This is an extremely confusing area for many of the associations that we’ve worked with as well as those we’ve observed other publishers working with. Publishers often have trouble clearly communicating best practices when it comes to websites as well.
I’m going to do my best to help guide you along the path of either cleaning up your current online platforms or completely creating new ones.
There are a couple of important things to keep in mind when you’re looking at your websites:
- What do my viewers want to see that will keep them coming back?
- How can I best represent my organization?
When looking at your platforms or when you’re embarking on the process of rebuilding your online portfolio, these are the two things you absolutely have to keep in mind. Your answers to these questions should be completely unique to your association, reflect your values and, of course, be what your members want to see.
What do my viewers want to see that will keep them coming back?
This seems like a fairly straightforward question but it is surprisingly tricky to get right. The answer could be any number of things. I guarantee you Amazon doesn’t have repeat website traffic because of their spectacular blog posts, and at the same time no one reads the Wall Street Journal to shop.
My point here is the content doesn’t necessarily have to be strictly editorial content, it just has to be what your members want to see. In an earlier post I spoke briefly about active and passive content. These two types of content generally reflect the state of mind your reader is in as well as the traffic source and motivation of what led them to your content. On a deeper level, if you don’t have the right kind of content that actually attracts them to your online platforms, then the intent for distribution doesn’t even matter.
For many associations that are advocating for their industry on behalf of professional members, this content will often look like industry updates. It will show your members that their investment in your organization is a good use of their dollars and is actually having a positive impact on their industry. If your association is offering professional designations or other professional development, educational content is going to be king. These members have engaged with your association for a reason and your goal is to continue to deliver on that purpose as often as you can.
This goes deeper than just having website traffic that relates back to advertising revenue. If you can master this and have relevant content delivered to your audience on a regular basis, two things will start happening:
- Your current members will stay members for longer because they’ll constantly be reminded why they became members in the first place. By continuing the value exchange long after their initial decision to join, you’ll be cementing your position as an important authority figure in their minds.
- Other people who haven’t yet joined your association will begin to see the content that they look for and gradually gravitate towards your association. This will increase your membership over time if you can sustain your content strategy.
It’s important to note that this is a very long-term strategy that likely won’t have much of a payoff for the first few months. In this equation, Google is going to be your best friend and will very likely be the platform that introduces new people to your content. I highly recommend that you invest in a strong search engine optimization strategy to further your effectiveness.
How can I best represent my organization?
This is an incredibly important question and one of the hardest for a trade association to deliver on effectively.
Trade associations are often very much behind in technological or design trends. Our website is a good example of a current design trend. It has a very clean look and relays information quickly and concisely.
And I get it – your pipefitter association doesn’t have a website that looks like Apple’s. If your website looked great in 2002 and is still getting the job done, your main concern should be with the software powering it and whether it’s time to refresh the branding.
With advances in software solutions, there’s really no reason to continue to use expensive membership management solutions, especially if they’re cumbersome or have huge limitations. There’s also no reason to pay expensive monthly bills for these software subscriptions, either. WordPress is a great open-source platform that can do all of this for you with either very small, or no monthly payments (depending on your membership management solution).
There’s also absolutely zero reason to have a website (in any industry) that isn’t mobile friendly. If your website doesn’t look good on a smartphone right now, hire a designer and get that fixed. Google ranks websites based on mobile friendliness now, so if you want your content to stand out from the noise, this is a necessary step.
Again, no organization that is still operating should have a website that isn’t responsive on mobile phones. This is very important.
When we look at things like branding, it’s a little harder to decide if you need a refresh or not. Design trends are always changing, so it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them. A good rule of thumb would be to have a new branding package that includes logo, fonts, graphics and websites about once in every decade. McDonald’s completely rebuilds its stores once every decade. I know your association doesn’t have a storefront to keep up to date. However, it’s important to recognize that staying in front of design trends is a good idea and the benefits will definitely outweigh the cost.
Now, if I can emphasize one point in this article, it would be to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and create new types of content for your membership all the time. You don’t need a website for your association to explain what you do, another website for content, a third for a buyer’s guide and then a job board somewhere else on the internet. Produce the content that your members want to read, do it in one place, and go all in on design for that one website.
Condense and simplify.