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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday September 13, 2023

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Julie Van Oyen

Julie Van Oyen

Product Designer , Europeana Foundation

Easy ways to build a user-friendly website for your museum or archive - on a budget

This series on Europeana Pro shares knowledge about how cultural heritage institutions - particularly those that are smaller or have fewer resources - can improve the experiences of the audiences who interact with them online. In focus today - how to set up a functional and user-friendly website! 

A group of people sat around a computer, smiling
Datautbildning, Uppsala 1986. CC-BY-NC-ND
Engström, Lennart

A well-functioning website is a key part of a cultural heritage institution’s strategy to open up their collections to the public, by providing access to exhibitions and digital collections. However, not all cultural heritage institutions are able to allocate the resources required to build a fully customised website that suits all of their visitors’ needs. Read on to discover some easy ways to build a highly functional and user-friendly website on a smaller budget.

What is a content management system - and how can you use one?

Using a content management system (CMS) is a common way to build and maintain a website without the need for a team of developers. When choosing a CMS, think about your budget, and who’s going to build - and maintain - the website.

Some content management systems such as Wordpress are designed to enable people to build a website without requiring them to write any code. The basic version of Wordpress is free. Other highly user-friendly CMSs, such as Squarespace, are not free but do offer a discounted yearly rate for non-profits. There are many other options available, such as those listed in this 2023 Forbes article 9 Best Squarespace Alternatives.

If your team can hire a CMS specialist, they can use powerful but more complex CMSs such as Drupal, Strapi, and Contentful. With these options, the site itself still needs to be developed, but - once built - the CMS can be used by non-developers to add, maintain and remove website content.

What pages does your website need?

In its simplest form, a website for a cultural heritage institution would ideally include the following pages.

Home page

This page should be eye-catching and emphasise what you would most like visitors to do. This might be to purchase tickets to visit your institution, or it could be to draw them in to experience your digital collections. Try to choose one primary action and make the link to it very clear on the home page. The fewer distractions there are, the more likely visitors are to choose to take this important action. homepage. The primary action for online visitors on is to search the collections, as prompted by the single search bar in the middle of the page. homepage. The primary action for online visitors on is to search the collections, as prompted by the single search bar in the middle of the page.

Tickets page

If purchasing tickets is the main thing you would like visitors to do, invest some time in setting it up so it works smoothly. Can a visitor easily access this page, ideally without making an account or logging in? Can they easily choose the type of ticket they need, select a date to visit, and then pay all in one go? Do they receive a confirmation email with their tickets, which they can easily access on the day they visit? The fewer and smoother these steps are, the more likely it is that your visitors will be able to accomplish this important action.

Collections page

Encouraging visitors to access and explore your collections online may also be an important action if they are digitised (discover some of the benefits).

Due to the size of the datasets associated with digital collections, it’s not always easy for a simple CMS website to support them. This is one of the reasons why thousands of cultural heritage institutions across Europe have chosen to share their digital collections in collaboration with the Europeana Initiative. Data specialists in the Europeana Aggregators’ Forum support the digitisation of collections, so that they can be packaged into datasets and shared on alongside collections from thousands of institutions across Europe.

On your Collections page, it’s helpful to allow a search option and search filters to narrow your visitors’ search when looking for specific items. Most online visitors tend to have one of two goals: general exploration or searching for a specific item.

How can you help people explore your collections?

  • Showcase your masterpieces or well-known items at the top of the page, or on the first page of the collection.
  • Invest in unique digital experiences such as this 3D exploration of the Castillo Alcalá de Xivert site, provided by the Asociación para la Documentación y Divulgación 4D.

How can you help people search for specific items?

  • Include a search bar.
  • Include basic search filters such as media type, file type and media quality.

Interested in web design for cultural collections? Read this study (in Dutch).

Exhibitions page

This page showcases what is currently ‘on’ at the institution. If you like, you can link to separate pages for each exhibition. Keep in mind that a web audience may have a shorter attention span for information than an in-person audience. Expect people to spend under one minute per page, so keep the key information about exhibitions near the top. Lower on the page, you can include more content which is beneficial for search engine optimisation (SEO). This will help your site become findable on search engines such as Google. Look up which SEO keywords are most important for your institution’s particular field and be sure to use those in your written content (this article contains suggestions for how to do this, and other SEO tips).

Events page with a calendar

This is a great page to include if your institution has ongoing events and the resources to maintain the calendar. Avoid having an unmaintained or empty calendar.

About us

This page allows you to share your institution’s background, mission and values. Keep in mind that you are speaking to a potentially wider audience than the one that visits in-person.


This page houses vital information such as a contact form and/or email address, physical address, physical accessibility information, and a map of the building. If you include a contact form, ensure that it links to an easily accessible email inbox at your institution - and that someone will regularly check it and respond to messages.

What site navigation should you use?

Reserve your top-level navigation bar for the pages that help your audience the most: Tickets, Collections, Exhibitions, Contact, Events (if applicable), and About Us. Use the footer for links to additional pages such as Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy and Job Openings.

Find out more

If you enjoyed this post, look out for the next in the series:understanding your web audience. Now that you have some information to get you started with building your basic website, in the next post we’ll look at how to create the best experience for your online audience.

You can also read about the practices we follow at Europeana for website development, including our development processes, best practices, and tools we use to ensure our application is robust and resilient.