Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Your library website is getting quite the workout right now. In fact, during this pandemic, your website is the most important connection between your patrons and your services. It’s your digital doorway. It’s your news center. It’s a promotional tool. So, it needs to be welcoming and easy to navigate.

When the pandemic is finally over, your website will still be your most valuable digital asset. In fact, the design and layout of your library website is critical to your library’s ongoing success. Bad web design will make your library look outdated and inefficient. Good web design will keep people coming back. (Scroll down to see some examples of great library websites.)

You don’t have to completely overhaul your website to improve the user experience. There are 11 easy ways to improve your website.

First, you need to enlist the help of people who actually use your website.

Get input from patrons

Create a small focus group. You can do this remotely. Ask for patrons to join your focus group by email or on social media. Set up an email box where they can submit their request to join. Ask them to include their age, their comfort level with technology, and their need for accessible website features. This will ensure you have a well-rounded sample of patrons from different age and ability groups. Choose a larger sample than you will need, keeping in mind that there will be people who will want to join the focus group but won’t complete your feedback survey.

Once you have decided which patrons will be part of your focus group, create your feedback survey using a free platform like Survey Monkey or using a Google Form. Ask your focus group to take a close look at your website and answer these six questions:

  • What is the first thing your eye is drawn to?
  • How easy was it to find the items you want most at the library?
  • Does our current color scheme to draw attention to important services or detract from your experience?
  • Do the images we use cause you to feel any certain emotions? Do they make you want to use our services?
  • Do our web pages feel crowded or do they contain the right amount of information?
  • Can you easily read the text on our website?

Once you compile their feedback, you’ll have a clear picture of what changes you’ll need to make to ensure people keep using your website. And you’ll be ready to make your first six tweaks.

Create a focal point. Identify your library’s number one priority. Make that the first thing people notice when they log onto your site.

Identify the landing pages your patrons most frequently visit on your site. Put links to those pages in the header navigation bar or in a layout that makes it easy for your patrons to find.

Adjust colors to make sure patrons can find what they need. Make sure your website color palette is in line with your brand.

Adjust the images on your website. Do a diversity audit to make sure the images you use accurately represent your community. Look for images that evoke positive emotions like joy or surprise.

Reduce the amount of text, particularly on your homepage. If a service requires a longer explanation, direct patrons to a service landing page with more information.

Increase the font size on your homepage and make sure the font and the colors are accessible. I use this website to check color contrast for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And here is the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s guide to picking an accessible web font.

Five more ways to optimize your library website

Prominently feature your e-newsletter opt-in and social network icons. Email and social media play a critical role in engaging your library patrons. Make sure your community can easily find how to connect with you.

Use easy language. Are you using a lot of library jargon or professional terms on your website? One word can make a huge difference. For example, a simple change from “periodicals” to “magazines” may help many people to find your downloadable magazine collection, which will increase circulation and engagement. So take the time to evaluate what you call things on your website.

Make a landing page for each of your services.  Many visitors will not see your home page. They’ll come to your website straight from a Google search or a link you provide on social media or in an e-newsletter. So group your services and create landing pages for each category, like workforce development or educational help.

If you do a good job with your landing pages, you’ll increase the chances that your library will be found in Google search. You’ll also increase the chances that a patron searching for services will find exactly what they need quickly. That’s good customer service! And as you create those landing pages, consider this next step.

Have a domain strategy. A good URL structure is short and includes a target phrase. For example, my former employer, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County,  created a page for their summer reading program, CincinnatiLibrary.org/Summer. This URL makes promotion easy (people can remember that URL when they see it on print materials or digital signs) and ensures the site is search engine friendly.

Get rid of all your dead-end pages. Make sure that every page leads to an action that takes a cardholder to another page. This increases the chances that someone will spend more time and take more actions on your website.

Great examples of library websites

Saint Paul Public Library: The colorful, clear images and simple text make navigation easy. Notice they’ve placed the things most library lovers search for–catalog, events, and the calendar-right at the top. I love that their FAQs are right on the homepage.

Clinton Macomb Public Library: A great example of how to position your social media icons in a prominent location on your homepage.

Prince George’s County Memorial Library: Icons draw the eye to key areas. Their most important service areas are filed like cards on the homepage, making it easy for users to find exactly what they need.

Ann Arbor District Library: A modern design with friendly, casual language and easy-to-spot newsletter signups and social media icons.

Kalamazoo Public Library: Their community clearly values the collection, and Kalamazoo has put the best titles in all formats front and center on their website.

Qatar National Library: This library’s website reminds me of Pinterest, with their top features displayed in easy-to-navigate squares. Their use of images is top-notch.

You might also find these posts helpful

How Your Library Can Use Google Ad Grants to Supercharge Your Website and Reach a Huge Untapped Audience

Four Instant Ways to Improve the Most Valuable Page on Your Library Website

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