August 20 2014

7 Tips for Managing Your Association Website’s Homepage

Pensive ParakeetLet’s be honest: associations are filled with fiefdoms.

Everyone is in charge of an area they believe is crucial to the association’s mission, and it all collides when each department wants to be represented in one place: the homepage of your association’s website. Whether the approach is subtle or obvious — everyone is screaming for attention and the desire to be big and bold on the website homepage.

As the web manager it’s your problem to solve. So, where do you start? How do you make sure that members (and non-members) find what they need on your most important member engagement tool—your website? And, how do you manage those delicate relationships and politics with grace, fortitude and smarts while ensuring a solid website homepage?

1. Start with your member’s needs.

Understand why your members come to your association’s website. Is it to find an event and register? Research a topic? Participate in your online community? Find out about certification? Take continuing education? Where do they go most often once they leave your home page?

You cannot organize and then prioritize your home page without first knowing why your members visit your website. This is why starting with data is crucial.

My former association narrowed their list down to three areas after extensive member and analytical research. Members came to their site for three main reasons: research, networking and registration. When the web team redesigned the site, these three buckets were kept in mind as departments fought for coveted home page space.

2. Embrace data and share it.

I know. This word feels like a leftover buzzword and my mind wanders when I read too much data. Whether you are using heat maps, card sorts, user surveys, focus groups, or Google analytics, you need to have information. Review it, analyze it and present it in a concise manner so you have your facts in hand. After all, no one can argue with numbers and data, and it eliminates the emotion of the discussion.

Don’t have much data? Budget for it and get senior management on board about launching some sort of data gathering.

Next, be sure to share the data and your strategies with internal stakeholders. Getting buy in from stakeholders early in the project will be key during implementation and launch.

3. Ask internal stakeholders for insight.

Oftentimes, internal stakeholders have data about their part of the website that you may not know.

For example, your publications team may have statistics on the most searched topic or perhaps they know videos do better than stagnate content. They can provide information on how much digital advertising revenue their portion of the site brings in, or for that matter how much advertising revenue they bring total. Do you really want it hard to find the publication that brings in $1.5 million annually? Didn’t think so.

Others can provide clues as to why your members come to your site—even if the information is anecdotal. For example, your CEO member most likely does not come to your site for research but comes for networking or advocacy.

4. Decide which metrics you will use to determine what stays on the home page.

Associations are famous for starting projects but never killing the project. When will you kill something that is on the home page?

For example, if research wants polls on the home page but no one answers the questions, how long will you leave that valuable space open for polls? What marketing or social media efforts will the marketing team exhaust before your governance plan determines to either leave or remove the polls from the home page? Don’t make the mistake of just putting a poll there and expect people to participate, unless you have the kind of daily traffic that can drive response rates.

What metrics will you use to determine success? Will it be page views? Most searched for (or not) items? Start with the end in mind applies here, too.

5. Have a governance plan.

I hinted at a governance plan above, and no project should move forward, especially one as important as your association website, without defined data points and a governance plan to help you analyze website usage and manage your content.

Your governance plan will determine the content management approach you use for updating your home page including who will review/proof and approve content; what content gets removed when the calendar requires it (think old meetings) or data dictates little usage; when the redesign will occur again and why.

6. People come to your site to give you money.

Don’t make it hard on them. New members, members looking to renew, registrants, exhibitors, sponsors, donors, advertisers and all of their potential colleagues come to your site to give you money at one point in time.

Make sure the home page provides points of entry and conversion points that are easy to find for giving your organization money.

7. Saying no to board members and VIPs, tactfully.

You know this will happen: A board member, past president or VIP requests that your team do something to the home page that is not part of the content strategy. It may be a blatant request or he or she may be championing more coverage for a favorite initiative or department. Either way, how do you handle it?

This is where a solid governance plan and content strategy helps. Created from the data that your team has collected, which includes items like member personas and audience analysis, you can tactfully explain why this idea does not align with the content strategy plan in place for the home page. You will likely have to involve a member of senior management or the CEO to get buy in before you respond to the VIP, but laying the groundwork will show that there is not only a strategy behind the homepage decisions, but that the team is united on executing the strategy that is already in place.

Managing your association’s website, especially the home page, is not for the faint of heart. But, using data to create your strategic content and governance plans will help your team with not only the workflow, but keeping relationships intact along the way. And, the best benefit is that you will provide your members with exactly what they need: a well design, functioning website that provides them with a valuable member experience.

Editor’s note: This blog post first appeared on Vanguard Technology’s blog.

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