Well, it’s February. I hope you are sticking to your new year’s resolutions and making good progress. My resolution was an unoriginal one; get down the gym to lose some lard. So off I went to my gym, sorry health club, Virgin Active, and after a few sessions I decided to maybe research a few classes and discover whether that spin class is going to break me. That’s when I discovered the new Virgin Active website. I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
First impressions of the homepage are good. The colours and use of imagery is vibrant and the font sizes are bold, clear and concise. The photography is good, really lively and takes up most of the screen. It almost makes you want to jump up in excitement at the prospect of going to the gym, and we all need that, right?
The navigation is made up of three main sections and features mega drop-down boxes. These aren’t the best or worst I have seen, with headers, titles and two colours used to break up the links. The main ‘facilities & classes’ drop down is a bit cluttered but certainly not boring, and has plenty of useful landing pages if you’re not certain on what page you want exactly.
I like the large search bar under the navigation, which provides direction of what to search for including clubs, facilities and classes. It has predictive text which not only displays search results in the drop down bar, but includes the type of result and a related image too. This is fantastic as it is quick and relevant. This solution replaces the search results page, which means you move quickly from your search to the relevant page in one click. However if you type something that doesn’t contain a matching result, you do not get any results and this may confuse some users. Perhaps it would have been nice to add a closest matches page or a sitemap.
I used the ‘Club Finder’ call to action on the homepage to search for my local club which gives me the option to search by postcode, city or area. This is useful but I’m not sure why it suggests Mexico before Medway; it’s a .co.uk site and I’m pretty sure VA hasn’t expanded to Cancun yet. The ‘pick your club from the list’ is better for me, with a drop down box including a search bar, lovely.
Once a club has been selected, it’s saved so when I next return I get to see all those personalised images of my club again. If I don’t want to see these images and instead want to bring the lower navigation into play, I simply press the ‘close gallery’ button and the real estate is covered by the content which rises from the lower section of the page. Nice touch. It is great to know a large business like this has taken the time and resources to actually collect high quality imagery of each club to create a more personalised experience for their members and potential customers.
From here, I can read the latest news regarding my club, contact details, membership options, opening times, location, transport links and facilities. By using the club navigation I can also discover the classes available and the time table for the week. Unfortunately, I cannot book a class directly from here and that is a wasted opportunity. It doesn’t even tell you that you can book a class online from this point, which is possible via the member login at the top of the page. What I do like is that you can provide feedback about your club and discover the membership options and pricing all from this section. I like the transparency of pricing as most of the other main nationwide health clubs are so insecure to let you know this until you make a visit when they plan to bombard you with the hard sell. Well done Virgin Active for breaking this trend.
Let’s book a class then. I select the member login call to action but I am asked what my club is again. I’ve already told the site once, so would prefer at this point to cancel out Medway if required rather than search again, but no biggy. My slight disappointment is soon forgotten when I am taken to the old portal which looks very dated now compared to the new site. Why didn’t they do this all at the same time? Let’s hope phase two is in the pipeline.
Content and feature wise it is looking good, especially under the ‘Active Matters’ section where you can find in-depth articles about diets, health, exercise and health & beauty. There was a surprising amount of good content on here and I got lost for half an hour just reading their articles and watching a few videos found in the blog. Perhaps they could have encouraged the user to consume more by offering a ‘related articles’ at the end of each piece but there was an area for the latest articles at least. I also found the tools useful, which include a BMI calculator, calorie calculator, waist-hip ratio and weight chart. I am rather impressed by all of their SEO / user friendly content and I think their articles warrant a bit of homepage action.
The mobile version of the site has a large image but I wouldn’t say it has been truely optimised for mobile. Sure enough, it has good imagery on my iPhone but the navigation and fonts remain too small to move around the site without zooming in and getting frustrated. I’m sure it will work better on an iPad but right now the majority of mobile traffic is still from mobile phones, so this should have had bolder buttons and simpler navigation. I think Virgin Active is missing a trick here with not having a ‘book a class’ feature optimised for mobile immediately on the homepage. I can imagine many members who are on their lunch hour or on the commute home thinking of booking a class for that evening via their mobiles if it was a simple task.
Overall, I think McCormack & Morrison have done a great job redeveloping this site. It is a well-designed piece that shows collective strategic, UX and creative teamwork for the most part. It also has ticked all the onsite SEO boxes with a structure that follows best practice (unique titles, meta descriptions, descriptive URLs, H1s, image alt tags, etc.) and a vast range of health focused content. It does have a few sticky points though, including the membership login taking you to an old site, which also isn’t tied in with the personalised club timetable and the potential for a better mobile user experience. Apart from those small issues that it is a great looking site with plenty of content and is easily customisable to provide you with all the information you need to know about your local club.
It still hasn’t convinced me of taking up spin class however!