The importance of a website to the success of an association cannot be overstated. It is the primary source of communication for existing members, it plays a critical role in member retention, and it is the tool that will influence the decision-making of prospective members.
For these reasons, your association website needs to be relevant and provide a fantastic user experience. Let's review the different elements that make a highly successful association website.
Before Anything, Strategy!
Before a single bit of code is written, before a single word is put to paper, your association needs to determine exactly what the goals of this website are. What are you specifically looking to accomplish? What are the steps to achieving those goals? What is the relationship like between the organization publishing content and those visiting your website and engaging with that content?
Existing members have slightly different needs than prospective members. Existing members are already invested in the association. They may want to know what upcoming events are scheduled, they may want to see evidence of the success of the previous events in the form of photos and video and testimonials. They may also be interested in any industry changes occurring, etc.
Prospective members are all about value. They want to understand why it is worth their time and their money to invest in your association. This information needs to be delivered to them in a compelling and engaging manner. What evidence can help convince them that there is value in your website? How can we show that they will be supported? Once value has been demonstrated, define what the sales process that will bring them in is, and how it should be integrated into the website.
These elements must be determined before any development begins. One should never engage in any promotional activities without a strategy in place beforehand.
Your association has likely taken the time to invest in a logo, a color scheme and font type, all of which are used in your existing print marketing material. Your website needs to incorporate these colors and fonts as well in order to create a graphically pleasing experience for your website user. Conflicting colors and fonts can be jarring to the user. They may not know exactly what's wrong, but they will sense that something doesn't look right.
Approximately 75 per cent of Google searches and website activity occur on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. This number trends even higher with millennials. Having a mobile-responsive website means that the website can adapt to fit any screen size whether it's a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
If your association website is not mobile-friendly, then your website users will have to “pinch and zoom” in order to read and understand the content on your website. People simply are not willing to do this anymore. Your association can't ignore mobile responsiveness if it wants to effectively reach its existing and prospective members.
Any association executive knows that the lifeblood of an association is its new membership. While your association website should definitely serve as a resource for your prospective members, you need to take it a step further. Your website should serve as a marketing and sales tool for your association. This is where conversion tools come in.
What is conversion? Conversion is the act of a website visitor making the decision to reach out to your association one way or another. The website has converted the user into a prospect.
There are a number of tools that you can use to maximize the potential for conversion. The most important conversion tool is the call to action. A call to action is a compelling instruction that guides the visitor as to what steps you would like them to take next. Examples of calls to action, or CTAs, may include:
Contact Us Today for More Information!
Let’s Start The Conversation!
Interested? Let’s Schedule an Appointment.
Visitors need to be instructed as to what steps to take next. They need to be guided through this process.
Other valuable conversion tools include contact forms, email newsletter signup forms and social media integration. All of these tools allow the prospect to familiarize themselves with your association. They may not be ready to join your association this very minute, so let's cultivate a relationship with them so that when they are ready, and they do understand the value, they will sign up!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In order for prospective members to want to join your association, they need to know that your association exists! Optimizing your association website for Google and other search engines will give you the opportunity for greater exposure. It means that when a prospect is searching Google to find out information about their industry, your website will have a better chance of appearing amongst the top search results.
Associations occasionally skip this element of marketing, believing that it is for businesses but not necessarily for associations. Not smart. The reality is your association is a business, and is selling a product. Make sure you optimize your website for search engines — SEO is an excellent tool for finding new members.
Consistent, Fresh New Content
The best way to engage with your members and prospective members is through fresh, new content produced on a consistent basis. Creating and posting blog posts adds value to your members’ association experience, demonstrates the authority and expertise of the association, and most importantly gives members a reason to come back to the website time and time again. Examples of valuable content may include association news, industry developments, industry concerns and notable conferences.
Don't let that blog post simply sit there! Publish it on your different social media channels. Add it to your association's email newsletter. There is a saying in marketing “No Content Left Behind.” Make sure that you maximize the potential for that valuable piece of content.
Fresh and authoritative content will improve your Google rankings, so it's great for SEO as well.
You now know the key components of what makes an effective and engaging association website. These tools will help with member satisfaction, member retention, and perhaps most importantly, new member acquisition.
Now that you have a better understanding of what makes an effective association website, use this article to audit your association site. How does your website measure up?
Andy Bush is an internet marketing strategist, speaker and the owner of Toronto web design company, Bush Marketing. Andy works with small and medium-sized enterprises to develop websites that engage their target audience. Andy specializes in creating integrated solutions that increase online brand awareness, build strong customer relationships and boost conversion rates.