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Title 'Is your club website a waste of space?'

Well, there are some exceptions of course, but I’m afraid that far too many club websites look that way....!!

As the webmaster for the Finchley Film Makers, I occasionally look at other club websites shamelessly looking for ideas.  As the IAC site has a handy list that is a relatively easy task – there are something like 166 IAC associated clubs which have a dedicated website.

Recently I had a look at quite a few of them. Incidentally it is also worth pointing out that there are around 40 clubs affiliated to the IAC which do not have a dedicated website (or at least it is not listed).

Photo of older men at a club - faces blurred for anonymity.Is this the dentist's queue or a bunch of friendy enthusiasts who will make you welcome?

It is not easy to photograph a meeting and make it seem as upbeat and energetic as it feels when you are there.

However having considered those with dedicated sites I must say that I was pretty unimpressed. Before explaining why, it‘s worth asking a few fundamental questions:
  • Why should a film making club have web site?
  • What should a website do?
  • How do the current crop of sites measure up to the task?

As is the case for most things, it is all down to what are you trying to achieve - after all clubs survived quite happily for many years without websites. If your club is a close-knit group of friends without much formal structure and you don’t want any new members then you don’t really need a website, a few photocopies of the meeting dates will suffice, but otherwise...

Part of a club's history page.

History has its place ... but preferably buried deep in the website.

At the very least a website is useful way of talking to the members - keeping them informed about the programme, the committee and competitions past and future. You can post pictures of events and show whole films from members or the club.

Of course the beauty of a website is that it can be kept up to date more efficiently and effectively than any other method. All you need to do is to ask members to check the programme listing on the site. If – as sometimes happens – you have to change the programme at short notice this weblisting can be bought up to date very quickly.

Inviting or off-putting?

I got the impression from my website visits that many clubs design their sites to deliver mainly to members and consequently do not pay much attention to what it looks like to non-members or what it contains beyond the basics. However if you regard the website like that you are really missing a trick. A website can help in bringing in new members by acting as a permanent advertisement for the club.

So what are the implications of that statement?

To get new members through your site you have to get them to visit the site and then it has to persuade them that your club is worth coming to.

Making your site visible

I used a tool called Alexa (www.alexa.com) to analyse the visits which club sites get. It suggests indicates that very few get much traffic at all and that suggests they really don’t extend outside internal usage at all. Note that Webmasters should always check the traffic (number of visitors) as it can be a very useful way of assessing how the site performs.

In order to increase traffic you have to invite links to your site from other places. For example most towns and villages have a community / local authority / local newspapers website which lists local activities and organisations … complete with links to their websites. Apart from bringing in visitors directly, these links also help you get better rankings with Google. Most important the site has to be searchable via Google and other search engines - all the time people are searching the web to find things they want.

Part of a club web page talking about past productions.

Stills from past productions are a good idea ...

but does the mention of 1997 make you think this club is lively and active?

So you need to regularly check how well your club site is ranked – try searching for your club with a few suitable terms such as:
  • Film making club ‘xxxx’
  • Video making club ‘xxxx’
  • Film making ‘xxxx’
  • Video making ‘xxxx’
  • - where xxxx is your town
Your aim should be that your club website appears on the first search page – if it’s on the third page or later, that does not count – no one will find it. The full picture on how to get your website highly ranked by search engines like Google is a big subject beyond the scope of this article. However I can give you a few pointers:
  • Lots of inbound links from other well visited sites are important
  • Regular (and I mean regular) updates are very important – otherwise Google ‘thinks’ your organisation is defunct
  • On the first page make lots of mentions of important key-words such as ‘film-making’, ‘friendly’, ‘learning’, ‘movies’, ‘video club’ etc.

First Impressions

Now what about the content of the site? To interest new members it must make a positive impression and be interesting / appealing to anyone who knows nothing about the club. Try the following check list - note that every single suggestion is based both on good website practice and also some of the ‘crimes’ I noticed on my club site tour.
  • Are there details of the next meeting on the front page and are they up to date?
  • Can people click a dedicated link to make email contact with someone in the club who will answer it quickly?
  • Does it have useful information about filming skills or video technology which will give the impression that this club has knowledgeable and skilled members who are happy to help out?
  • Does your site have all the basic details such as where and when you meet not just the address but a link ideally to Google Maps or Multimap? (Don’t scan a published map like an ‘A-Z’, that’s illegal.)
  • Do you have a programme listing for the whole year with each evening described enticingly and no entries like: ‘another evening of Fred’s films’?
  • Does the site have plenty of pictures - do they show interesting activities such as shoots, equipment, people enjoying themselves or does it have endless similar shots of grey haired men slumped in rows of uncomfortable looking chairs staring at the camera?
  • Is the site up to date so that it gives the impression that the club is active and dynamic or does it have pages dedicated to long gone events or activities giving the impression that it has been abandoned? Historic info can be kept but archived with suitable links.
  • Does the site have the kind of details which indicate solidity and accessibility – for example details of the club’s committee with contact details –phone numbers and email addresses, FAQs (frequently asked questions) such as membership fees, the club history, famous victories and films made by the club and its members?
  • Does the front page have variety with interesting content? Is it written in an encouraging and welcoming fashion or does it start with a rambling discourse about how three guys met in a pub in 1959 and decided to start a cine club?!
  • Does the content suggest the club has ambition with details of future plans and invitations for people to join in and help?
  • Does the site have reports on recent club activities – evenings, events, productions?
  • Does it have examples of the club and members’ video work to give potential members some idea of the standard the club has reached? There is no need to host the video files just make a link to the films on YouTube.
  • Does the site show how the club interacts with the community?

Style

Every website should have some sort of style created by a combination of colours, pictures, fonts, layout etc. Start by having a look at websites that you know and like. Look at the fonts used, the colours, the style, the use of logos and the navigation.

Now look for example at the Guardian or BBC websites as good examples and then consider your club site...

  • Does it have a logo to give it some style (or does this logo have a representation or picture of a 1988 camcorder which sends out the wrong messages)?
  • Are there no more than 4 types of lettering and a handful of colours? Or is it a random mixture of sans-serif fonts like Arial and serif fonts like Times Roman?
  • Is the print stylish and modern and consistent or are there headlines in green 36 point text with blue 10 point text in a different font underneath? Aargh!
  • Is the layout easy to read and follow – is it broken up with boxes and images or does it contain great slabs of text with no pictures or paragraphing?
  • Does the whole page colour-scheme flow in a consistent and subtle fashion or does it have black text on a white background with a random and distracting background image? Are there foreground slabs of colour meant to give emphasis but merely looking crude?
  • Do all the links work and do they go where they should? Are all the pages populated with useful info or are some blank except that they say ‘coming shortly’?
  • Is the information displayed in bite-size pieces or do you have to scroll down and down pages to find what you want?
  • Does it have a clear navigation menu which is the same on every page? Can you get around easily or do you get stuck in a navigational cul-de-sac? Are there lots of links in the text to help move around the site?
Screen shot of programme details almost illegible.

Reading from a screen is hard enough sometimes without red type
over grey/blue patterned background. What were they thinking?

An uninspiring tale of club history may be worse than none at all ...

Screen shot of dull club history/

What Next?

So what did I find when I looked around – I am afraid to say every crime under the sun – in terms of content and style.

Whilst there are some excellent websites that tick all the boxes the general standard is poor and it seemed pretty clear to me that most clubs either do not take websites seriously or do not have the ability or will or organisation to make a proper job of it.

Now if it was 1998 when producing websites was difficult, website skills were rare and many potential or actual members did not have access to the web I could understand it but 12 years later many clubs do not seem to have moved on.

Now I find this puzzling. The same skills that are required for digital movie making and club organising are those required for website design: planning, putting visual material in a logical fashion, using words and pictures to communicate.

Screenshot of an unhelpful programme listing.

More readable than some, but hardly helpful indications of what is happening on those evenings.

Name and Shame?

I was prepared to name and shame some of the offending clubs by quoting examples but I was talked out of it. Jan and Dave Watterson came up with the more positive idea of an IAC competition with awards for the top websites and one for the club whose website has most improved over the year. The three of us roped in another former IAC webmaster, Atta Chui to help. The good news is that we now understand from IAC chairman Alan Atkinson that Council will hopefully agree to this very soon.

Meanwhile if this article has made you think about how you can make your website more effective and attractive to potential newcomers I hope we can help. In the near future Jan, Dave and I will be publishing on this website a series of articles and tutorials with practical tips on Website publishing and design etc.. If you have any comments on this article or wish to raise any points that we can address in these articles please get in touch either with me at Finchley.Film.Makers@googlemail.com or Dave at asstweb@theiac.org.uk

In addition if the editor agrees, these articles will also be published in Film & Video Maker .

- Peter Kidman

Screenshot of short unhelpful programme listing.

WALLDO?
Neil?
People from other clubs might understand
about the competition, but what would a
potential new member make of the last thee lines?


Website Makeover Guides - Introduction

What Should the Content Be? | Navigation | Planning Navigation | Anchors & Links | Words | Getting Pictures | Getting & Using Pictures
Processing Pictures | Video | Presentation Pictures | Colours | Layout Principles | Layout Schemes | Fonts | What is SEO?
Search Engine Factors | Check Your Search Ranking | Stay Legal | Website Health Check | Website No Goes more to come ...

A Beginner's Guide to Creating a Club Website with Weebly

Don't Panic! | Signing up to Weebly | Making your first (elegant) page | Adding more pages and navigation
Adding pictures and words | Creating a complex Coming Soon Page | Adding Forms, Emails, Maps and Videos.

IAC Competition to find the Best Club Website 2011


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Page updated on 16 January 2011
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