Association Websites Are More Important Than Ever—How Does Yours Stack Up?
What do brick masons, doctors and helicopter pilots have in common? They all have trade associations that represent them—and the central locus for information for each of these associations is their respective website. In today’s hybrid-first, highly distributed environment, an organizational website is more important than ever before.
Your association is only as credible as its website. It is the first interaction that most prospective members will have with your organization and the first thing they will see when they look you up. An outdated and hard-to-navigate website telegraphs to readers that your organization is behind the times, disorganized and unlikely to deliver a quality product. This will be a big deterrent to Gen Z, a generation that never lived in a world where answers to their questions weren’t instantly available. To attract these younger members who represent the future of your industry, your website UX—that is the user experience—must be seamless. As the old saying goes, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression! So how do you make your website work for you? Let’s find out.
You are your website
In the industry and trade association world, engagement is the name of the game. Your site should look polished and professional, be easy to navigate and highlight your organization’s value proposition. The content should reflect your brand and tell a clear story of who you are as an organization and what value you provide to people in the industry. Whether someone is coming to your website to learn about continuing education opportunities, purchase publications, obtain a certification or look for a job, it should be obvious to anyone— particularly new users— where to find what they are looking for.
A good website design will help draw prospective members into the funnel to join your organization. A poorly designed site will not only detract new members but in today’s remote-first paradigm, it will likely lead to attrition and lost members.
Know your brand
Your homepage should highlight what’s happening at the organization. Share topical news stories about what is going on throughout the industry and let your prospective members know how you are responding in the best interest of those in the field. Your home page should have new, relevant, timely updates to share. Nothing is worse than landing on a homepage with a feature story that is 2 years old. A person might even assume you’ve gone out of business.
If you are seeing a high bounce rate on your association’s webpages, your users are probably having a difficult time finding the information they came for. While your association may not think they have any direct competitors, it’s important to understand that people can and will find what they need elsewhere if you can’t help them right away. Therefore, ease of use and navigation should be a critical component of your web design strategy.
Know your audiences
Trade associations have individual and/or organizational members, as well as corporate partners who need to sell their products and services to those members. Members should have quick access to resources and upcoming events; same goes for corporate sponsors and partners. Prospective members should be directed to the funnel to join your group with minimal hassle.
If you are an association with a lobbying arm, featuring relevant content that aligns with your organization’s mission and priorities can turn your website into a Digital Advocacy Tool. Create easy-to-find webpages that outline your organization’s stances on key issues and pending legislation; these can be used for pull-quotes and research for media, Hill staff, and even interested publics. Keep in mind, the average age of a Capitol Hill Staffer today is about 32. As digital natives, they aren’t likely to wait for you to return a phone call because they couldn’t find what they were looking for on your website—they will just move to the next website on their list.
You also want to ensure that the site is accessible to the news media and general public—after all, you are the best source of information about your area of specialty. It needs to be simple for any of your target audiences to navigate your website efficiently. Provide options that work for each audience. Consider a portal for partners or corporate sponsors, for example, and a prominent link to your press releases or newsroom.
Simplifying navigation is how you ensure users get where they need to be quickly. Speed, efficiency and instant gratification is what will get users to spend more time on your website, return to your website, become more engaged with the organization and ultimately convert them from information seekers to members.
Provide More Than One Way to Get Where You’re Going
One of the big criticisms of organizational websites is that it is too hard to find the thing you are looking for. This can be especially true of an association website that covers a large number of disparate topics.
When something becomes routine, it’s easy to overlook the challenges of a new user. Visiting a new website is like visiting a new city—it’s hard to find your way around without a map. Associations tend to use a lot of acronyms and use them as though everyone in the field knows what they mean. Don’t assume! Spell everything out on the homepage and consider adding a glossary.
Keep it simple
A few additional search tools can help add utility for users to keep them coming back.
- Make it accessible to everyone. Be sure your site is ADA and 508 compliant.
- Make it attractive. Pictures and videos are the way most people engage online today. Meet them where they are.
- Make it mobile friendly. Almost half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices.
- Add an internal search bar. Having an internal search function is critical for helping users find what they need quickly.
- Add an easy to find Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page. New users will frequently go to your FAQ’s page immediately to find what they need.
- Consider using a chatbot. New research shows that modern workers will regularly use chatbots to quickly find what they need. Think about whether adding this kind of element can help you.
Content Management System that are flexible
There are many content management systems (CMS) out there that support association websites. From WordPress, Drupal 9 to very complicated and clunky proprietary platforms (Sharepoint, Sitecore, Adobe etc). A few recommendations to consider when looking for a CMS systems are:
- Flexibility & CMS ease of use (Intuitiveness)
- Future proof. WordPress and Drupal are scalable as in will it grow as your organization grows
- Cost of ownership and cost of maintenance. We recommend open source CMS platforms (WordPress and Drupal) as there are no yearly or monthly license fees. Additionally and more importantly, you are not held hostage by a proprietary system with a limited pool of developers.
- Easy to integrate with. Through API and SSO the CMS must be able to integrate with your AMS, CRM (member portals, directories, paying dues etc), Event management, online learning and advocacy tools.
- Security. Find a WordPress or Drupal web development company that has experience in locking down these platforms so they are secure, flexible and scalable.
The vast majority of associations today continue their operations and events remotely, making the website the organization’s only opportunity to interact with its members. No one is coming to your office and you can’t rely on events, meetings, and workshops to build your brand. If ever there was a time to invest in your digital footprint, it is now!
You may be wondering how to determine whether your website is easy to use. Try looking at your website through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before and contact WDG for UX testing.