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5 Foundational Elements of a Successful Member-Focused Website

Ali Zamanian May 10, 2022

Chances are that prospective members will first meet your association through your website and your existing members use it as a primary touchpoint. And their interaction with your site will influence whether or not they choose to pursue or renew membership. Therefore, when you start a website project, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve done all you can to guarantee its success.

Your website is your digital front door and one of your most important investments. It’s got to look, feel, and function in a way that helps attract and engage members over time. In short, your website has a big responsibility for which it cannot afford to fail.

While a website project is not easy, its foundational elements are straightforward. When working in concert, these five elements can result in a website that’s relevant, useful, and engaging to members — present and future.

1. UX: A Strategic Approach

User experience (UX) encompasses all the ways in which users interact with your website. Its goal is to make user interactions as easy, satisfying, and useful as possible. 

Good UX is based on your answers to three seemingly-simple questions:

  • Why does our organization exist? Your association’s mission should be your north star, guiding every decision you make. 
  • Who are we here to serve? Your association can’t be (nor should it try to be) all things to all people. The more specific you can be in defining your audience, the better.  Lean into data and analytics to help you understand exactly who your current site users are. You’ll also need to determine who you’d like your future users to be. 
  • What must our website do to help users succeed? Your users’ needs and goals  should inform all UX design. Mapping out their journeys will help you visualize their interactions at various touchpoints and qualitative or quantitative research can help validate your assumptions. 

These answers provide valuable information you can use to inform site architecture, site map, wireframes, design, development approach, maintenance plans — basically every corner of your website.

2. UI: Designed For Members

User interface (UI) refers to your website’s visual and interaction design. Once you’ve developed a strategic approach based on your members’ needs, you should design accordingly. An off-the-shelf template designed to meet the needs of any generic association simply won’t do. 

Your association should already have a strong brand system designed to communicate your story and appeal directly to your audiences. If not, stop. Go no further. Engage a branding partner who can work with you to create a comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible system. 

When you have a strong brand system, leverage the design tools in your brand guidelines to tell your story, craft a distinct digital presence and bring the user experience to life

Good visual design is no longer a luxury. The next generation of members are digitally discerning and expect a seamless, impactful, and inspiring website. If you want members to trust you to represent their industry or cause, you need to reinforce that trust with excellent design. Good design takes your website from a necessary tool to a high functioning asset that enhances the member experience and amplifies the efforts of every department.

3. Accessibility: Standards Met or Exceeded

Accessibility — making your site usable by people with disabilities — should be top of mind from the beginning of your website project. People with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, visual, and speech disabilities require specific considerations and adaptations. 

Every strategic, content, design, and development decision contributes to the final usability and accessibility of the website. You’ll need to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 requirements as you make these decisions. The level of accessibility (A, AA, and AAA) you meet is up to you — but greater conformance results in more use by more people. 

Neglecting or de-prioritizing accessibility concerns will alienate your members with accessibility needs and open up your organization to costly legal suits.

Don’t forget: another facet of accessibility is ensuring your website is mobile responsive. Your members visit your site on different devices, primarily their mobile phones. Your site should be optimized for your members to be able to interact, consume resources, and engage with your organization regardless of what device they’re on.

4. Integration: Seamless Connections With External Systems and Data 

Integration is your website’s ability to communicate well with external systems and data sources. When done well, the integration is both strategic and seamless (without interruptions). 

However, poor integration can quickly lead to user frustration. For example, a user might enter through the main association website to view the list of upcoming events. As soon as they’re ready to sign up, that member may be taken to an external website (typically the association management system) to register for the event. This external website will often look very different from the main website, which may have that member wondering if they’ve gotten lost. 

Another example of poor site integration: mismatched committee information. A PDF or a static page on your website may not have the up-to-date committee list from your association management system. Outdated information makes your organization look unprofessional, eroding trust and relevance. A better integration would automatically sync the committee information data from the association management system to the website and display it in a user-friendly presentation. 

5. CMS: Flexible and Easy to Manage

The content management system (CMS) allows you to create, edit, and publish content to your site. A good CMS is flexible and customized to your association; its functionality should help you optimize your members’ digital experience. 

Your CMS should anticipate and address your future needs. What if you have a new annual event? Are you able to build a robust landing page for it? What if you need to fight a certain piece of legislation? Can you build a page that will provide timely information to your members and drive action? 

If your website has fresh, compelling content but your staff can’t maintain it, your website will devolve into a useless relic. Your CMS must be easy for your staff to train on and use daily.

Invest Now to Attract and Maintain Members Over Time

UX, UI, accessibility, seamless integration, and CMS are the necessary ingredients to creating a dynamic and valuable member-focused website. When your association is ready to make this all-important investment, make sure you thoughtfully consider each of these elements. Then your website will serve you — and your members — for years to come.

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