Menu
Search Subscribe

Search Museum Next

Planning Your Museums Website Redevelopment

At its core, a re-development is the process of taking something and designing it again for the second, third, fourth time… You get the gist. It’s process of re-thinking, re-imagining, making something more relevant, current and contemporary. In this article, we will be talking about a website redevelopment, rethinking your museums website to make it more streamlined, user-friendly and reflective of your organisation’s culture and values. Whether you are undertaking a website redevelopment yourself (and hats off to you if so!) or working with an external web developer, this article will contain lots of useful tips and tricks of the trade. 

During the process of a museum website redevelopment, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize. What we mean by that, is that you absolutely must keep in mind who the website is for. Every decision that is being made must be guided by the potential user. As museums it can sometimes be hard for us to get over our pride and keep in mind that if a website is beautiful but not user-friendly, then it’s not really successful. End-users need to be able to navigate your website with easy so make sure that this is your top priority. 

We will speak at-length on making your museum website user-friendly in this article, but it’s important to introduce that concept at the beginning as we are laying the redevelopment foundation. 

So what goes into a redevelopment? We have six steps to success to share with you…

  1. Website strategy
  2. User-testing
  3. Design
  4. Build
  5. Soft-launch
  6. Maintenance and improvement

If you follow these seven steps you can be sure that your redevelopment will be on the right track and will result in a museum website that is not only more user-friendly, but better-orientated to your business and organisational goals. 

Website strategy

First, it’s time to take a good hard look at your museum website and decide what’s working and what’s not… How is the current site performing? Which pages need a refresh? Start off by looking at the site as a whole, examining the homepage, and then clicking through each of the primary navigation links and then secondary. Is there any redundant information? Is it clear how to get from one page to the next? Complete this visual analysis first before diving into the data. 

Second, refer to how your site is performing by using Google Analytics. Which pages have you been driving traffic to? Which pages have great dwell time and which are performing really poorly? 

Some useful metrics to consider when looking at what isn’t working on your site are the following:

  • Bounce rate – this is an indicator how how people are engaging with your page once they’ve landed on it. A high bounce rate indicates that users are either navigating away or not engaging with your page once they’ve landed on it. A high bounce rate on a page that is expected to generate visitor engagement is a sure sign that something isn’t working and needs to be further looked into.
  • Exit rate – this metric indicates how quickly users are leaving a certain page once they’ve landed on it. Keep in mind, that landing pages and pages that lead to other more in-depth pages may have a high exit rate. However, if a page that you would expect high dwell time from also has a high exit rate, then put it on the list of pages to further investigate.
  • Conversion rate – this metric is an indicator of how many people who have come to your site are making purchases or signing up for programmes, newsletters etc… If your aim to get guide users from point A (interested visitor) to point B (new museum member), then take this metric highly into consideration. The conversion rate will be a big indicator of success. If certain pages that you would expect to have a high conversion rate are suffering, then add them to the list to receive some much-needed TLC.

  • Site speed – patience is a virtue, but in the digital world, it’s a luxury that can’t be afforded. If your website loads too slowly, you are going to lose people’s interest, plain and simple. Look at the speed of your website and how quickly pages are loading to determine which pages need some improvement. Bulky images can often be the source of slow speeds. Be sure to target the pages that need some work and then give them a comprehensive look during the redevelopment stage.
  • Engagement – is your website attractive? Are visitors spending time engaging with the pages, filling out the forms, utilising your resources? This metric measures dwell time, or the average amount of time that users are spending on a page. For click-through and landing pages this amount of time will be quite small. However, pages that are meaty with resources should have a high engagement rating.

You can find out more about how museums should use Google Analytics here.

User-testing

Now that you’ve done some initial research with the help of web analytics, it’s time to do some more testing with the actual users. User-testing is a beautiful thing. It allows companies to understand the navigability of their website using the experience of actual people in real-time. We advise doing user-testing early and often as to not waste your time/money by getting too deep into the redevelopment process and then realising that something you spent loads of time on just isn’t working. 

User-testing is something that is done BEFORE redevelopment as well as AFTER. There is a benefit in using the same people to test your website before and after as it gives a consistency to the data and helps to establish a real baseline for progress. 

There are lots of variants involved with user-testing. We recommend taking these steps before grabbing just anyone and sitting them down in front of a computer to engage with your website…

  • Is the test taking place in-person or remotely? It’s advantageous to be in the room with the user while they are engaging with your website. This can allow you to pick up on frustrations that the user might not express verbally, but you can see visibly as they navigate through the site. 
  • Construct a designated path that you would like the user to follow. Direct them to find a particular resource, buy tickets and/or navigate to the contact page. Observe them as they click through the website to see where stumbling blocks or frustrations might lie. 
  • Collect demographic information on your participant and/or choose participants based off of their demographic information. You want to make sure that your user fits into your target audience as they will ultimately be the ones that the website is being designed for. 
  • Encourage the user to speak out loud and give feedback whilst performing the user-test. If you are doing the session remotely, make sure that you are on a call with the user so that they can feedback to you in real time. Asking a user to do testing and then also sit down and record notes is a lot to ask. Make it easy for your participants to give you the best, most accurate information possible. 
  • Record the session. Even if you are in the room as the user is performing the test, it’s beneficial to record the session so that you can go back to refer to certain moments. 

Design

Armed with information about which pages need some TLC and how your website could be improved overall, it’s time to delve into the design stage. We speak at length about brand consistency in this article.

Now is the time to dust off those cobwebs and make your website super consistent with the rest of your branding. Your website should incorporate your brand colours, fonts, mission etc… Many museums choose to do a website redevelopment as part of a rebranding process. This can be a very exciting time to debut a new look for your organisation. Make sure that you are being consistent and getting it right. You wouldn’t want someone to mistake your beautiful new website as belonging to a different brand!

Now that we’ve droned on about the importance of branding again, let’s turn our focus towards the design and layout of your website.

Your starting point is a sitemap, this is a visual map of how your website is navigated… essentially boiling down the journey of the user into a single visual. Complete a sitemap of your old website as well as your newly envisioned one. Then put the two side by side and make sure that all of the content you want to share with your audiences is still available, just the pathways to get there are much more clear. Design this new sitemap using input from the initial user-testing that you will have performed. 

A great way to do this is to use card sorting. This is something that can be done with users as a part of user-testing, or with your team to decide how content will be laid out in an easily-digestible visual way. 

You can either do an open card sort, or a closed card sort. The difference is that with an open sort, there are no rules as to how the content can be laid out. Either you and your team, or the user who is undertaking the testing can make suggestions as to how they think the content should be laid out (this includes dropdowns, click-throughs etc…) A closed card sort is separated into categories that are typically informed by primary navigation buttons. For example, you and your team know that you need to have the following categories: about us, programmes, events and donate. You would then use a closed card sort to determine how all of the other pages of the website fall under those four main categories. 

The second step in the design of your website is establishing a wireframe for each page. A wireframe is the most basic form of a website with content laid out in a very clean and visual way to guide developers as to the importance of certain content and where it should go. 

You don’t need a fancy-schmansy graphic like the one we have here for every page. Even a piece of paper with a visual map drawn on it will be super helpful to a web developer if you are working with one or to your team if you are tackling this redevelopment in-house. 

Having a sitemap allows feedback from team members and stakeholders at an early stage in the redevelopment rather than making changes once the full design has been implemented which is not only a waste of time, but of money as well. 

Build

Once the layout of the site, content and design elements have been agreed upon by all team members and signed off by management, it’s time for the build to commence! 

Make sure that as you undergo the process of creating the website, and/or handing off the beautifully organised and presented package to a web developer, that you are using proper SEO practice to ensure that your new site will be running smoothly and efficiently. Meta descriptions, image alt tags and proper page titles are all elements that should be taken seriously. Allocate the time to build the site up properly and do things the right way initially so there isn’t even more work for you to do once the build is done. 

The main framework of the museum website is built first, then text and images are added. If you are re-developing a website on your own, then you’ll have lots of control of when and where content is added. However, if you are working with an external developer, then it’s imperative to present to them a package of all images and text when it’s time for the build that is neatly organised and mapped out. 

We’ll give our top tips below on making your developer’s life 1000x easier:

  • Use file-sharing software (Google Drive, Dropbox etc…) This way, you’re not sending over a giant WeTransfer file or even worse, multiple emails with copy and images. Using a platform that allows for file sharing makes segmenting and organising information much easier. Create different folders according to sections of your website and have everything labelled accordingly.
  • Include a wireframe for each page. If you want your pages to look a certain way and for the focus to be on particular elements, make sure that you communicate that to your developer but using a wireframe. 
  • Write out copy for each page in a document and clearly indicate how phrases should be formatted. Make sure to indicate your header, subheader, body copy and footer information. 
  • Label images properly and make sure that they are optimised for the web. It’s better to send over images that are too hi-res rather than too low-res. It’s easy to make images smaller but impossible to make to make them bigger. 

Soft-launch

Once your museum website is built, you will inevitably be so excited that you will want to immediately tell the world and show it off. However, this is 100% the wrong move because there are ALWAYS glitches and bugs with website redevelopment. Instead of doing a hard-launch and making a major deal out of your brand-new website right away, do a quiet soft launch just amongst your team. Encourage everyone to explore the website and point out anything that isn’t super clear or perhaps isn’t working properly. 

This is also a great time to bring in the users that you used for user-testing. Do another user-testing session with them either remotely or in-person and gage their reaction to the new museum website. It’s important to remember that their input is not the ultimate deciding factor in how your website should be structured, but it’s certainly valuable as a perspective outside of your organisation. 

Let your website be secretly up and running for a few weeks whilst bug are being spotted and exterminated. Once you feel confident that you have the high-quality website of your dreams, then DEFINITELY run a campaign and begin driving traffic to the website that you’ve so expertly re-developed. 

Maintenance and improvement

Now that your website is built and live, the journey is simply not over. Good websites are consistent, updated, relevant, smooth and user-friendly. You will continue to be all of those things only if you update your website on a regular basis, refresh content and optimise for SEO

It’s frustrating to see so many organisations creating brand new websites that then don’t get the love and attention they deserve after the spotlight has moved onto something else. Make sure that all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste and that you are monitoring analytics and consistently looking for ways to improve your website and keep it relevant to your target audiences. 

About the author – Devon Turner

Devon Turner is an Arts & Culture Writer. She has worked extensively in arts marketing for both the visual arts and performing arts in the US and UK. Now living in London, Devon works in the arts and culture sector and enjoys traveling to visit museums.

Related Content

Communicating change and marketing a Museum while closed for redevelopment

Whenever a museum or gallery closes its doors for redevelopment fears and emotions run high. Visitors lament the loss of experiences, spaces and facilities they...

Technology and planning help museums manage outdated exhibitions

Museum exhibitions are all about the “Wow!”, “What?” and “Why?” as they showcase beauty and wonder, spark curiosity, and share some of the important lessons...

19 Steps: Planning for Extended Covid-19 Close Down

So, your museum is closed. Your employees, like your visitors, are sheltering in place. You have heard some great success stories of museums having an...

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week