Most camps these days have at least some kind of web presence, whether it’s a simple home page or a full-fledged, multi-page mega-site with all the bells and whistles. But no matter where in this spectrum your camp’s Web site may fall, this is a good time of year to take a serious and critical look at what is online representing your camp.
The purpose of this article is to suggest ways that you may want to spruce things up. Some are simple, some a little more complex, but they can all be implemented fairly easily. And every improvement made today may eventually help you land more campers tomorrow.
But where do we begin? Well, let’s look at the most important aspect of any Web site, and that is content.
Content Is King
Content itself is a pretty wide-ranging topic, encompassing the various ways in which you can present information. So let’s start with the simplest content: words.
Never underestimate the power of using just the right words on your site. Words have always been the most effective and efficient way for communicating your ideas and intentions. The right words can create excitement, joy, anticipation and wonder. They can cajole, entice, invite, evoke and emotionally stimulate your reader. The right words used in the right way can make everything you have to say more meaningful and interesting to your visitors.
When writing the content, don’t just tell visitors about the camp; paint the picture for them in such a way as to make them actually feel the joys and excitement of being there.
For instance, if your camp is situated on a lake, don’t just say, “Our camp has a lake.” Make it sing. “With a surface area of over 35,000 square feet, beautiful Lake Tango makes our camp the perfect site for boating, canoeing, fishing, swimming … and the most breath-taking sunsets imaginable. The perfect place for young campers to experience and appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature.”
Which one sounds more interesting?
From the welcome page to the last page of activities, the content of your site should be inviting and make people want to send the kids there for the summer.
How To Structure Your Content
You may have the most beautiful words in the world, but if it is not easy for your visitor to find the info they need, then you will lose them quickly. Over the years, people have come to expect a certain flow to the information they find on the web.
When they visit your site, they want to be able to find what they want quickly and easily. This is where site navigation comes into play.
The navigation of your site is simply the way people get around, and it is established in the beginning when the original site architecture is first created. Following is a basic page flow that can be adapted by almost any camp. It is designed to make all pertinent information easily accessible and visible.
Home Page/Welcome Page
From the Director
Forms Page/Online Registration (with downloadable forms)
Safety and Medical Facilities
What to Bring
Of course, these are just some of the possible ways to structure a site, but it is pretty basic.
The Two Audiences
As I have mentioned before in previous articles, whenever you are planning any kind of marketing for a summer camp, you should always have two separate, but equally important, considerations in mind: the parents and the children. Parents want to see one kind of thing, and kids want to see another.
Parents want to know about safety, structure and programs. Traditions, values and the opportunities for their children to grow and expand their horizons are important to parents. The kids want to see excitement; they want to be stimulated; they want to know that this is a cool place to be. Parents are the ones who are going to be reading the words; kids are going to be looking for something totally different.
One of the best ways to get youngsters’ attention is to stimulate it visually. For this reason, pictures–strong, evocative photographs–are the fastest way to show the kids the things they want to see. They often don’t want to read through paragraphs of info to find out the activities you have available. They want to be able to see them now.
Of course, the better the pictures, the better the response. Hiring a professional photographer can have an incredible impact on the quality of the images on your Web site.
Professional shots can bring many of your camp’s best features to life; if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a great photo, with drama and impact, can be worth millions.
Having a video component on your site can be very impressive, for both parents and kids alike. Video has all the impact of photography, but with the added dimensions of motion and sound, making the images that much more dynamic.
Like photography, a professionally produced video, with strong composition, editing and graphics, will tell your camp’s story better and with more impact than grainy hand-held shots of kids waving in front of their cabin. A good video, like good photos, is a shortcut to reaching your visitor’s excitement meter.
Of course, a video does not always need to be professionally shot. I have seen very exciting videos that were shot entirely by the kids of the camp. The staff simply gave the campers a bunch of digital video cameras, and let them go nuts taping their day. Of course, professionals edited the final product, but the basic content was kid-generated.
The Unspoken Advantage Of Good Content
While the three ideas discussed here are important and valuable for generating excitement and anticipation on your site, there is one unspoken, almost hidden advantage, to having your Web site rich with meaningful content, and it’s called SEO.
SEO, which we alluded to in last month’s article, is short for Search Engine Optimization, which is a high-tech way of saying that your site is viewed well by the search engines online, like Google and Yahoo.
Search engines use secret algorithms to search Web sites and catalog their content, which helps in determining ranking.
When someone goes online and does a search based on a key word, say “camps,” all the sites with content that is relevant to that key word will pop up. Those with the most relevance will be at the top, and those seen as less relevant will be lower. The more relevant the content is on your site, the higher it will be in the rankings.
New Tools For Content
Though it sounds like making and updating content on your site is an awful lot of work, requiring constant contact with your Web site designers, the truth is that it has never been easier to create and update site content. In fact, the latest innovations, known as content management tools, allow you to change content, include photos, add pages, and even upload videos as often as you want, quickly and easily. You can even update your site once a day if you wish. All of this is done right on the camp computer, without having to bother your web master, IT team or design firm. Once it’s in place, you have complete control over the content.
Maximizing your Web site is really rather simple, once you understand the basics. All it takes is a little planning and consistent effort, and your site can become the kind that excites and entices parents and kids alike.
Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full-service marketing and design firm located in Amesbury, Massachusetts. He can be reached at (800) 957-7175 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim is also Camp Director for TTS Theater and Art Camp in Massachusetts.