Yellow Pages has announced that is soon to cease publishing a physical edition of their directory. This is not a startling move! After all, when you want to find, for example, a plumber, an art supplies shop or even the opening times of your local waste disposal centre what do you do? Most of us power up a laptop or open our mobile phone and “Google it”.
So, what do you think someone looking for a local choir to join, or a concert to attend does? They will be searching for your choir website.
Why do you need a choir website?
A choir website should be the cornerstone of your choir marketing activities. It should be the natural home for the information that members, prospective members and audiences are looking for. I know that some organisations manage on just a Facebook page, but that is limited. Not least of the limitations is Facebook itself – their ever-changing algorithms for when and if posts are displayed will mean you are not in control of the information being distributed. It is also more suited to short-term transactional information rather than communications that you want to have a longer ‘shelf-life’.
Facebook, and other Social Media platforms, certainly have a place in your promotional activities but I would strongly recommend that you have a choir website at the heart of them.
What should you put on your choir website?
Because you are justifiably proud of your choir there is a great temptation to populate a great number of pages on your website with all sorts of information and background. This not only entails a great deal of initial work, but it will make the maintenance and updating of your choir website more complex. From personal experience, I can tell you that few visitors will even look at those pages.
You need to think about what someone visiting your choir website is actually looking for.
• If they are looking to attend a concert then, obviously, details about the location, date and time are important. But they might like to listen to or watch your choir in action before deciding to buy tickets. Being able to actually buy the tickets on your site might also help.
• Prospective choir members want to know what the choir is all about. The like to understand whether they need to read music or be auditioned, when and where rehearsals take place. They, too, might like to view or listen to previous performances and understand the repertoire of the choir.
• A password protected section of the choir website makes an ideal communications centre for your choir members. You can ensure everyone is up-to-date with choir news, concert programmes, rehearsals, practice material, social events. They can also use it as a way to keep in contact with each other.
Take a look at the information you put together for your buyer personas as discussed in “Understand your target audience”, then list what content they are probably seeking to find on your choir website.
You must then make it very, very easy for them to find it!
When I refer to “content” or “information” I do not mean just text. In fact, visual and audio content can often be more important than the written words. These days no-one likes to work through dense chunks of text to find what they want, especially when a graphic, photograph, video clip or audio track could possibly communicate the answer they are looking for with ease.
If you have never created a website before you are probably asking “where do I start”?
The basics of a choir website
Put very simply, for a visitor to view your website it needs to be in a place that they can easily access and at an address that they can simply find. The place is known as the ‘host’ and the address of your website is the ‘domain name’ (I know the techies will tell me I am not being totally accurate here, but this description serves my purpose). The very basic costs involved in having a website accessible online are the registering of a domain name (like “mychoirmarketing.co.uk”) and the use of a hosting service provider to supply the computer on which your website sits.
There is a plethora of web hosting service providers out there. You are not looking for the ‘Rolls Royce’ of hosting services – a basic ‘Shared Web Hosting’ service will provide the facilities you require at a low price point. Examples of providers are 123-Reg, 1&1 and GoDaddy. Cost for a basic service typically ranges from £50 to £75 per year, but there are often deals offered for the first year. Each will have slightly different offerings, for example, in terms of storage size, so it is worth comparing a few to get the best for your needs.
The service company will provide you with log-in details to a ‘control panel’ of some sort which provides you with facilities to manage your website and its data.
Registering a domain
You need to register a unique domain name as the address for your choir website. As with hosting service providers, there are a huge number of companies offering domain names, and many provide both services. Indeed, most hosting service providers will offer a domain name at no charge for at least the first year. However, you should check what the second and subsequent yearly charges will be.
The charges will depend on the ‘likely popularity’ of the domain name you choose and tend to be around £10 to £20 per year. You can usually get better terms by paying for multiple years. It is also useful if the supplier you select provides an automatic renewal feature. The last thing you want to happen is that you forget to renew your domain name and someone sneaks in to take it before you remember – your choir website would be lost.
Take care when selecting the domain name supplier that you are not tied into using their hosting services to keep it. Make sure you can change all DNS settings, as this enables you to use the domain with services from other suppliers. The Domain Name System(DNS) is like a directory for all websites on the Internet. It converts text-based domain names into a set of numbers known as Internet Protocol (IP addresses). By converting text to numbers, machines are able to locate websites based on their IP address and users can continue to find websites via domain names.
Choosing a domain name
A domain name is made up of 2 parts – the name and the extension or suffix (.com, .co.uk, .org etc.). In the early days, there were fewer than 10 possible extensions, but now you have nearly 1000 to choose from!
So, choosing a unique name, and which extension to use, can be trickier that at first it might appear.
Your domain name supplier will have a facility to check whether your selected name is available, but here are a few other thoughts to keep in mind:
• Make it easy to remember and simple to type. Saying your domain aloud can reveal problems you hadn’t noticed before. Does it sound ok? If you tell someone your domain name, will you have to spell it out so they get it right?
• Think about your target audience, if your choir is very local consider adding your town name to your domain.
• Apart from the hyphen, symbols and punctuation are not allowed.
• Choose an appropriate extension e.g. if your choir has international appeal then “.com” might be a good choice for you, if it is just in UK then perhaps “.co.uk” or “.uk”, or if you want to project a community organisation feel then you might choose “.org”. If you’re buying the .org domain, check whether anyone else is using the .com version. If so, is there scope for your visitors to get confused? If not, consider buying it too.
• To avoid possible trouble later, it’s best to make sure your domain doesn’t contain any trademarks. You can search for trademarks easily online. Also, be wary about registering a domain that’s similar to another organisation’s name.
• If your domain consists of two or more words run together, this can occasionally create embarrassing words, so take care. For instance: www.houseofart.com.
• Past reputation. Has the domain been used recently for another website? Use The Internet Archive to view any old websites at that address. If they contain illegal or adult content, this could affect your rankings.
Having selected your hosting service provider and registered a domain name you can now start to build your choir website.
Building your choir website
Gone are the days when you need a computer programmer to create your website. Today there are a few choices of what are known as ‘Content Management Systems’ (CMS) that are available to help you design and build a great choir website without knowing any programming languages. They do, however, require you to be comfortable playing with online technology. Despite how intuitive and easy I think they are to use I do know that a large number of the members of our male voice choir would be totally lost!
The most popular CMS for all but the largest corporate websites today is WordPress, and it is the tool I would strongly recommend you use. It is free to use and the vast majority of hosting service providers supply a ‘one-click’ installation facility for it.
WordPress provides the technical infrastructure for building a website. Once installed you will be presented with a WordPress Dashboard from which you manage the rest. To create the site, you need to add to this basic infrastructure:
• The ‘Theme’ which controls the ‘look and feel’ style and provides functionality including some ready-built modules.
• ‘Plugins’ that deliver extensions to functionality or style.
One of the key reasons to select WordPress is the existence of a vast range of third party suppliers of themes, plugins and add-ons for the environment. This means you can create just what you need, often in a quite unique way.
WordPress itself comes with a theme, but you will probably want to change that as it is pretty basic in both style and functionality.
There are a huge number of both ‘free’ and ‘premium’ (in other words, paid-for) themes available to install on your WordPress site. You should be aware that very many of the ‘free’ themes will have a ‘premium’ upgrade that actually delivers the functionality you want. Premium themes start at around £20 and can go up to over £100 depending on what’s included.
Themes vary from being very specifically designed for a single type of website through to being ultimately customisable, such as X or Divi. The former are easier to use for a novice, with fewer options, but the latter allow you to build a unique site just as you would like it even if they do mean you need to make more design decisions and be a little more “IT-savvy”.
Be prepared to take a while over selecting your theme – the free themes can be reviewed on the WordPress site and paid-for ones at various catalogues such as Themeforest. You can also Google lists of WordPress themes.
Be sure to check reviewers’ comments, good and bad, as they might just stop you wasting a whole lot of time trying to use a theme that is not suitable.
You can change WordPress themes once you have built your website, and a lot of your content will probably stay. However, it will require a bit of work to get the site working again.
I have not yet found a WordPress theme that delivers everything I have wanted in a new website. I always need to include at least a few plugins for some bits of functionality. In general, free themes will require many more plugins than premium versions.
Plugins provide individual modules to extend your website functionality. In this way, you can select a theme that doesn’t necessarily do everything you need and add to it. Plugins can also be free or premium. However, unlike with themes, I have found that I generally can find what I want as a free plugin.
Typical plugins I have used on many sites include the following, but only if the theme I have chosen does not include that functionality:
• All-in-one Event Calendar – for displaying upcoming concert and events diaries
• Compact WP Audio Player – to play audio tracks
• Add-To-Any Share Buttons – so that your visitors can share items from your website with others on social media platforms or via email
• Contact Form 7 – for creating contact forms and responses
• Cookie Consent – to ensure compliance with EU/UK cookie legislation
• Akismet Anti-Spam – to stop spam comments being placed on your posts
• Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – so that you can understand your visitor volumes and behaviours
• Yoast SOE – very helpful with Search Engine Optimisation
• W3TotalCache – helps website performance
Just as with themes, there are many suppliers of WordPress plugins. The WordPress.org website has a great library of available free plugins.
As with themes, I would strongly recommend looking at reviewers’ comments before installing a plugin.
One critical thing to ensure when selecting themes or plugins is that your chosen ones are ‘Responsive’.
The use of smartphones to view websites has overtaken the use of computers. Viewing website content on a smartphone is very different to viewing it on a desktop or laptop computer. For a start, the screen is much smaller on a phone. If you tried to view what takes up a whole screen width on a PC you would either be scrolling backwards and forwards or the text font would be way too small to read.
Responsive design detects what type of device is being used to browse your website and presents your content in a way best suited to that device.
Not only does responsive design make the website’s visitor experience so much nicer, but Google will ‘penalise’ you if your website is not responsive.
So now we need to look at the topic of Search Engine Optimisation.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
When you “Google” a topic the search engine attempts to find the most useful sites for providing the information that you want (after showing you a few had have paid to be there of course). Other search engines are available, but as Google services 90% of UK searches let’s focus on them. In actual fact, although not called a ‘search engine’ as such, YouTube is the second most popular search tool, and it is owned by…yes, you’ve guessed it, Google!
If you are hoping that prospective audience or choir members can easily find your site then you probably want to aim to get on the first page of Google results when they type in a relevant query like “local male voice choir” or “choir concerts near me”.
Google determines which sites it shows at the top of a list resulting from a search using highly complex, secret, and continually developing algorithms. These algorithms aim to show the most relevant and authoritative sources of answers to your search questions. Google’s measures of authority and relevance include looking at how useful people seem to find your content including shares, number and length of visits, how many sites link to your content etc.
So, your best bet for getting a top spot in the listing is to firstly have content that is exactly what they are looking for and secondly by encouraging as many people as possible to visit and use your site.
Ensuring that your content can be seen to be relevant to the particular search query, means using the ‘keywords’ that they will use. However, the old tactics of just repeating keywords over and over, called ‘keyword stuffing’, will actually have a detrimental effect. Google’s algorithms will try and eliminate content that seems to have been written purely to “play the game”.
I strongly recommend using a WordPress plugin such as Yoast SEO to help you tune your content and then use your Email Newsletters, Publicity Material and Social Media platforms to drive visitors to your website.
But…SEO is not a quick return activity. Google has to learn the relevance and authority of your content over time and even with constant activity it will take months to build that strength.
Maintaining your choir website
One of the ways to make Google see your site as more authoritative or relevant is by continually updating content. You will want to ensure that your upcoming concert schedule is kept up to date and that is one source of changing content. But you should also look to have other content updates, such as latest choir news, while making sure that you are providing content that your target visitors will actually want to find and is not there just for the sake of it.
But it’s not just content that you will need to update. The technical infrastructure will also require ongoing maintenance. WordPress itself, the theme and plugins will have ongoing updates issued – probably a total of 15-25 per month. These updates are essential as they are often to fix bugs or security issues as well as to add new features. Although each update is easy and quick it does take some discipline to ensure you check for them on a very regular basis.
This sounds too much for me
I hope that I have not made the development and maintenance of a website appear all too difficult, but it does take some effort. If you would like to teach yourself how to create the website then Youtube is a great resource of training videos. Personally, I found the videos produced by Tyler Moore to be a great beginners guide to creating a WordPress site from scratch. His latest version is How to make a WordPress website – 2017 – create almost any website.
If it is something you would rather not attempt yourself you can engage the services of someone like me to build your site using WordPress which would make it easy for you to then maintain it and add new content.
Either way – just get in touch and I can help you decide what’s best for you.