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Alaska.org

Alaska.org needed a facelift. For a destination with endless outdoors activities and tempting landscapes, the website needed to be as inviting and beautiful as the state itself.
Launch Site

Situation Modernize the Alaskan Tourism Site for Mobile, Social + Search

After writing new code on top of old code for years, the Alaska.org team sought out a tech shop with proven skills in advanced Content Management Systems (CMS) and responsive design.

The travelers visiting the site expected multi-navigational website features to search effectively and easily. That means a website that could be found on Page 1 of a Google search, would adapt to their screen size (smartphone/laptop/desktop), offered varied navigations and allowed them to share to social media. So Alaska.org tapped Vector Media Group.

Our developers began working on the mammoth undertaking – a technological feat that would intimidate most, but was a thrill for our veteran pros.

Action Configure an Advanced Taxonomy and Category System

Along with volumes of photos and weather data, the Alaska site had hundreds of categories. Our team needed to come up with a flexible system to accommodate the endless possibilities for day trips, activities, and regions.

We exported databases containing 600+ categories and suppliers, recreating them to use ExpressionEngine’s category system for tagging: 

  • 9 top-level categories (e.g. Things to Do)
  • ~6 sub-categories in each category (e.g. Day Tours & Excursions)
  • ~10 sub-sub-categories in each sub-category (e.g. Walking Tours)
  • ~10 supplier listings in each sub-sub-category (e.g. Fairbanks Gold Rush Tour)

Once the build was complete, our clients used the interface to create landing pages based on top-level and sub-level categories. Even further, they could connect relevant supplier ads to the related landing page by tagging and using the arrows to order the listings. Our SEO experts worked closely with our clients to optimize the site for organic search. They leveraged best-practice naming conventions for URLs and metadata in addition to cross-category, in-line links for search engine crawlers.

Task Migrate Rows of Code and Gigabytes of Content Seamlessly

In order to make the move from the former, complex platform to a new, agile CMS, Vector Media Group started with a deep clean. Our development team created custom systems in order to scrub and sync the text, photos, videos and audio guides from the old system to the new.

As expected of a tourism site, the volume of photos stored in the client’s gallery was in the thousands. In order to perform a seamless photo migration, the project's lead developer wrote original code that synched photo Link IDs from the gallery to the new CMS. This automatically imported, cached and ordered the photos into the new ExpressionEngine-based CMS while keeping the captions and metadata in tact.

As experienced members of the ExpressionEngine Professional Network, we immediately decided to use this CMS and our expertise in building custom add-ons for the new site backend. For instance, when assessing the previous database, there were thousands of rows of code for sunrise/sunset times and temperature forecasts. To streamline this data, Vector Media Group built a system to easily calculate these important traveler factors automatically inside a custom PHP module.

Result A Site Built for Today's Travelers That's Flexible Enough for Alaska.org's Changing Needs

Vector Media Group is always considering the end user experience. That’s why we created a website using the foundations of Responsive Design including scaling the images and photos to any screen size -- from 3” iPhones to 27" computers.

For smaller screens, the horizontal top navigation transformed into a dropdown bar. This way, it let travelers navigate by activity, by itinerary or by destination. Each section also had a dropdown map view to provide context while planning a trip. And map pins opened pop-ups with links to the supplier site, email and phone number; to share on Tumblr, Google+, and email; and to save the supplier to My Dream Trip list, a shopping cart of supplier activities/lodging.

While creating these features, we used all the built-in ExpressionEngine features and created more of their own custom modules to meet each of Alaska.org’s needs. We knew there would always be another dogsledding or charter cruise supplier. So, to enter a new supplier, the team coded a system that would take the inserted address, calculate its latitude and longitude, categorize it to a region and place that supplier on the region’s listing automatically.

Alaska.org

“Vector took on a very tough challenge: building a site with 13,000 pages spread across 150 different content categories, 10,000 photos and 500 videos coming from various sources, and 30 different page templates--all to be displayed responsively on smartphones, tablets, and desktops. They reduced some very complex requirements into a simple and intuitive publishing system that has made our life so much easier and more instant than our last site. They can solve really difficult problems and get it done!” -Bob Kaufman, Founder, Alaska.org
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