How the Marine Corps Marathon Organization Raced to Overhaul Their Digital Experience with WordPress VIP
The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM)—nicknamed “the People’s Marathon”—is the world’s largest no-prize money marathon and the fourth largest in the United States. Part of the United States Marine Corps, the organization behind the race was running into trouble, hitting a digital wall. Its web presence was outdated, confusing, and in serious need of a refresh.
Working with a new agency and adopting WordPress VIP as their new CMS, the Marine Corps Marathon Organization was able to create a new, more streamlined and integrated web experience.
- More connected digital experience
- Richer, more engaging, and more tailored content
- Compliance with all government mandates
An antiquated, hard-to-manage website
The mission of the Marine Corps Marathon Organization is to build community goodwill and promote a healthy lifestyle for Marine Corps members throughout the country and world. Every year, the organization holds a number of events ranging from the Marine Corps 17.75K and several base runs to a Turkey Trot. However, their largest is the flagship marathon held every October in Washington, D.C., which draws thousands runners to an iconic course.
With all these activities, the Marine Corps Marathon Organization needs a substantial digital presence to manage disseminating information to runners and viewers alike, manage registration, and promote future races. But their website wasn’t keeping up. “Our website was more than five years old and needed a lot of love,” said Kristen Loflin, Public Relations Manager at the Marine Corps Marathon Organization. “It was extremely ‘clicky’ and very easy for people to get lost. To give you an idea of the maze, it had grown to more than 260 pages with key information often distributed across multiple pages. It was not user-friendly at all.”
Maintenance was also difficult. “Our previous CMS was very tricky to work with,” said Loflin. “Crafting new content was complex, making it necessary for us to strip down content to the bare minimum. We also had issues managing all the existing pages. We were afraid if we deleted a page it might be linked elsewhere—everything was entirely intertwined, and we struggled to keep everything up-to-date. It was a site built years ago and, ultimately, it didn’t make sense anymore. We needed an overhaul.”
Re-evaluating the website structure
Having decided to rebuild the site, the Marine Corps Marathon Organization kicked off their required government procurement process. “We have to follow a bidding process. After a certain cost, you have to bid it out and get RFPs,” said Loflin. “After evaluating multiple bids and proposals, we decided the best option was to move forward with WordPress VIP as our new CMS and COLAB as our new agency. We wanted to use WordPress, and the fact WordPress VIP was the only WordPress option with FedRAMP authorization to operate (ATO) made it a strong option for us as a government agency.”
Working with COLAB, the Marine Corps Marathon Organization formulated their desired digital experience. “First, we thought through how we wanted our website to feel for visitors,” said Loflin. “We discussed what we liked and disliked about our current site as well as other marathon sites. Based on all that input, our agency produced a set of proofs and we iterated further, ultimately landing on the design we have today.”
With the brand elements and experience defined, it was time to tame the website’s content. “The first step was to create a spreadsheet of everything currently on the site,” said Loflin. “We determined what we needed to keep and what to discard—in some cases we didn’t have to do much. For example, we had an old media archive that we weren’t updating. Our agency could just move those assets over verbatim.”
Restructuring content for a better experience
The most important content on the site, however, needed rework. “We wanted to structure our content so it was better organized and delivered a better experience to the public,” said Loflin. Everyone on their three-person team needed to be able to quickly produce and update content. “We did a WordPress training for everyone,” said Loflin.”I had used WordPress before, but it was years ago and a lot had changed. Thankfully, it proved extremely intuitive for everyone, a huge improvement over our old CMS.”
After launching the new site, the team immediately started planning how to make the user experience even better. “If a runner is doing the historic half marathon or a 5K, how do I make sure they get the right information for their specific race?” asked Loflin. “At every step, we work through our content to make sure it offers the right personalized content to participants.”
WordPress VIP helped the Marine Corps Marathon Organization build better quality content as well. “In our old CMS, I’d try to keep content minimal,” said Loflin. “I’d write something basic and then run it by other teams. We have an ops team that runs race-day logistics, for example the hydration stations along the route. Because our old CMS was so difficult, I’d intentionally try not to make the content too complicated. Now I have more flexibility to build content the way I want it to look. We build much richer, more interactive content than before—WordPress VIP gives us much more creative freedom.”
Extending the experience outside the site
WordPress VIP also plugged into Marine Corps Marathon Organization’s broader set of marketing tools to deliver a superior connected digital experience. “We use Haku as our registration platform. By necessity, it requires you to go offsite for some registration steps,” said Loflin. “Before, we had to put all information in Haku, often duplicating information we might have elsewhere. For example, we offer ‘the 4-star package’ for our flagship marathon. It includes registration, a room at our race headquarters hotel, and access to other events during marathon weekend. It’s a lot to describe. Now we’re able to keep all that content in one place in our CMS, ensuring everything is consistent and up-to-date.”
Email is another area where WordPress VIP has improved the overall experience. “In the past, we drafted long emails with massive amounts of text,” said Loflin. “Frankly, they were boring and hard to read. Now we’re able to handle much of that on our site. We build much shorter, more visually interesting emails with ‘learn more’ buttons pointing back to the site, a better experience overall.”
And then there’s the confidence factor. “In the past, we didn’t trust our website,” said Loflin. “Now we know it’s the right content and that we can build more as needed. That enables us to use our web content across, email, social media and other key channels.”
A continually evolving site
Sometimes it’s the details that take your website to the next level. After all, evolving a site is often a marathon, not a sprint.
“We continue to improve, but we’ve come a long way from our old site,” said Loflin. “As the one working on this website daily, I greatly appreciate WordPress VIP. It’s made my job much easier while helping us vastly improve our overall user experience.”