Building the History Hub - Part 1 - Your Website

Many of us are frustrated by technology. We’re tired of hearing terms we don’t understand. We’re fed up with old, ugly websites we can’t change and we think social media is a ridiculous waste of time.

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It's not that we're in denial. We know our systems should be updated. But who has the time and patience to figure out what needs to be done or the money to hire a web designer or some other geek to fix everything?

Take a deep breath and relax. There is another option. We can manage our digital assets ourselves.  The Internet is nothing but a tool, and it’s a tool you can learn to use to support and enhance your local history tourism efforts.

You don’t need the latest app. You don’t have to know how to write code. You don’t need thousands of dollars. You do, however, have to have an open mind and a desire to get the technical side of your house in order.

In this series we are going to focus on the three key areas that make up the foundation of your online assets. They are a fully functional website, an up-to-date and growing email list, and a presence on social media.

Once you have these three components under control, you’ll be in good shape. Does this mean you can “set it and forget it?” No. But keeping your online world running smoothly is easy when everything is set up properly.

The Heart of the History Hub

When we talk about first impressions, we often focus on physical aspects such as the parking lot, the front door, restrooms, signage, etc. And that’s appropriate. But the impression your website makes is important too. In many cases it will be the first point of contact potential visitors, volunteers, donors and others will have with your organization. If you make a poor impression, they’ll simply move on.

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Back in the 1990s, the days of yore in Internet terms, websites were basically static digital brochures. Once your site was up, you ignored it unless you had to change something. If you needed a new page, for example, you contacted a computer programmer who did something incomprehensible. The page magically appeared and you received an invoice, usually for a hefty amount of money. Thankfully things have changed.

Attractive, dynamic, contemporary looking websites are easy to create and dirt cheap to put up and maintain. No programming required. 

Your website is the heart of the History Hub. It should include the following features and elements:

  • Your site should be visually rich with lots of pictures, video, as well as colors and fonts you actually like.
  • You and/or someone on your staff must be able to easily update and maintain the site. You should be able to add and remove pages as often as you want to. If you encounter a problem or issue you don’t understand, you should have access to free technical support.
  • Your site should include an appealing “Home” page that welcomes visitors, introduces them to your attraction, destination or programs and lets them know they are in the right place.
  • Your site should include an “About” page that tells your background story and helps people understand what’s unique, special, interesting or important about your attraction, organization or events.  
  • It should include an online contact form so people can send you email directly from the site, as well as your address, a map, phone number, opening hours and perhaps a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
  • Your site should include a calendar or a schedule of some sort so people can see at a glance what’s coming up program-wise. It should also include a separate detailed page for each event. 
  • If you manage or own historic properties or museums, such as many county historical societies do, your site should include a separate page for each attraction and town in your coverage area.
  • If you do presentations in the community, you should have a page that lets groups, clubs and organizations know you are available, what type of programs you offer and gives them an easy way to connect with you.

The Hullabaloo over Mobile

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Your site needs to be responsive, also referred to as optimized for mobile or mobile friendly. This means the software running your site detects the types of devices people are using to access it. When they're on phones or tablets, the site automatically adjusts its displays to fit the smaller screens.

Why does this matter? The number of people using mobile devices increases each day. Out-of-town visitors may not be aware of your event or attraction until they arrive in the area and start checking for things to do on their tablets or phones. If your website doesn't load properly or they are unable to find basic information like opening hours and admission prices, you've lost them.

In April of 2015, Google began penalizing sites that are not mobile responsive. This causes those sites to rank poorly in search results. It's not necessarily the end of the world. But it isn't a good thing either. It depends on how much competition you have. Click here to read more about Google's change.    

Sounds like a complicated and expensive programming problem, doesn't it? It is if you’re trying to retrofit an old, out-of-date site. Responsive design is a standard feature in almost all contemporary off-the shelf templates and themes, which is what we recommend you use.

You are reading this article on a Squarespace site, by the way. It’s inexpensive, easy to work on, does everything we need and more. We can modify it whenever we like and it’s mobile friendly. Click here to find out more about Squarespace.

There is one more element your site should include and that is an email sign up form that links to an email marketing service provider. Email is the History Hub’s second key area. We’ll dig into it in our next post.