Recently I had an opportunity to discuss the elements of what makes a
successful website with Christina de Kéroualle, Publications Officer
of The Scottish Big Cat Trust. Just like any other webmaster, Christina faced a number of challenges when getting the website
http://www.bigcats.org for The Scottish Big Cat Trust to the point
it's now at. Hopefully the experiences shared in this discussion will
help other webmasters to overcome their own obstacles. The Scottish
Big Cat Trust is involved in Education and Research.
"The objectives of the Scottish Big Cats are to advance the education of the public about free-living exotic cats in Scotland and in furtherance thereof the organisation shall seek:
1. To build as complete a database as possible concerning the sightings of all naturalised non-native cats (either large or small) in Scotland.
2. To increase public awareness of these rare members of the Scottish fauna and stimulate debate about their nature and origins.
3. To provide and exchange information in an open and frank manner to all interested parties."
Here is what Christina had to say during our interview...
thewebhostcompany.com: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Christina: De Kéroualle is my married name - it's Breton. I was born Christina Anne Smith in Edinburgh in July 1974 . I first became interested in exotic cats in 1985 when my father gave me a copy of Michael Boorer's Hamlyn paperback "Wild Cats" . I then devoured the "Born Free" trilogy and other books by Joy Adamson, and George Adamson's biography "Bwana Game". I have a BSc (Hons) in molecular biology, a PhD in biochemistry, an MSc in biocomputing and I now manage several research labs. My personal interests include whether the Kellas Cat is Scotland's Black Panther and whether the true Scottish Wildcat is now extinct. I have studied coat colour genetics in the mouse and am now applying these findings to the investigation of coat colour variants in cats. I also continue to follow non-nativecat sightings in my home areas of Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
thewebhostcompany.com: How would you describe your business, what sorts of products or services do you provide and what is your target market?
Christina: The Scottish Big Cat Trust is not a business. It is a charitable organisation that is at the forefront of research into Non-Native Cats in the UK. It provides public access to a unique database of sightings, as well as information on the cats that are currently living freely in the Scottish Countryside. The Trust has a team of highly respected researchers who can provide comment and advice for publications and organisations wishing to produce accurate material relating to Scottish Cats. In addition they have research links with a variety of specialists in Cat behaviour throughout the World. The recognition of the Trust as a charity will ensure we can continue our work researching the Cats that are free living in Scotland and in turn educating the public regarding what species are present. While SBCT in no way whatsoever advocates the illegal release of these animals into the wild, we also have no wish to capture or eradicate them. Our aims are to study, learn and educate. (SBCT does appreciate that in certain circumstances the authorities may have to take appropriate action with regard to public safety).
thewebhostcompany.com: How large would you say your organisation is in comparison to other firms in your industry?
Christina: We have never sought to be the largest group. Our goals are rather to provide accurate information, to educate the public rather than frighten them, and to conserve the unusual animals that we are studying rather than putting them in danger.
thewebhostcompany.com: What would you say your biggest advantage is over your competitors?
Christina: I wouldn't use the term competitors, but the Scottish Big Cat Trust is the only one of the many organisations researching into non-native cats which has charity status, and we have additional official collaborations planned for the future.
thewebhostcompany.com: How long has your organisation had a presence on the Internet?
Christina: While the Scottish Big Cat Trust has existed only since June 2003, the website itself was initiated in September 1997 as a collaborative effort between myself and my husband Antoine. Originally only part of our website was dedicated to unusual animal sightings, but in December 2001 a dedicated "Scottish Big Cats" website was set up when the cat sightings started to swamp the original website.
thewebhostcompany.com: How and why did you decide to go online, and what obstacles if any did you encounter during the process, how did you overcome these obstacles?
Christina: We decided to go online as back in 1997 very little information was available on the internet about exotic cats in Scotland.
One of the main obstacles that we encountered was an individual who started using the name of our group, Scottish Big Cats. In addition to setting up a spoof website using information taken from our site, right down to photos of our committee members, he also contacted newspapers and pretended to run our organisation. We therefore changed our name to the Scottish Big Cat Society, but the individual also started to use that name and claimed that he had always been known as that!
Therefore, when we achieved charity status, we changed our name again - to the Scottish Big Cat Trust. But journalists are still contacted by the individual, who has at times even claimed to be a charity.
How did we attempt to overcome these obstacles? By complaining to the service providers concerning the spoof websites, which included libelous character assassination attempts on several of our members. However each time a site was closed down, the individual simply opened a site with a new service provider. We could have taken out a legal action but believed that our money should be spent only on charitable purposes rather than in court cases.
thewebhostcompany.com: What is the main function or purpose of your website?
Christina: The main purpose of our website is to educate the public concerning exotic free-living non-native cats in cotland and the UK. It is unfortunate that there are a number of extremely vocal self-proclaimed felid "experts" with little actual knowledge of these animals. It has to be stressed that while exotic cats are living and breeding in the British countryside, the vast majority of sightings are genine mistaken identity - confusion of dogs and feral cats due to a lack of scale etc. There are also a number of clear hoaxes, some of which have been promoted by publicity seekers as "terrifying attacks". We hope to provide a voice of reason amongst some of the scaremongering and deliberate misinformation.
thewebhostcompany.com: What sorts of things did you consider in deciding how to structure your site in terms of both organization and design?
Christina: An important part of the site is the sightings data which is all carefully organised for ease of access and use. All sightings are fully integrated into the database, by year, with a short summary of the evidence, and by area. All evidence is also mapped locally and on a summary Scottish map. We were very impressed when we were told by a professional, that if she had had to set up such a database, she could not think of a better way to do it than the way we had chosen.
thewebhostcompany.com: How long after launching your site did you begin to see results, and were the results what you expected to see?
Christina: Almost immediately. The website has served as an important point of contact. Through it, many other researchers became aware that they were not alone in their interests, have joined the organisation, given generously of their free time and money, and made the Trust the success that it is today. It has also allowed members of the public who believe they have seen an exotic cat to realise that they are not mad and that many others have had similar experiences.
thewebhostcompany.com: Has your organisation benefited from being online, if so then how much business do you attribute to your website?
Christina: The website is an essential part of our work. It is the public face of the Trust and an important part of our educational programme and a means of contact with the general public.
thewebhostcompany.com: How often do you update your website, and what sorts of things do you take into consideration with each update?
Christina: The website is continually updated, and a summary of the updated pages is generated every week. The site is a mixture between an educational resource, and a community site, where anybody can give their opinion of the evidence presented.
thewebhostcompany.com: What methods do you use in order to drive traffic to your site? Which would you say are the most and least effective ways to generate traffic?
Christina: People find our site because of personal recommendation, from reading reports in the media, and through search engines.
thewebhostcompany.com: Have you employed any search engine optimization techniques? If so, what specifically have you done, and has it been successful?
Christina: Search engine optimisation is somewhat difficult due to the many spoof versions of our site produced by a certain individual. This is one of the reasons that we changed our name when we were granted charity status.
thewebhostcompany.com: Can you give us an idea of how much traffic you receive at your website?
Christina: We have had almost 90,000 visitors (and that's individual visits, not hits) since 1997. Currently we receive over 2,000 visits a month.
thewebhostcompany.com: What role if any do you have in the design and maintenance of your site?
Christina: I have been involved in designing and running the website since 1997 and as Publications Officer, I have full artistic and editoral control.
thewebhostcompany.com: How much time and money would you say has gone into your website?
Christina: It is very difficult to judge, but certainly hundreds of pounds and hundreds of hours of work, possibly thousands. Updating a website such as ours could very easily become a full-time job. While our site has been universally praised as the best of its kind, there is never enough time and the site is never as up to date as I would like. Unfortunately, without additional help, I cannot see the situation improving.
thewebhostcompany.com: Was there much of a learning curve for you as far as the internet and web sites were concerned?
Christina: Not with this site. I already had considerable experience in web site design before embarking on the current project, so the learning curve, which was steep, had come some time before. Before embarking upon the current site, I spent a great deal of time in planning the structure of the site and attempting to create a resource that would not need re-designing in a few months or a year's time.
thewebhostcompany.com: Were there any mistakes you made along the way with the site that you learned from?
Christina: Perhaps our greatest mistake was not reserving the domain names connected to our group. This allowed an individual to reserve two of the names and pretend to be us. We were perhaps rather niave and never imagined that any individual would ever pretend to pass themselves off as our organisation.
We learned the hard way, and I would recommend everyone to register all possible variations of their name.
thewebhostcompany.com: How soon after launching did your site become profitable for you?
Christina: It is not profitable at all as it is paid for by myself! As a charitable organisation, we are not looking to make a profit. Any money received is invested for educational and conservational purposes, rather than spent on the website.
thewebhostcompany.com: Is there any advice you would give to others who are trying to make their websites more successful?
Christina: Plan ahead. Look very carefully at different websites before you start to design your own in order to get an idea of what will work for you. Have a template for your pages, but keep the design simple and visually attractive - many sites designed by "professionals" with all sorts of bells and whistles are a nightmare to navigate and a real put off.
thewebhostcompany.com: Thank you for your time, Christina. I'm sure this will be very useful information for many of our readers.
Christina: You're very welcome.
© The Web Host Company, 22 nd June 2004
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