The first article in this series introduced the issues with museum web sites, including those issues common to all historical sites and memory institutions. In this second article I focus on some of the content required and how this content can be adapted to meet the needs of the different types of users.
In the first article I stressed the importance of knowing who your users are, and this will include both visitors to the museum itself as well as user of your digital museum, which is located on your web site itself.
Why do you want a web site?
There is also the issue of what you want to accomplish by the web site. It is merely an introduction to help people to find their way to your physical museum or is this a museum in its own right, allowing for much of the experience and knowledge that users will gain from a visit.
Let us treat these as two core functions of a web site : firstly as a digital brochure to attract people to visit; secondly as a digital museum to publish knowledge to users who may otherwise be unable to visit.
In this article I will address the first – being the need to expose the museum to the world, and to attract visitors.
Perhaps the best way to start this is to present a few questions which potential visitors will likely ask and then consider how the digital brochure can be structured to answer these:
- what museums are in the area and which can be visited
- what is this museum about
- where do I find you?
- when are you open?
- is there an entrance fee?
- what will I see there?
Discovery of the Museum
When a tourist visits a town they will not immediately know that your museum even exists. Many tourist associations do help by publishing information on what to do in the town, and in general a visit to the local museum is high up on the list of things to do.
However, it is important that you a visible in the digital space and for this you need to be discoverable. When someone searches on Google or other search engine for your town then you should be found. This is an essential element of the modern world.
If you already have a web site then try searching on a number of words which you would expect would lead the users to your institution, and if it is now found then you have a problem. For example, if a search on the name of your institution does not bring up your institution in the top position then something needs to be fixed. This is a problem of Search Engine Optimisation (commonly referred to as SEO) and this is beyond the scope of this article, but fortunately this is solvable. You may find that there are a host of directories of things to do, published by many other people, and these are generally taken from many non-reliable sources and may distort the message which you want to convey. As a result, having an authentic web site, which tells your story, and which is the first thing that users will find, is very important.
As a result there should be at least the following: having your own domain which bears your name and which is easy to identify and to remember – this should be preferably a .ORG.ZA domain which is identified as a non-profit institution; secondly, that you take the steps to ensure that this will always be the first web site found when searching on your name, and on similar search words.
About the Museum
Once a user has found their way to your museum web site then you have around 15 seconds to convince them that this is something worthwhile for them to spend their time on. As a result, the first few elements on the page should provide sufficient information to allow them to look further. Perhaps a simple statement about the most significant items on display, or a new exhibition or events.
When we run our workshops for museums we focus on both collection management and on the digitisation of the museum. One of our key question is to ask museums about the story which they tell to the outside world, and whether they can convey this story in a single paragraph. It is now time to write this paragraph and to put this up front on your web site.
Once the user has progressed into your web site, you need to tell the story quickly to them before they dive into the details. A few additional paragraphs will be sufficient for this, perhaps highlight a few key objects in the collection and their significance to the story.
Every museum must provide sufficient information about how to make contact. This must include at least the following:
- where you are : address, directions, and preferably GPS – if possible also link to Google Maps.
- telephone and mobile numbers
- who to call for what – such as for school visits or for access by researchers
- times of opening
- entrance fees
- status – such as whether the museum is closed for repairs
- any events which are happening at the museum
Other Important Details
The above two sections – indicating the story of your museum as well as the contact details, are the most important for the digital brochure of your museum. These will contain sufficient information to allow uses to know who you are and where to find you.
However, many users will then want to know more and this is where we need to explore how to provide access to the exhibitions in the museum, information on the collections, and eventually creating virtual exhibitions, and online access to the items in the collections. These are covered in the upcoming articles.
Responsive Web Design
During 2015 there were already more people accessing the web on their mobile phones than on traditional computers and laptops, and this will increase over time. It is essential that your web site is mobile friendly and the modern approach is to design this on a “mobile-first” basis in which we design firstly for its usage on mobile phones, and then adapt this for the larger-sized screens, rather than the other way around.
Web sites which are not adapted for mobile phone usage will appears clumsy and difficult to access from phones, and users will lose interest very quickly. In most of these cases the fonts are too small to be readable and this discourages the users from continuing to view the site.
Your homework for your web site is to gather the information which you will need:
- your museum story line in one paragraph
- 2-3 paragraphs outlining the highlights of the museum
- gather all contact details and ensure that these are correct
In the next article I will continue with how to provide more details in the contact, such as information on your collections and exhibitions.
Free Mini Web Pages for Museums
One of our initiatives is to build a cultural atlas for the country, and one part of this is to provide a free Mini Web Page to every museum. These are build within the XtownX Portal, which is our own initiative for providing local information to residents and tourists. A Mini Web Page is essentially a small digital brochure for an institution or organisation.
Please see our post on this : Free Mini Web Pages for Museums