Your website can be an extremely valuable tool for your organization. It can enable prospective members, as well as those who would benefit from receiving services from your organization or your members’, to learn about you. It can provide a medium for consistent branding, sending the message you want to send. And it can enable your audience members to help themselves to the information or services you provide, efficiently and effectively.
Here are 10 points to address in creating an effective website. While each point is the same for every organization and every site, the way the points are executed will be unique to each one.
- Think and talk like your audience.
- If your audience is not “in the know” about your subject area, they may not know the industry jargon.
- Interview potential members, as well as your staff members who work with potential and new members, to uncover their impressions of and words for what you do. Then use those terms in your site’s content.
- Know — and be part of — decisions about your organization’s strategic goals and the tactics to achieve them. What are your organization’s top goals: Attract more members? Retain existing members? Provide more benefits? Save employees’ time from answering repetitious questions? Sell more added-revenue products?
- In order for your website to help the organization achieve its strategic goals, the Web team must know what those goals are. Ideally, the team will be at the table helping to define the goals and the action steps needed to reach them.
- Potential members need a dedicated area on the site where their questions will be answered. They may want to establish a relationship with the organization before joining, so they’ll need a way to connect with existing members or staff. Consider setting up a frequently asked questions list, an online message board (where existing members can earn points by answering questions) or a special mailbox that staffers check frequently.
- Existing members need to be reminded about the valuable programs and services your organization provides. Create internal banner ads that can be displayed on appropriate pages on your site, so members will see relevant add-ons.
- Show your senior management how the web can be effective, and encourage them to share their enthusiasm with the rest of the organization (brand ambassadors, usage, recognition for posting content).
- Executives are discovering blogs. By taking the time to post content on the site (directly or through the communications department), senior management serves as a role model for using the Web.
- Encourage executives to include mention of the website in their reports to employees, and to visit the site regularly and recognize notable content and those who contributed that content.
- Track the site’s statistics — how many visitors, how long they stayed, how many pages they visited, online registration, memberships, etc., and communicate this information to the organization’s executives on a monthly basis.
- Make your site the organization’s central communication hub — draw people to it with email, offline mechanisms.
- Sounds like common sense, but include your URL in everything you do: business cards, promotional materials, stationery, etc.
- Make member information available only on the Web. Member directories, newsletters, information resources, etc., are ideally suited to be stored online. Members can be assured that the information is private and up-to-date, and you’re storing it on their behalf.
- Allow your site to grow in a planned manner. This makes the site more attractive to search engines.
- Make sure your site’s structure is built to accommodate growth — add new content, places for archived information, and a strategy for deleting outdated or unneeded information.
- Launch with specific content that reflects the terms people use to describe what you do, and plan to create additional content over time that focuses on those terms. When someone types in those terms in a search engine, they are likely to see your site in the search results.
- Link to resources that your audiences will find useful, and encourage those organizations to link to your site.
- These relationships will prove beneficial to you offline as well.
- Cross-linking is another indication to search engines to rank your site higher in results.
- Create places on your site for each of your top-priority audiences (newcomers, job-seekers, media, etc.), in addition to topic-focused sections.
- Members of the media, for example, want to quickly find statistics about your organization, download photos and bios of your leaders, contact your publicity team, etc., so provide links to that content for them.
- Job-seekers, while sometimes a small audience, also have specific information needs. Make a link to the careers information visible from the homepage.
- Reuse content when possible.
- In order for your site’s information to be consistent, information should be created only once but displayed where it is needed. A content management system (CMS) will store information in a database so it is separated from the design of a specific section or site, and enabling the information to be used in multiple places. Copyrights, executive names and bios, company descriptions, etc. are key examples of this.
- Consider selective online advertising.
- In addition to optimizing your site for what search engines are looking for, you may want to buy keyword advertising that is specific to your audience. The more specific you can be, the less you will spend and the more relevant your results.
- Look beyond search engines. Consider advertising in the online publications your audience reads: email newsletters, e-zines, etc. These are usually quite reasonably priced, and effective.
- Test your site’s usability.
- Think and talk like your audience.
- As you create your site, test it with potential visitors. It’s not sufficient to “go with your gut,” since no one inside your organization can truly see the site with an outsider’s eyes.
- Test early and often. It is far less expensive to test a paper prototype than a completed site, and changes to the site’s structure, design and content are easy to make early in the process.
- After the site launches, test variations of pages, email newsletters, etc., to gauge not what people say they want from you but what they actually read and respond to.
Creating a good website requires knowledge of, and participation in, the workings and strategies of your organization. A website is an ongoing commitment that is intertwined with where the organization is headed strategically.
Best of luck with your efforts!
Content Company can help your organization
- develop a content strategy
- create a plan to market your site online and offline, and work with you to implement that plan
- lead the direction for a site that is both useful for you and usable for your audiences
- plan for your site’s growth and ongoing evolution
- use your in-house communicators more effectively to create and maintain your Web content
- train in-house communicators in how to write for the Web
- help you choose, specify and implement a content management system.
If you are interested in any of these services, contact us.