In the past, the museum visitor experience was all about what a person encountered while physically at the museum, from the ticket desk and bathrooms to guided tours and exhibitions.
Today, when people carry smartphones in their pocket and start thinking about travel plans months in advance, we must take a much more holistic view of the museum visitor experience, considering that your museum website is a critical piece of visitor experience puzzle.
But you don’t just want your website to exist. You want it to be positively impacting the visitor experience.
So what’s the first step to creating a museum website that adds value to your visitor experience? It’s all about identifying exactly what your visitors need and want, so that you can ensure your website is meeting and exceeding those requirements.
There are nearly endless ways you can go about gathering information about your visitors, but let’s start with three fairly accessible options.
How to Understand Your Museum Website Visitors
Talk to your volunteers and customer service employees.
No one knows your museum visitors better than the people who are interacting with them every day. Talk to the people who work at your front desk or your information booth. Get their thoughts on:
- What questions do visitors have all the time?
- What do visitors get annoyed about?
- What are visitors confused about when they arrive?
- What do you find yourself explaining over and over?
- What are visitors pleasantly surprised to find out?
Listen closely, and consider ways that you might be able to address any of these issues with your website or other digital properties. For instance:
- Are visitors excited to find out that you offer a discount for students, seniors and veterans? If so, maybe it isn’t clear on your ticketing page.
- Are visitors frequently disappointed because they arrived too late to join the last tour of the day? Perhaps you could make the tour times more visible on your website.
- Are visitors disappointed when a piece they love is not currently on view? Could you be more clear about how you present your collections and exhibitions?
Talking to your front-line team regularly is a super easy, low-tech, and free way to collect excellent visitor intel that you can then use to optimize your website and online assets.
Create stories to describe your visitors’ experiences.
It’s easy to start thinking about your online visitors as anonymous “users” who are represented by likes and traffic metrics. But that obscures who is behind the numbers: real people with friends and families and their own set of needs and wants, likes and dislikes, problems and passions.
Creating visitor stories (also called “user journeys” or “visitor journeys”) is a simple (and fun!) strategy to ensure that you’re always thinking about your visitors as real, complex people, and designing and optimizing for realistic use cases.
First imagine a person, couple or family that might visit your museum. Then write a story about how they learn about your museum, what they do to get more information, what questions they have along the way, how they get there (in-person or online), what they do during their visit, and what happens after their visit.
Since no two visitor experiences are the same, create lots of stories for all different types of visitors. For instance, you might come up with one for teachers who are looking for field trip ideas, or families with young children, or older history buffs or researchers.
Review your stories and look for opportunities to optimize your digital and physical visitor experience. For example:
- If your stories often feature visitors using their smartphone to look up something on the go, you want to evaluate your mobile website experience. Is it easy-to-use for someone quickly looking up information while on the bus on their way to the museum?
- If your stories start with a Google search, is it actually possible for visitors to find your website with general search terms?
Creating visitor stories is another low-tech and free method to bring your visitors to life in a way that informs decisions about your website and digital engagement strategies.
If you’re feeling more tech savvy, Google Analytics is a treasure trove of information about your website visitors. It can be overwhelming at first, so try focusing on a few key areas:
- Top Pages – Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages in the left sidebar to see which of your pages get the most traffic for your selected time frame. This will tell you what areas of your site are most popular, which indicates what your visitors are interested in and helps you prioritize your efforts.
- Demographics – Go to Behavior > Demographics > Overview to see Google’s best guess at the age and gender of your web users. This won’t necessarily reflect your in-person visitors, but it can be helpful to know what segment of your physical visitors are using the website.
- Interests – Go to Behavior > Interests > Overview to see various ways Google is categorizing your web visitors. These groupings can give you lots of insight into your visitors’ interests and might spark some ideas for programming.
- Mobile – Go to Mobile > Overview to see what devices visitors are using to access your website (desktop, mobile or tablet).
- Acquisition – Go to Acquisition > Overview to see what channels are leading people to your website (organic search, direct, referrals websites, paid search campaigns, social media, or email). You can also click on Referral to see a deeper dive into the websites that directed people to your site, which can give you a peek into what was on their mind when they visited.
Try changing the time frame and see if the data changes at all. There are likely seasonal fluctuations that could impact your marketing efforts. You might also want to check out our article on using Google Analytics to understand your museum website visitors.
Focus groups and user tests are also great ways to hear directly from your visitors and watch real-time as they interact with your website, but we know that those often require more buy-in and more resources to execute. So don’t wait around — get started with these low-cost, low-effort techniques so you can be continuously optimizing your museum website visitor experience.