Getting the Most from Your Community Website
A community website is a valuable resource for local people and visitors to your town. Setting up a website is easy enough these days, but are you sure that you are really getting the most from your site?
There is a good chance that as the webmaster you can do more to improve your website for the benefit of the whole community through taking simple steps.
This guide aims to provide you with the information you need to create the best online community resource.
Chapter 1: Use the Right Platform
One of the main decisions that you need to make is which platform you are going to use for your website. One of the best platforms available is the free and open source WordPress. Designed with ease of use in mind, WordPress is:
- Quick and free to set up and install
- Simple to get the hang of
- Packed full of powerful features and plugins
- Easy to add and edit content and images
- Accessible by you and other members of your team
It also comes with a number of free and premium themes so you can change the overall look and feel of your site with a click. You could even hire a designer to create a unique professional theme for your site, depending on the funds available.
If you choose WordPress, you will also need to choose a hosting provider. Many hosts provide support for WordPress, and you can take a look at the WordPress hosting comparison at WIHT.com to see some of the best options.
If you have already launched your website on a platform but you realise now that it is not working out, switching to WordPress may be your best option. You will probably need an experienced web developer to help you with the migration, and then you can start to enjoy the benefits that WordPress provides.
If you don't want to use WordPress, other options to consider include:
Start Small and Get the Basics Right
When you start building your website, you may be tempted to jump straight in and start adding numerous features. However, it's best to keep things small and simple to start with. The early days are the time to get the basics right because a large site that is overly confusing will only put off visitors, and it's far better to have a small site that works properly.
The navigation is one area that you want to get right, so stick to the basics rather than trying anything too fancy. List the most important categories in the menu bar on the top or down the side, and within these you can include drop-down menus with sub-categories. Many people who visit the website for the first time will want to know where to go to get the information they need, so make sure they can find it quickly.
Another factor to consider is the page loading times. If they are running slowly, this can affect the user experience as well as the search ranking of your site. Sign up for the free Google Analytics and make use of the Site Speed reports to find out how quickly your pages are loading. If they are loading too slowly, you may have too many large images on the pages.
If you experience any problems such as slow page loading times and you are unsure what is causing the problem, it may be a good idea to hire a specialist to go over your site for you to iron out any problems.
Make It Mobile Friendly
More people are viewing websites on mobile devices these days, so you need to make sure your site can be accessed on any device. You might want to hire a designer who uses responsive design to help you with this. Responsive design is where the website adapts to fit the size of the screen so that anyone can view it whichever device they are using – see Copyblogger’s guide for an excellent introduction.
You could also create a .Mobi version of your website, which are websites designed specifically for mobile devices. However, by doing this you will end up with two different websites to look after, which may not be practical.
Wordstream has a very detailed guide to mobile websites where it looks at the pros and cons of responsive and .Mobi sites. It also provides a list of website examples and what makes them successful, which you can use for guidance.
Chapter 2: Sections to Include
You can add as many sections and pages to your website as you want. However, start with a few basics at the beginning, which could include the following.
Rather than just providing a general welcome message on your homepage, fill it with useful information that will help visitors to find what they are looking for. For example, you could include snippets of the latest news and reviews or a link to the most recent blog post, as well as a newsletter sign-up form. This will mean the page constantly provides something new every time visitors arrive.
Not all visitors will be from the community, and some people may want to find out about your community when they are planning to visit in the future. It is therefore a good idea to create a page dedicated to visitors where you can include information about where to stay, things to do, useful contact details, local facilities and more.
News and Blog
Many people will want to find out about local news and events, and your news and blog can provide people with more reasons to keep on visiting and to get more involved. You could provide information about special events, activities, births, weddings, deaths and anything else of note, and make an effort to keep it updated on a regular basis.
Local Guides & Reviews
Provide details on local facilities such as bars, clubs, restaurants, sports centres and churches. As well as providing information and contact details, you could also create a section where people can leave reviews.
Keep It Up to Date
Whichever pages you decide to include, make it a habit to go over them on a regular basis to check that everything is up to date. You want your website to be as helpful as possible, so check contact details, links and other information to make sure that there are no mistakes.
Launch an Email Newsletter
You may want to group all the major news and content of the week together into an email newsletter. This can be an excellent way to keep people updated even if they do not visit the website, and it can encourage more people to return to your site to engage with the community.
Encourage people to sign up by asking for their email address in a sign-up form displayed prominently on the homepage or in the sidebar. You can then send out regular emails using a service like Aweber or MailChimp.
Chapter 3: Promoting Your Site
You will want to make sure your website becomes a popular community hub, and to do this you need to ensure people know that it exists in the first place. There are various ways in which you can promote your website, and some of the most effective will involve:
- Promoting the website through the use of flyers and leaflets handed out around your town and advertised in local shops and pubs.
- Placing ads in the local newspaper and community newsletters.
- Connecting with local groups, perhaps through writing a section about each group and asking for their feedback.
- Asking local establishments to link to your website from their own sites.
- Encourage recipients of your email newsletter to forward it to others who may be interested in the information it contains.
- Encourage local people to volunteer on your website in some form, perhaps through writing blog posts and features or taking photographs. As more people get involved in the site, they will end up helping to promote it further.
- Hold monthly competitions and giveaways to generate buzz around the site.
- Update your social media accounts regularly
You may also want to add a social element to your website by integrating your Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as any other platforms on which you have a presence. Many people are now very active on social media, and this can be an effective way to keep them updated and to encourage them to spend time on your website.
Chapter 4: Improve Your Photography
Images will probably play a large role on your website. Photographs can bring the site to life and generate more interest, but it is important to get them right because photos that are out of focus and poorly lit can have an adverse effect on the site.
Most of the images that you place on your website will be of local people, places and events. As you are unlikely to be able to take all the photos yourself, you may want to ask people in the community to send in their own photos.
Here are some tips that you could place on your site for anyone who wants to send in their photos:
- Photographs should be in the JPEG format (these can be compressed so that you get a high quality image with a small file size).
- Try to stick to daylight photos rather than using the flash.
- Try and use a good quality camera, and send in images in their best quality (you can later edit and compress them as required).
- When taking photos of people, make sure their faces and eyes are clearly visible as this generates more interesting photographs.
- Try to get close up to your subjects rather than photographing people and animals in the distance.
- Make sure the background is not cluttered and that it does not contain anything distracting the focus from the subject.
Launch Monthly Themes
As well as asking for photographs of local events, you may want to launch monthly themes and request submissions. For example, one month you could request photographs of nature, the next month architecture, the next month socialising, and so on. You could even launch a prize for the winning photo each month, perhaps one that is sponsored by a local company.
You may need to edit photos before you publish them on your site, and you can do this using any number of editing suites. The best known is Adobe Photoshop, but you may not need to spend a lot of money buying this. For your needs, you may simply want to use a cheaper or even free option such as Pixlr, GIMP, Paint.NET or PicMonkey.
On your page providing tips for taking photos, mention that you may need to edit the images that you publish. You may want to simply give them a quick touch-up or crop, or you may need to scale them down to a low resolution to avoid slow page loading times.
Launch Your Site - ResourcesGet the Most from Your Community Site
Launching and growing a community website is a task that demands considerable time and dedication, but the results make it worthwhile. Despite having plenty of enthusiasm, many webmasters may not be aware of all the ways that they can improve their websites and get the most from them, so use the above ideas to really get your site off the ground. Once your site really gets going, it will become a valuable resource that the whole community can be proud of, so start making improvements on your site today and see where you can take it.
Resources:Popular Website Platforms
Newsletter and Autoresponder Clients