CMS Boosts Museum’s Online Traffic and Revenue

Organizations of all types are rethinking their Web strategies as they strive to build their businesses online. But compelling content alone won’t guarantee success. On-brand, user-friendly Websites optimized for search are essential to reach new audiences and generate revenue. An effective content management system (CMS) is the key to achieving those goals.

The Henry Ford, a historical and cultural institution founded in 1929 by the famed automaker, has undergone a major online expansion as part of its digital transformation. Some 1.7 million visitors a year tour the Dearborn, Mich., campus that houses the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, a historic village and factory, research center and giant-screen theater. At any given time, only 5 percent of the organization’s 26 million artifacts are on display.

“We wanted to expand our footprint beyond the four walls to reach a global audience and provide access to the other 95 percent of our collection,” says Matt Majeski, director of digital and emerging media.

Digitizing the Collection’s Assets

The first step was to digitize the collection, a seven-year project that began in 2010. Photos and multimedia presentations representing 56,000 artifacts (more than 1.5 terabytes) were stored in a SQL database. From there, they could be pushed out to the Web and to kiosks in the exhibits.

The next big step occurred in late 2013, when Majeski came on board to create a centralized digital department to drive the digital transformation.

“At that time, we had 40 sites that were hosted differently, on different platforms, with disjointed user interfaces and inconsistent branding,” Majeski recalls. “There was no SEO [search engine optimization], search didn’t work and fewer than 10 percent of the sites were optimized for mobile—even though about half of the Web traffic came from mobile devices.”

In mid-2014, The Henry Ford partnered with Perficient Digital, a consulting firm specializing in digital transformation. The goal was to create a seamless user experience with easy-to-use Websites that were optimized for search. Content had to look good on various screen sizes, with a consistent user experience from every access point, Majeski notes. Cost was another consideration for the nonprofit.

After considering several options, Perficient recommended Progress Sitefinity, a flexible, easy-to-use CMS and digital platform that provides a consistent way of entering and managing content. It is also SEO-friendly and scalable and supports analytics across the Website. Implementation began in mid-2015.

Working with Perficient, Majeski and the digital team developed a unified customer experience from the 40 Websites and microsites. They consolidated multiple data repositories into a single, integrated entity with a secure hosting environment and searchable global access to digital images and videos.

The system was fully operational by February 2016. “In one day, we turned off 17 years of accumulated infrastructure and launched the new system,” Majeski reports. “There were no issues, which is what other Sitefinity users had told us when we were researching this product.”

The system simplified site maintenance, resulting in a 50 percent improvement in efficiency. That freed up the digital team, a cross-functional group of 10 staffers, to focus on other work. Some create daily digital content, while others work on the user experience, digital collection and analytics.

New types of content include the “Connect 3” video series, which explains the relationship of three seemingly unrelated items that drive innovation, as well as interviews with innovators such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. “We create snackable digital content for social media so we can drive content out and bring new people in,” Majeski explains. Referrals from social media sites have jumped more than 100 percent.

Efforts to improve SEO and attract more visitors have paid off handsomely. A “What If” piece on civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks that ranks among the top hits in searches attracted 79,000 viewers who spent 475,000 minutes engaged with The Henry Ford’s content. Since the launch, online visits have climbed 12 percent, and online conversions that generate memberships or ticket sales are up by 35 percent.

The Power of Search Engine Optimization

When The Henry Ford made high-res images available for immediate downloads, usage of those collections jumped 155 percent. “The power of SEO and a data-rich platform attracted new audiences,” Majeski adds, “including a tattoo artist searching for historical tattoo sketches who purchased a number of images.”

Online revenues have climbed 250 percent since the digital team was launched in 2015, including a 24 percent increase in 2016 alone. “This allows us to reinvest in our mission and drive our mission forward,” Majeski remarks.

The Henry Ford is now focusing on blending the physical museum and digital properties with additional kiosk features, geolocation and wayfinding. Personalization to provide “an end-to-end customer experience” before, during and after a visit is another goal. In all these efforts, Perficient Digital continues to serve as developer and “an extension of our team handling code and structural changes,” Majeski says.

The digital transformation is integral to The Henry Ford’s continued progress and emphasis on innovation. “Our goal is to make people understand the depth and breadth of our offerings,” Majeski declares. “We are much more than a car museum.”

Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford