Your website introduces your visitor to your historic places. Your website needs to be simple, easy to navigate and give the visitor the information they need.
What do they need to know about your amazing attraction, your services and your history that will help them make the decision to come and visit your historical or cultural site? Then give them what they need.
Following the ten basic suggestions below will help tune-up your website to help you generate revenue for operations, planning, repairs and protection.
Websites are a fundamental component of the marketing toolkit for all businesses—including historic sites—seeking to attract visitors to their location. However, you don’t necessarily need to spend thousands on a complete rebuild, full of proprietary code and flashy graphics.
Here is a quick checklist for you to use to tune-up your existing site or to design a new site if you don’t already have one:
Almost all of the traffic to your website will arrive at your home page. Whatever you want to sell or feature for your viewers needs to be the first thing they see. Do you have a special summer promotion on site tours? Did you just expand your opening hours to seven days a week? Do you have a new partnership with a local automobile club for discounted admission prices? Whatever you want them to know, make it immediately visible.
The content of your website can’t be entirely static. Most web browsers reward sites that have dynamic content with a higher Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking. What this means is that if your site has new content regularly, it is more likely to appear at the top of the list provided by Google, or Yahoo, or Bing, or DuckDuckGo! The other benefit of new content is that you might actually have return visitors who will then see that there is new content online, indicating that there are new events, special offers, or activities at your location.
Telling the story of your historic place is important to convey the social value of your work. However, if you are open to the public, let them know how much it costs to visit. There is no shame in boldly proclaiming your admission fees. Also, be sure to tell them when you are open, even if it is only by appointment. It is easy to update the fees and hours of operation if you change your mind, or change your prices.
See the website for the Laura Secord Homestead to note that they’ve included prices on the home page. This site also has excellent photos and clear navigation for secondary information (see points below).
From your price listing, create a single click to make it easy for them to purchase from you. It is actually quite easy to set up an online mechanism to accept and process credit cards, Paypal payments, or e-transfers. Setting this up allows you to issue tickets online automatically, and most services allow you to track customer information, allowing for better customer service down the line.
If you are not comfortable setting up an online payment system for tickets, tours and trinkets, then at the very least have a “contact us to book your tickets” button near your prices. Clicking that button allows your visitor to immediately create either an email with a subject line such as “ticket sales” or a form that is sent to you electronically. If you set up a form, be sure to specifically ask how many tickets they’d like and their phone number and email (at a minimum). Once you get the notification, you can follow up with them by phone or email to process the transaction.
It pays to adopt internet norms. Visitors understand typical website design, where they don’t have to search for information they need. Clear navigation menus (especially at or near the top of the home page), buttons or photos hyperlinked to specific content, and hyperlinked text in blog posts or embedded Twitter feeds can help direct your visitors to the information they need or want to see.
A lean website is easier to read and understand. Don’t pad your website with photos from a hosted wedding 10 years ago, or with long passages of text describing the history of the site. As with good advertising offline, white space is good, especially on the home page. Less content allows the viewer to better understand, find and use the important content you want to share. If there is a great story to be told, or a volunteer recognition event to be celebrated, or a set of architectural drawings from the turn of the century, give them a page for themselves, for those wishing to read it.
A nice, clean example of an easy to read and easy to view website is the Atlas Coal Mine site.
Online customers are suspicious of text only websites. A few well-placed, well-composed photos and embedded videos will quickly make your website look more professional. A cell-phone quality photo or video is sufficient, provided that it is full of the right information. Take a few minutes to record yourself (or a tour guide, or a past customer) talking about how interesting the site was, or speaking about what they learned. Storytelling is powerful, so you may wish to bring history to life with a short video. Take a few photos of your location that are not too busy, but offer a sense of what you are showcasing. If you are active on social media, consider embedding a widget for Twitter or Facebook, so that updates to those accounts are immediately reflected on your (now dynamic) website. A good example that incorporates simple, well-composed photos, and a live social media widget can be found at the Brockville Railway Tunnel
There should be a way to contact you from every page on your website, either a menu option, or an embedded hyperlink, or both. Once your online audience gets to your contact page, they need a simple way to reach you. Be sure to feature your address, an email address, a phone number, or even create a contact form that prompts your visitors to answer specific questions. Perhaps include a map—even a copy of a Google map featuring your location—to describe where you are and how visitors can find you.
As an aside, whatever method you choose to allow your customers and potential customers to contact you, be sure that you monitor those phones and/or email accounts and respond promptly.
Repetition of logos, stories, colors and sentiments will help to link your online presence to offline outreach and operations and will integrate your marketing through all vehicles.
When tuning-up your website, assume that your online traffic will increase. Consider the value of translating some of the basic information in other languages (French, German, Chinese) as foreign visitors to Canada are frequent visitors to historical sites. For example, prices, open hours and ongoing attractions can be simple to translate once for the benefit of overseas travellers. Try to make your website simple and easy to update key elements, so that you aren’t bogged down by editing and writing, thereby freeing up your time to welcome guests in person to your historical site.
Tourism is about expectations – what visitors hope to see and experience, and how the many parts of the community can benefit from the influx of travellers. Historic places can be key to attracting visitors to get a better sense of a locale’s people, places and events.
Video is an incredibly powerful tool. With video, you can inform and entertain a large group of people in a creative way without having to worry about your audience getting bogged down by looking at too many words. And not only is it more engaging, but it can evoke feelings and tug on heart strings in a way that words on a page can’t.
Since its opening in 1978, the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre has had a mission to “collect, preserve, research, exhibit, and interpret the artifacts that depict the story of people and nature as it relates to the history of Fort Frances and the surrounding Rainy River District.”