A website is more than just posting information about your Scottish heritage society online. If designed and maintained well, your website can draw potential members to your society, educate them, engage them, and turn them into paying members! Without those features, you may turn people way. Here’s a look at some the most important aspects of websites that can turn visitors to cherished society members.
The first consideration is getting a domain name, or internet web site address, that is easy to remember. While top level domain names (TLD) were once limited to ending in “org,” “com,” or “net,” the market has been blown wide open. While “org” is still the preference for nonprofit Scottish heritage societies, some have taken advantage of the newer “scot” domain name.
Host and Platform
The most important factor in creating an effective website is the choice of (1) website host and (2) website management platform (an integrated set of tools that help you build and maintain your website.) The hosts determine which platforms they support. The platforms are generally hypertext mark-up language (HTML) that requires extensive technical knowledge; content management systems such as WordPress and Drupal, which are free and open-source (shared non-proprietary) software that requires a moderate amount of technical knowledge; and commercial proprietary services which is usually called “drag and drop” and requires the least amount of technical skill. Proprietary services usually offer standard templates or “themes” that allow you to create a website quickly and still tailor it to your own needs.
Originally, anyone could intercept and read information on the Web since it was transmitted in plain text. For example, a person could change a password and control the entire website. Or someone else could steal credit card numbers. In 1995, Netscape invented the “Secure Sockets Layer” or SSL, which is an encryption-based Internet security protocol. This has spread across the Web to ensure privacy, authentication, and data integrity. SSL is indicated in the actual address of the website. Unprotected websites have an address starting with “http” while secure sites start with “https.” You can immediately tell if site is not safe by the notation “Not secure” in the URL box at the top of your browser.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Once you have a secure site, you need to use strategic Seach Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques that will drive visitors to your site. Your website host and platform should also have some built-in technical tools to enhance your SEO standings. For example, Wix automatically generates a “robots.txt” file for your site that informs “bots” (such as the Google bot) how to index your site; “server side rendering” creates dedicated, optimized versions of your pages that allow bots to extract relevant information; creates SEO-friendly “meta tags” in the code of your website such as your title tags, page descriptions, and open graph tags; and generates Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for your blogs which allows faster loading times on mobile devices.
A good website should hold the attention of the visitor by presenting the most important information “above the fold” (i.e., in the top part of the webpage); using lots of photographs and graphics, preferably with people; complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements; and minimizing the size of the design elements to maximize loading time.
According to research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, website users spend 57% of their time on the upper half of a website’s landing page and 74% of view time is spent in the first two “screenfuls.” (Haan, Kathy. 2023. “Top Website Statistics For 2023,” Forbes Advisor.) This is especially important with the mobile phone version of the website – the more “swipes” people have to make to get to important information, the less likely they will be to stay.
Most of your visitors will not come through your “front door,” your home page, but will land instead on a page from a search engine. That’s why you need to make sure that your visitors have a clear understanding of where they are and what other information is available. That’s why menus on every page are important – both in the “header” (top banner) and the “footer” bottom of the page. However, don’t go overboard by listing every page on every page! Group your pages into major categories and allow for “drop-down” menus or sub-navigation. The more time your visitors spend on your website, the more likely they are to becoming members.
In 2022, almost 60% of all web traffic was accessed through mobile phones. This is up 50% in 10 years from the 10% in 2012. By 2025, an estimated 72.6% of global smartphone owners will access the internet solely using their smartphones. (Flynn, Jack. 2022. “20 Vital Smartphone Usage Statistics : Facts, Data, And Trends On Mobile Use In The U.S.,” Zippia.) This is especially true for younger people. As of 2021, about 30% of people 18 to 29 years of age say that they do not use broadband at home by own smartphones. About 20% clan and family societies with valid websites are currently not adaptable to the screen size. The website appears cramped on the cellphone screen and the visitor cannot click on any link without zooming in.
Fresh, Relevant Content
In addition to all these other considerations, your content is what drives people to your website – and what keeps them coming back. Your website serves a critical role in building a relationship with current and potential members. You should add a “blog” function to your website and then write one or two blogs per month. This will keep your website viewers coming back – and you can promote these blogs through your social media.
Call to Action
In addition to providing education, the major role of your website is to convert your visitors into paying members. Therefore, your should have what is a “call to action” to sign up for a free e-mail newsletter or immediately become a paid member on your home page. You should also have a prominent “Join” button on every page of your site, since most people enter through pages other than your home page.
Clan and family societies have reported that one of their most attractive member benefit is having a members-only section of their website, where they can share exclusive information. In fact, based on the 2022 COSCA Member Survey, the second greatest difference between successful societies and less successful ones was whether the society had a members-only section of its website. About 75% of societies with increased membership had a private section while 46% of the other societies provided exclusive content for their members.
If you are an Alternate of Delegate of a current COSCA Organizational Member, you can find more details, examples from clan and family websites, and additional resources here: https://www.cosca.scot/websites