Special Olympics International


Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect. It has chapters in 170 countries and boasts 4 million athletes worldwide. "The Special Olympics Web site (specialolympics.org) has three main goals," notes Will Schermerhorn, Web Product Director at Special Olympics International "The first is brand building; informing people about Special Olympics, and what we do. We also use the site to facilitate people getting engaged with Special Olympics. We have about 220 chapters around the world and our site is one of the main ways that people find locations near them. And the third thing we use our website for is secure online fundraising." In 2008, the Web content management system running Special Olympics' Web site was no longer supported by the company that offered it and did not offer the flexibility or reliability the Web team was looking for as a long term solution. Developers had to manually move new templates and code from their development server to their staging and production environments every time they made an update. Another critical component of the site, the search functionality, was unable to meet the performance standards the Special Olympics required. Additionally, the site had a poor design and workflow that hindered rather than helped their goals for the site. All in all, the site needed to be completely reconstructed to meet the performance expectations and organizational goals.


Will Schermerhorn, the Director of Internet Strategy for Special Olympics, in cooperation with 1/0 Technology developed a new Web strategy to drive online donations and increase awareness using a .NET content management solution called Ektron CMS400. Core content management functionally including Ektron's Web editor, URL Aliasing and Smart Form technology allows content authors to frequently update content, pictures, videos and links on the site. Smart Forms ensure that the Special Olympics' design standard is consistent throughout the site and content authors can rest assured that pages will not break when content is updated. Special Olympics' development team is also enjoying the benefits of Ektron's eSync technology, using it to move Web site content changes from their staging environment into production multiple times a day. eSync allows the development team to synchronize the entire Web site, select folders, individual pages or even a single piece of content. 1/0 Technology and Schermerhorn also put Google's Site Search technology to work on the new site. Google's Site Search makes it possible for Content Authors to add new content, articles, videos and other assets and have them automatically indexed based on the Web site's folder structure. Suggested Search results have been implemented allowing Special Olympics to define specific search terms or phrases and the documents that they want returned as part of the results. The Special Olympics site recently went through a major refresh, upgrading from Ektron v7.6 to 8.5. Paul Williams, president of Ektron implementation partner 1/0 Technology Corporation, describes it as a comprehensive infrastructure update that now allows the Special Olympics site to display in multiple languages and deliver regionalized imagery and content. In addition, 1/0 developed a mobile friendly version of the Web site that optimizes the experience for smaller devices. "We know that in order for our movement to grow around the world, we have to be able to communicate to people in a language they understand," says Schermerhorn. The Special Olympics site offers content in six languages mirroring those supported by the United Nations Web site; English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian. "Special Olympics is dynamically targeting content based on a user's geo-location," adds Paul Williams. "When a visitor comes to the site, they'll see imagery and content associated with their particular region."


The Special Olympics organization is seeing a dramatic increase in time spent on site since they began offering a mobile version of its content. "Our mobile audience makes up about 12 percent of our overall visitors," says Will Schermerhorn. "Compared with last year we're seeing 50 to 100 percent increases in time on site, pages read and a very strong decrease in bounce rate. Presenting our information in mobile form as well as multiple languages is having a positive effect on metrics that reflect the quality of interaction on the website." "As I noted earlier, a primary goal of the Special Olympics website is to aid in fund raising efforts," continues Schermerhorn. "When people are deciding, 'is the Special Olympics worthy of my donation?' they come to the site to read about our history, our mission, our financial information. Our website is a key and indispensable part of our fundraising strategy." An interesting transition of the Special Olympics website has been its ongoing evolution into providing regionalized content. The Special Olympics Web site is now positioned to drive the organizations online donations and promote their mission across the globe. Content Authors are empowered by having a flexible, reliable method for publishing and promoting content on the Web site. They have the tools they need to keep the site fresh and informative with new articles, videos and updated information on events and ways to get involved. New content that is added to the site can immediately be searched and provides site visitors with a summary for each result returned. Once Web site content is updated in the staging environment, the editorial team can synchronize the changes to the production server. "With eSync in place, we can easily make multiple changes on the site and synchronize those changes up to production or down to our development server as needed," stated Schermerhorn. The home page is continually being updated in this fashion and the process is streamlined and very simple for our development team to manage. "It's been a remarkable transformation to watch and be part of," says Schermerhorn. "Like the old saying that 'all politics are local,' the heart of the Special Olympics community are our 220 chapters around the world. Being able to pinpoint our focus from regional to then states and then down to the local level is a dream of the organization that we're now beginning to fulfill."



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