The Making of a SCAdian Website

SCA Branch Websites have some very particular requirements – more so than other non-profits or hobby groups, I feel. For one thing, they ought to be updated more often; our officers change fairly frequently, our ceremonial positions even more so, and there’s often new information to be released. The trouble with this is that setting up a website is not, as yet, as simple as putting together a newsletter in Word or the like – it can, depending on the website, be a very technical project, and one that’s often not appealing to people whose interest lies more in Latin than HTML. So in this post, I’m going to set out a few recommendations, which I’ve put together while I constructed this website, and which I think may be useful for other Web Ministers. The technical skills are unavoidable in the setup, but the Dun in Mara website can now be run by a relatively non-technical person, and I think that’s a good state for which to aim.

I should note here that I consider the website to be more of a recruitment and reference tool than an internal communications tool. Internal communications should primarily be in mailing lists and social media.

1 – Hosting: First and foremost, find a good hosting company. Look for reviews and commentary about them. See what kind of downtime they’ve had in the last few years, and if other technical types think that could or should have been avoided. Find out how quickly their technical support people respond, and indeed, how that works – do you need to send an email, fill in a form, or make a phone call? Ask, too, if they can host WordPress blogs, ideally with the “one-click” control panel installation.

2 – WordPress: Next, install WordPress. There are many Content Management Systems (CMS) out there, but none are as flexible as WordPress while still being free. The package comes with very good installation instructions, and many hosting companies offer an installer that will put it in place very easily.

3 – Pick A Theme: WordPress has thousands and thousands of different themes. Depending on how you want your branch’s website to look, you can go for something very simple, or something very complex, with all kinds of bells and whistles. Do pick something with prominent “page” navigation, though; you’ll see why in step 5. And I’d advise against making the website look like parchment, or an old book, or a scroll, or the like – websites are websites, and trying to make them look like something else is a conceit that you and your branch members will quickly grow tired of. One more finicky thing: I like themes that have a dedicated front page template. This makes editing the “initial impression” of the site a lot easier.

4 – Pick your Plugins: Again, WordPress has a million and one plugins, all of which do new and interesting things. I recommend “Super Simple Google Analytics” and “WordPress SEO”. If you intend to leave comments active (which I don’t really recommend), you should also get the “Akismet” spam filter. As noted below, I prefer to use Google Calender than to get specific calendar plugins.

5 – Pages: The static information for your branch – location, contact details, officers, calendar, and so on – should go on pages, not posts. These are the two kinds of content entry in WordPress – pages are for things that are of ongoing relevance, and posts are for articles, event updates, and so on. You’ll want at least the four I mentioned above, and if your branch is higher than a shire, you might want groups, nobility, law, awards, mailing list and membership pages, among others. A page for newcomers is another possibility, but your front page should address this more than anything else.

6 – Posts: Put up a few initial posts (these are the shorter-term items on the website) – about recent events, upcoming events, ongoing projects, and the like. You can also put up research pieces from members of your group, advice, how-tos, and so on. The page you’re looking at now is a post.

7 – Google Calendar: I really, really recommend you use Google Calendar for events and practices. We’ve a cascading arrangement, whereby the Shire calendars are collated into a regional calendar, which is then included in a Principality calendar, but really, all you need to know is that you can embed the calendar on the relevant webpage with a single line of code, and it’s very simple to use.

8 – Links: WordPress has an inbuilt link management functionality. I think this is fine for Shires and Cantons, but you might want to create a dedicated links page for a larger branch. Don’t forget to include your members’ blogs, Pinterest boards, and so on, if they’re relevant. Link to the branch Facebook, Twitter, etc, as well, when you have them.

And there you have it. That should provide a good solid website, and once it’s up and running, you can easily hand it over to someone else to run on a day-to-day basis.

Aodh Ó Siadhail, Web Minister.

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