When you are running a HEMA club, or starting a new group, it is important to have a website for the club. You maybe don’t need one right away, but it should be high on your list of priorities. Having a website for your club will bring significant benefits and it would truly be mad to continue without one.
Isn’t Facebook enough?
Maybe you already have a Facebook page and a Facebook discussion group (see my article on how they differ and whether you should have one or the other or both). Surely this means everyone can find you and join your club, right?
Unfortunately, not correct. Not everyone uses Facebook, and of those who do, not everyone uses Facebook to find new activities nearby. For a huge number of people, the standard approach to finding new things to do is to type a question into a search engine and see what websites come up in the results.
Furthermore, Facebook is designed to keep people hooked on a constant stream of “fresh content”. It is not really designed to let you find old posts or threads, or information from a while ago. If you post something to Facebook, you may struggle to find it again a few months later; with a website, it will be right there where you put it, so you can find it quickly again and use the information for reference or send it to someone who has asked a question.
You probably should have a Facebook presence so that people can find you through social media, and so that you can communicate with people in that fashion, but you also need a proper website to tie everything together.
Advertising and reaching new people
It is easier (and cheaper) to advertise your club and to reach potential new members with a well-written website than by almost any other method. If you pick a name for your club that allows it to be found easily (for my own club, I chose the very unoriginal name of Liverpool HEMA) and make sure that your website answers the questions that people are likely to type into a search engine (such as “HEMA in Liverpool”), then your website can’t help but appear when people ask those questions.
Having a good website means that search engines such as Google will automatically build a description of your organisation, and this can lead to Google displaying your organisation to people whenever they search for something that Google thinks might be relevant. Google doesn’t just show your website link in a list of results, it may show considerably more information and help people find their way to you. It is always nice when someone else starts advertising for you without you needing to do anything complicated or pay any money!
Furthermore, you can set up additional pages on your website to bring people in from different directions. You may have heard of the term “landing pages”; even if you haven’t, this is a very simple concept. Maybe you want to run a Facebook advert, but you also want to know how many people actually came to your website because of it. Simple: rather than sending everyone to your home page, send them to a “landing page” so that you can see how many people opened the page, and so that you can show these people a message better tailored to what you are hoping to achieve. These can be very effective for recruitment.
You may have heard of another term: SEO, or search engine optimisation. It can be a very complicated topic, in detail, but it can also be pretty simple. When writing your page, simply write it well and make sure it uses some of the terms and phrases that people might search for. Make the page relevant and useful to people visiting your website, and people will be more likely to see it coming up in search results. For bonus points, make sure you give every page a title and a description in the metadata.
Websites are more likely to appear in search results than social media profiles if you spend even just a little time trying to write a decent page for your site.
Making sure everyone knows what they need to know
Having a website is a great way to make sure that both newcomers and people already in the club can find the information about the club that they need to know. For example, you could put your policy documentation on the website so that everyone knows what safety equipment is required, or you could put your equal opportunities policy or inclusivity statements on the website so that everyone feels that they will be welcome.
You might also take the opportunity to write a little about what it is that you study in the club, to manage people’s expectations. I used to run a HEMA club that didn’t have a very good website, and so many people came along thinking that it would be something like historical re-enactment, because there was nothing to guide their expectations. Now I make sure that my clubs have good websites that both explain and show what sort of things we do, and very few people come along with incorrect expectations – this means that we retain more students who come for a first session, because they already have a good idea of what they were coming to do.
It is also a great way to set the tone for your club. Do you present yourself in a modern, professional way? A website will show that. Do you present yourself in a hardcore, angry and powerful, “effort is all that matters” kind of way? A website will show that, and people will have a better idea of what to expect when they come for their first session.
Having control over your own material
At any time, a third party website (such as Facebook, YouTube, and suchlike) may delete your page or suspend your account because they feel that you aren’t quite in line with their terms and conditions, or because they disapprove of what you do. With your own website, you can usually have control over your own material, and no one can cancel your account (unless you are genuinely breaking the law in some way).
For example, Facebook sometimes refuses to allow adverts that seem to be glorifying violence. You want to use an image of a sword to advertise your HEMA club? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Luck of the draw.
With a website, you can write your page, include the images you think support the message best, and that is that. You can change it as you will, but no one else can take it down or suspend your account just because it has an image of a sword.
Websites don’t have to be complicated. They don’t have to be expensive. You don’t need a degree in computing science to make a website, or a huge budget, you just need a few pounds or dollars a month and a willingness to learn how to do a simple task. There are tons of videos and articles online about how to make a simple website.
Alternatively, I can make the website for you, I can host it and deal with many of the technical matters for you. I don’t charge a fortune and the money goes straight back into keeping this website up and running with interesting ideas and articles.
If you have a social media profile for your club, like a Facebook page or YouTube channel, then that is a good start. The next step is getting a proper website set up and enjoying the many benefits that come to the club when you have one!
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Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.