Ray van Hilst is Director of Client Strategy for Vanguard Technology, and the author of the must read e-book, 10 Things Members Want From Your Association Website – Usability Tips to Improve the Member Experience (available for you to download).
Ray was kind enough to lend us his expertise for this two-part blog series on best practices for association websites. His knowledge in this area should prove extremely helpful for any association looking to give their online presence an upgrade—from minor tweaks to complete overhauls.
We thank Ray for his participation! Have a question you don’t see answered here or in Part One? Hit us up in the comments, and perhaps Ray will chime in with his answers!
LF: How do social media and the association website best interact? What are some best practices for ensuring that all association online properties receive the proper amount of attention from members?
RvH: Social media outposts and your association website work together in a symbiotic relationship. The simplest way to think of it is that social media can be a promotion vehicle to drive traffic back to your website. As you publish new content – or even highlight “classic” content – social media outposts reach members where they are actively looking for information and can drive users back to the site.
Even more important is the fact that social media gives your content “legs” to be shared among users who may not even know about your website. As your members click “like” or “share” other people in their social circles see the content and you have extended your reach.
As for ensuring proper attention and exposure, that starts with a content plan that identifies the right content into the right channels. Just remember that not every bit of content is appropriate for every channel. For example, a 2,000 page industry study won’t resonate in Pinterest…but an infographic will. The key is to match the content to the channel and its context.
LF: Let’s talk about visuals. In your eBook, you recommend staying away from stock photos and instead relying on photos of real members. What are some other recommendations for a visually compelling website?
RvH: The good thing is that with advent of the prosumer grade of digital cameras and the growth of image based content there are many more choices available for Web content managers. A few good sources to consider include Creative Commons photography, member contributed imagery, and custom photography.
Also don’t forget that not all stock photography is bad. There is some very good stock photography out there. The challenge is to be unique and go beyond the same images that are used over and over.
I have other sources available in a post I wrote on our blog titled Alternatives to Cliché Photos for Your Association Website.
LF: Many organizations treat their blog as almost a separate entity from their website—what is the best approach for ensuring that blog content (often the most recent and fresh content on a website) doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?
RvH: The key is to have connections and cross over points between the two Web properties. You want to make sure blog readers know about resources on the website and that Web users know you have fresh content in the blog. The key is to be mindful of all Web properties and to be purposeful of the promotion of the content. A few tips include:
- Link from blog posts to resources and pages in the main site.
- Include promotional space in the blog layout to convert blog visitors to Web visitors.
- Embed feeds from the blog in the main site to surface that fresh content.
The key is to make sure the most valuable and relevant content is visible and that it offers a conversion path to deepen the online engagement.
LF: With millions of Internet users accessing the Web through their smartphones on a daily basis, what are the best approaches for making an association site mobile-friendly?
RvH: The short answer is to embrace responsive design so your website goes where your users go – regardless of the device they are using. This has a few key benefits including the fact that you only have one site to manage instead of a main site and mobile site and the fact that you “future proof” your site as new devices with new screen resolutions come out.
The longer answer is to develop a mobile strategy that considers your content and the context in which it will be used. Know what your users are doing in their lives when they access your site and what problems they are solving. Are they on the road and need access to a member directory or a regulation? Or are they catching up on industry reading while sitting in an airport? Be sure to think about these uses and configure your mobile experience around these contexts.
We have a handy whitepaper on our website that will help answer these questions and build that mobile strategy.
LF: Finally, how often should associations consider a brand “facelift” or a website redesign? When do you know you’re ready for a complete site overhaul?
RvH: There are generally two key drivers behind the decision to overhaul a website – technology and strategy.
Web technology has come along way in the past few years… and the pace of development is only speeding up. Associations are historically late adopters of new technologies and considering how behind they are compared to a more nimble for-profit company, they have problems competing without a good technology infrastructure. This includes considerations such as implementing an easy-to-use content management system, integrating multiple systems such as the AMS and CMS or developing for a mobile experience with responsive design.
The other key driver is when there is a strategic shift in the organization and the organization is investing in the Web as key driver for the association.
The reality is that for many member members, the monthly publication and website are the only two ways they will engage with the association. These members need a vibrant Web experience that gives them industry expertise or makes their careers easier.
As associations embrace using the website as a strategic tool – rather than a fancy online brochure or glorified filing cabinet – it requires taking a strategic approach that many websites don’t have. This is when we get to help our clients build a strategic plan for their websites to engage their members and deliver value through their most visible asset – their website.
The timing on these two categories varies. On average, we see the technology shifts coming about every four to five years to justify the overhaul that goes into developing a redesign based on the technology criteria.
But if your organization is already on a strong technology infrastructure, the timing of a redesign based on strategic reasoning will vary. It involves knowing your audiences and what their expectations are. If you are in a fast changing industry with nimble competitors that timing might be more frequent such as every three years.
The last thing to consider in this timing is not just how often, but how long it takes. We find that a full website redesign project takes an average of nine months from kickoff to launch. Once you add vendor selection into this process, it takes at least a year to do a full redesign. This means if you are planning on a redesign to launch three years from now, you need to start working on this project in year two.
Ray van Hilst is Director of Client Strategy for Vanguard Technology, and a regular contributor to the Vanguard blog, which serves as a one stop shop for association website questions.
Tags: Association Website, Brand Facelift, Mobile Devices, Mobile Strategy, Mobile Web, Smartphones, Social Media and your Website, website design, Website Redesign, Website visuals, What members want from your association website
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