Alumna uses skills learned at SIS to develop top ranked travel website
Life’s a beach these days for Jill Halpin, and that is a huge feat for anyone in the year 2020. Her website, MyMichiganBeach.com, a travel guide to Michigan’s best beaches and beach towns, has attracted more than 2 million visitors and the attention of local businesses, media outlets and partners including the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium and Pure Michigan.
While most companies have struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Halpin’s website saw 900 percent growth from May to June 2020. She credits much of the site’s success to the classes she took when she returned to Wayne State’s School of Information Sciences for a graduate certificate in Information Management.
“The classes in website development, information architecture and empathic design enabled me to make this site a success. I built
the site with skills I learned in those classes and began ranking number one on Google almost right out of the gate as a result,” she said.
When she launched the website in late 2019 she could never have anticipated the coming pandemic that would bring about a rise in local and domestic travel as people from Michigan and neighboring states would seek out safe, socially distanced outdoor activities to enjoy during the warm summer months. The interactive “Michigan Beach Map” feature is an especially big draw.
In addition to sharing the beauty of Michigan and driving traffic to local restaurants, shops and wineries, Halpin’s personal goals include helping to improve accessibility to Michigan’s beaches and promoting water safety on the state’s Great Lakes.
“As a librarian, access – to everything – is so important,” she said. “Some beaches do a great job of providing accessibility and I’m hoping to encourage even more to do the same. Accessibility matters, especially with an aging population.”
The website currently features about 20 of the beaches along the coastline of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, but Halpin is getting ready to launch additional locations in the Upper Peninsula.
Halpin has a home on Lake Huron in northeast Michigan, but her appreciation of the state’s beauty began at an early age as she and her family spent lots of time on beaches in Frankfort, Arcadia, Harrisville and Greenbush, where she created many of her most cherished memories. It was also at a young age that Halpin decided she wanted to become a librarian when she grew up.
Before realizing her childhood dream, Halpin pursued an undergraduate degree at Wayne State where she met her husband of 33 years while working together at The South End student newspaper. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1990. It was a priority for Halpin to create a career around having a family, so when her two children started going to school full time she enrolled in the Library and Information Sciences program with the support of a fellowship from the Library of Congress.
She said Wayne State’s MLIS program offered her the flexibility and practical, hands-on experience she was looking for. Upon graduation, Halpin worked as a children’s librarian and later as an elementary school media specialist for eight years.
Her career path then shifted back to her journalism roots as Halpin left schools and worked for many years in public relations, media, marketing and freelance writing.
When she decided to go back to school for her post-graduate certificate, returning to Wayne State was an easy choice. “My degrees from Wayne State have always prepared me with a practical foundation and allowed me to ‘hit the ground running,’ and I am grateful,” she said.
Halpin’s main focus is now the My Michigan Beach website and the brand’s social media channels, which continue to grow as she adds content for fall including must-visit cider mills and apple orchards, and top spots to see Michigan’s fall color. She hopes one day to further expand the site to feature other Great Lakes states.
One of the most valuable things she learned as a librarian, Halpin said, is that access to information can change lives. So whether you’re looking to find the best dog-friendly beach in your area or how to stay safe from a lake’s dangerous rip currents, the information on My Michigan Beach can certainly lead you to a wonderful day at the beach with memories that can last a lifetime.