly not found a tourism website quite so captivating.

Come with me and let’s take a little wander around the east coast…

Homepage

The Visit Suffolk homepage is a wonderful place. It has the tiled squares we’ve come to associate with modern web design and responsiveness.

Each tile features an attractive mixture of simple, colourful graphics and wholesome photography that doesn’t come across as too cloying, with attractions targeting every demographic it possibly can.

Although the site doesn’t quite offer an infinite scroll, if you’re currently sat in front of a large screen monitor, blow the homepage up to full screen. It’s an incredible tapestry of options. 

Hovering over each tile reveals more information about where that link takes you, which is a great time saving feature. I also enjoy the little coloured keys in the corner of each image to signify the type of activity.

Email sign-up and social buttons are all featured clearly but without being too pushy and the specific ‘latest tweet’ tile is a lovely touch. The Twitter feed is also thankfully regularly updated.

Each week has a specific theme and this week in particular is ‘family fun’. Here you’re taken through to a specifically built page that highlights attractions based on the theme. It reads like a blog post and is all the better for it, being a marketable piece of well-written content.

Navigation

The navigation is entirely contained in the side menu, providing search and access to numerous pages offering further options for events, places and things to do.

I particularly like the Suffolk My Way option that reveals a series of drop down menus each asking questions in a particularly personable manner.

Further down the side menu, Suffolk Stories provides little tales from the county organized by category.

If you click on one of the category tabs, the tiles reorganize themselves accordingly.

Suffolk Places offers incredible depths of navigable options as well as locations to explore. Here destinations can be arranged by area by clicking on the above tabs.

This is Aldeburgh the home of ‘the best fish and chip shop in the country’, the landing page of which provides clear calls-to-action in terms of what to do, how to get there and where to stay.

Map

This is possibly my favourite feature and arguably one of the most important tools on any tourism website.

Yes it is just a Google map at its heart, but it has been tailored beautifully with Visit Suffolk’s own pins, keys and pop-out images. Each one has even been integrated with Pinterest.

Using the map, it’s also possible to make your own list of activities or places and theme them accordingly. You can also access Visit Suffolk’s own collection.

Here is ‘Romantic Suffolk’. Each pinned place is accessible either from the map or from the side menu.

Mobile

The site is fully responsive, with the tiles rearranging themselves brilliantly when resizing the browser window.

When accessing the site via mobile, the home screen presents you with this message.

Visit Suffolk has realised the wants of mobile users and is presenting them with the most likely options they may want straight away. 

Chances are most people looking at a tourism website are planning a trip well in advance, probably from a desktop computer. However Visit Suffolk’s responsiveness means that when the same user is out and about on holiday, they’ll be able to use the same site on a mobile to quickly find activities and places to eat so they can plan their next adventure without looking for an internet café first.

The competition

Let’s take a look at a few other tourism websites and see how they stack up.

Presenting Suffolk's neighbours...

Visit Norfolk

With the same colour-scheme as most hospital websites, a cluttered double carousel and extremely text-heavy/image-light landing pages, this is an uninspiring site, that doesn’t remotely do the otherwise beautiful county justice.

Visit Cambridge

I lived in Cambridge for a few years and I can vouch for its beauty, endless parks and impeccable kindness to cyclists. This makes it seem like you’ll mainly be queuing up at Post Office counters and hiding in a field.

Visit Lincolnshire

It took me a full minute to realise this was a wooden pig. 

Visit London

Uh… yeah…. I’m sure I once heard a saying about throwing stones and a glass house, but I don't remember it. I'll just save this one for another time.

For more on travel website UX, check out Voyage Prive and Secret Escapes: how the travel flash sale sites compare.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 27 January, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Christian Swan

Proud of my home county!

over 2 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Hi there – I normally hold up e-consultancy website assessments as examples of good practice – but although I generally agree with this one, I got have a couple of comments.

First off, viewing the site on my 24 inch screen, down the right-hand side I have split 'navigation' squares that I cannot scroll across to see – so less than half a message and no real way to find out what they are.

The second one is with regard to who is the owner of the site. According to whois.net it is Webfusion Ltd – a commercial company. No problem with that on the face of it, but it would have been nice to see some kind of 'about us' somewhere on the site. This does not impact on the design per se, though perhaps an 'official' council-sponsored/endorsed site might have more limitations on design?

However, what does impact is that the privately-owned Visit Suffolk site has a whole load of additional features to put in the 'squares' by way of 'commercial' entities. An 'official' website cannot be seen to be promoting – for example – one hotel over another or one commercial visitor attraction over another.

Which takes me to my real issue with this aspect of the Visit Suffolk site which is – I assume – a commercial publication that makes a profit from selling advertising around content. No problem with that, it's a standard business model.

However in this case, not only is the fact that it is a commercial site not made obvious, but the ads are 'covert' – being hidden as 'features' in the tiled squares. On the page I have in front of me, an example is 'The Sibton White Horse Inn'. I am assuming that organization has paid to be a 'square' on the home page. VisitLincolnshire.com – which is clearly identified as belonging to Lincolnshire County Council – could not pick out one pub from the county and promote it over other hostelries.

In other words, is what I am reading on visitsuffolk.com really an unbiased review of the best of what the county has to offer – or is it what the highest paying advertisers have to offer?

In the days of openness and CGC by way of reviews and so on, I find that a bit, well ... dishonest. Or is that just me?

As a footnote – yes I do appreciate that perhaps Lincolnshire County Council's site should be on a .org.uk or maybe even their .gov domain – but that is a whole other argument :)

PS - it took me six goes to get the CAPTCHA right to submit this !!

over 2 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

It’s certainly a striking way to show off the area, from my experience working on a destination site it is difficult encourage people to explore all the different things to do which they wouldn’t normally actively go out and look for, but may be harder for someone who knows what they are looking for.

One problem I have is that I can’t scroll to the right so I’m missing half the screen and can’t see the other events/places. Firebox have done something similar which is a pretty bold thing to do for an ecommerce site but I think it works quite well but not something for all e-commerce sites.

On another note if you like the map on the Suffolk site have a look at what NewcastleGateshead did pulling through live tweets on an illustrated cityscape - www.geordielandmap.com

over 2 years ago

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Amanda Bond

Hi there,

I manage Visit Suffolk activity and I just wanted to clarify the response above.

Visit Suffolk is a not-for-profit initiative between Visit East Anglia, Suffolk County Council and the local districts within Suffolk - so a private/public initiative. Businesses do have to pay to have a listing on the site and the reason is that in the current economic climate, local authority budgets are being cut and hence tourism organisations around the country have to generate income to become self-sustaining. We work with limited budgets so to get this level of feedback is amazing.

The scrolling to the right - the reason you can't see complete boxes is because it's a responsive site regardless of the device you use.

Hope this helps!

over 2 years ago

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Gerard

As the web designers are based in Suffolk I am surprised they have not taken into account the slow broadband and poor mobile coverage in the county but have made the pages very heavy and slow loading

I suspect trying to use it on a farmhouse B&B Wifi or on the move will be very very frustrating .

over 2 years ago

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Alan Charlesworth

Amanda ... I have no problem with the business model in these hard times - kudos to you for making things happen.

I just think that ads should be more easily identifiable as paid-for promotions rather than 'recommendations' from a commercially independent body such as a local authority.

over 2 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

Alan - I think if you highlighted them as 'paid ads' it would detract from them and probably push people away from clicking them, people wouldn't click so there would be no point in selling any enhanced space, then they would struggle to fund the site.

Anyway I think the site does look good and encourages people to explore a bit more. Just one thing on the cut off images on the right, I get that it is responsive but I'd avoid showing part of the image on the right as it implies the visitor can scroll further. It's something used to encourage people to scroll down a page if people see the start of an image.

over 2 years ago

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Erika Clegg

Hi, I'm cofounder of Spring, the agency that conceived, design and produced this site and is creating ongoing content for Amanda and the team at Visit Suffolk.

Firstly, it's fantastic to have had coverage for the site in econsultancy, and equally fantastic to see a conversation about it. We're delighted that people are interested - thank you!

I'm keen to respond to Gerard, who has rightly identified that much of Suffolk still has utterly lamentable broadband. Fortunately, this is in hand, but in the meantime it's something we have taken into account for those people who are using the site up here.

(It's our life of course, so something we are acutely conscious of!)

The homepage dynamically loads only enough tiles to fill the screen. Our lead developer has demonstrated to me this morning (by forcing the connection speed down extremely low and clearing his cache) that there is reasonably paced and progressive nature to loading the tiles and that, in between them being loaded, there is a visual cue that more items will appear.

This happens on mobile, too - the tiles load progressively based on screen size, with a small amount of content loading initially. As you scroll down, more tiles load.

If the site as a whole was image heavy, then this might be a UX issue, but of course the site after the homepage is lean.

The home page itself has to be a thing of beauty and intrigue - and us Suffolk people with dreadful broadband have rather become used to waiting for sites to upload. I can vouch for the fact that, at my home in a field with practically no speed at all, this site is better than most!

over 2 years ago

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