How To Make Your Camp Website A Marketing Tool
Your website is an important part of your organization or business. At a minimum, it serves as a reference for current and prospective camp families. A basic website likely contains information about what you do, what your program offers and has a way for a visitor to contact you. It is a “digital brochure.”
Beyond the basics, your website can help your organization grow if you view it as an important marketing and sales tool.
Your Website More Effective
Optimize Your Content for Searches To Get Found (SEO)
When people search on the internet, the terms they use are tracked and measured by Google. We use Google’s data when we do keyword research since most people use Google as their search engine (although some use Bing and Yahoo and they have data, too).
There are sophisticated tools to help with keyword research, but there are also some basic steps you can take to see where your website is currently ranking and what terms you should consider using in your website content to help you get found in searches. We go into more detail about keyword research and SEO here. Make sure you have set up Google My Business for your website and that you use Google Analytics and Google Search Console (free tools) to help measure your website’s activity and to see what terms people are using to find your website.
Make it Secure, Responsive and Fast (Satisfy Google and Your Visitors)
Google has created some technical “requirements” which websites must meet in order for them to have a chance at ranking higher in searches. Google’s focus is on making their search results satisfying to the searcher, and they reward websites that perform well. Websites that successfully deliver content people are searching for are the types of sites that people want to use.
Google’s requirements include:
1) Page Speed: Your website needs to load fast. Very slow websites turn users away.
You can use Google Page Speed Insights Tool to test how long it takes your website to load. Google says: “2 seconds is the threshold for ecommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.” While most websites for small businesses do not load in under half a second, you should aim for under 3 seconds load time for your website. If you are using WordPress, there are tools and steps you can take to speed up your website.
2) Mobile Responsiveness: Over 50% of visitors to most websites are viewing them from a mobile device.
Modern websites are built to “respond” to the screen size they are being viewed on. This means the same website, not a separate version of it, adapts to screen sizes to make the content easy to read and click on. You can take this Google Mobile Friendly Test to see if your website passes. If it doesn’t, you should consider updating the design and code, as Google penalizes websites in search results which are not mobile friendly.
3) SSL Certificate The latest Google specification is designed to make the communication between a user and a website more secure.
This means websites that have installed an SSL Certificate are more likely to appear in searches. Most importantly, websites that do not have an SSL are now marked by Google in the browser bar as “insecure.” You may have seen this already on your website or others. Websites with an SSL start with “https://” and those without are just “http://.” Avoid this message appearing on your site by adding an SSL as soon as possible if you don’t have one already. Many website hosting companies provide these now at no extra cost.
Have a Clear Call To Action (CTA) and Navigation Structure
Visitors coming to your website are there to get information, but also to take action. Make it easy for them to progress through your website to request more information from you, sign up, or make a purchase. A Call To Action is typically a button with a simple step or benefit message, such as “Register Now” or “Learn More.”
The navigation of a website is critical to its success. We believe simpler is better, and also that offering multiple ways to get to key content is important. When it comes to the standard “menu,” we employ a tried and tested design for most websites. This means the navigation is near the top, and on desktop devices, is a horizontal listing with drop downs. The “Contact Us” is usually to the far right and we recommend always having an “About” page toward the left or middle. This is content users look for and this is where they look for it. For most business categories, this is very important. Clever, creative navigation, such as navigation that is “off page” or in some harder-to-find location may work for some website categories, such as an artist. For most organizations or businesses, if a user has to dig to find what they are looking for, they will likely get frustrated and leave. Have you ever experienced a website where it is hard to find what you are looking for and you just give up?
Create Fresh and Relevant Content
Your website will be more effective if it is more than a place where people can learn about your program and sign up. Make your website a place where people can learn more general things about camps, recreation, education, or whatever topic may be related to your program. Creating fresh, relevant content will establish you as an authority, develop a relationship with your audience and help Google identify what your website is about. Creating a “blog” with fresh content on a regular basis will improve your SEO.
Employ a compelling design
There are best practices when it comes to website design, and research about fonts and colors which can improve the usability of a website. The website is also a reflection of your brand, and as such should look and feel like “you.” Beyond that, here are some basic “Do’s and Don’ts” for website design:
Keep shapes and style simple. White space helps users focus on your content and is less stressful to look at.
Create clear navigation and calls to action.
Use legible, consistent typography.
Use colours that are consistent with your brand and that have good contrast.
Use good photography. Hire a professional to create at least a few key photos. Photography can make or break a website design. Use stock photography sparingly. Real photos outperform stock photos.
Use sliders and lots of animation and moving stuff. Research shows that sliders slow down websites and users do not watch them. You may think you are communicating all the great things at the top of your site, but if no one is watching beyond the first slide, your message is not getting through.
Use pop-ups sparingly.
Offer too many navigation options. Keep top level navigation simple.
Use hard to read fonts or too many fonts.
Use colours that do not have enough contrast to be seen by people with disabilities.
Use blurry images, images with no focal point or other pictures you have taken with your phone that look unprofessional.
Use overly “stock-looking” photos that are used on lots of other websites.
Make It Easy to Share on Social Media
In this day and age, sharing on social media is a THING. People want to spread the word about cool things, promotions, events, and programs like yours. Make it easy for them to share your content, especially those informational blog posts you are going to create!
If you don’t currently have share buttons on your website, here are some great resources to get you started:
Utilize Digital Advertising and Landing Pages to Target Programs to Specific Audiences
Organic SEO, which is the use of keyword optimization described above, can take a long time to take effect and is hard to measure. It is not an “exact science.” If you want faster, more measurable results so you come up more in searches, you should consider paid advertising. While also not an exact science, paid digital ads provide more “conversion” information since they are tied to a specific offer or goal. Google and Facebook/Instagram ads can be done relatively inexpensively. You can set a budget and look at results to determine if your offer is working, and easily test different campaigns and offers.
When you run ads, you will want to create “Landing Pages” which focus on the single message and call to action from your ad. These pages allow better measurement of the effectiveness of your ad, since visitors to these pages are coming only from your ads and not from organic searches.
Invest In and Value Your Website as a Marketing Tool
If you invest in your website, you should put it to use for your organization. There are basic things you can do to move it in that direction if you are not already making use of the opportunities available. The first step is realizing that your website can be more than a “digital brochure.” Focus on how it can serve your website visitors as well as grow your business.
About the Author
Tara Claeys is the founder of Design TLC, a WordPress website agency specializing in websites, branding and digital marketing for kid’s camps and programs, as well as education-focused nonprofits.