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Design UK was appointed by Rail Europe UK as the agency to undertake a large scale project involving the Information Architecture (IA) and design solution for a new website. Rail Europe is the biggest outlet coordinating the selling of tickets and passes for rail trips across Europe and beyond. With major competition coming from budget airlines, Design UK worked to design a site that would increase Rail Europe’s market share, demonstrate rail travel as a viable alternative to air travel and improve the overall user experience. They also asked us to run a complete search strategy, including SEO and PPC, to drive traffic to the site.
The first step was a full analysis of the old Rail Europe site when we were able to pinpoint problems and better understand why the site was not securing as many sales as it could have been. The intelligence gathered here showed that the text-heavy site was confusing customers, with the front-page navigation pane alone showing multiple tabs in addition to the links and extra information offered in the site’s body text. This meant that the wealth of content available was being lost and the complexity of the booking system was frustrating potential customers.
We developed an IA to help Rail Europe fulfil its ultimate goal of increased conversion. This involved creating a more streamlined home-page that would make it easier to find information and book tickets.
The design’s focus is now on directing visitors to comprehensive information about both the trains and their destinations, in order to help people plan their trips and purchase their tickets and passes. For example, if a visitor is looking at the guide to Paris, the search engine auto-fills so their ticket is just a couple of clicks away.
Features of the new site include a faster checkout system, interactive maps and a four-tab pane navigation pane to simplify the customer journey from browse to buy. The site’s content also helps people choose destinations and journeys with travel guide sections – ‘Featured destinations’, ‘Ways to travel’ and ‘Featured trains’. There is also a news section which includes up-to-date travel news which could affect journeys.
Another key development is the improved booking process. According to Stuart Alldis, Head of Ecommerce at Rail Europe,“Booking a one leg journey from London to Paris is relatively simple, but when you add another leg to that journey, from Paris to Nice for example, things get much more complex, with hundreds of fare combinations from multiple carriers. We’ve worked closely with Design UK to ensure that the whole booking process is as easy as possible for our customers. We’ve worked hard to improve the behind the scenes booking process that the customer doesn’t see, but also to simplify the booking form and the way the results are presented.”
Another priority was to guarantee visitors can find the website in the first place through increased search activity. As such, we worked to ensure that the Rail Europe site is completely search-optimised, appearing at the top of all rail or destination related searches.
Following a year-long project, the new Rail Europe site underwent a soft launch in mid-March 2010. An unexpected test of the site, and a boost in the battle against budget airlines, came in the shape of the Icelandic volcanic eruption when the site received its highest number of visitors ever as flights across the world were cancelled. The site performed well, with no outages and retained speed, despite an unprecedented 6 times the number of visitors usually expected over the same period.
The site officially launched in May 2010 and will continue to be developed, with new destinations scheduled to be added over the summer, and a section on ski trains currently being developed in time for the 2010/11 season.
"We’ve worked closely with Design UK to ensure that the whole booking process is as easy as possible for our customers. Firstly, we’ve worked hard to improve the behind the scenes booking process that the customer doesn’t see, but also to simplify the booking form and the way the results are presented.”
Stuart Alldis, Head of Ecommerce, Rail Europe