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Member-First Websites: Putting Users at the Heart of Your Website Redesign

For organizations considering a website redesign, functionality and technology are often among the top items on any wishlist. After all, your next generation of members are digital natives, and you need to secure the best tools to deliver the kind of standout experience that reflects the value of your organization. However, focusing primarily on the technical aspects of your website such as its CMS platform neglects the most important part of any redesign project: Your users. Naturally, a great CMS is essential — but it’s also no guarantee of delivering the kind of experience that connects with members and captures your brand’s story. As you consider your next steps in a redesign project, you need to ensure your website users are the first priority.  In this eBook, you’ll learn:

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A Good CMS Is Just the Baseline, the User Experience Is What Sets You Apart

Planning a redesign of your association website can feel like one of the most stressful projects of your year. After all, websites are expensive, high-stakes projects that will impact how your organization connects with members for years to come. Given how much of your time, budget, and resources it demands, you’re under considerable pressure to get it right. 

Marketing executives often gravitate first toward technology decisions when tackling a website redesign. The assumption is that the design will be done right, and the CMS decision is what needs your attention. 

Building an effective website isn’t that simple. A good CMS is essential, but it should be the baseline when selecting a good agency. To see the greatest results from your investment in a redesign, you have to stay focused on what’s most important: Your members.

Why a Good CMS is Only the Baseline

If you talk to five different agencies on your way to planning a redesign, you may get five different answers to the CMS question. Everyone has a preference (here’s ours, for example). 

However, a CMS isn’t a magic bullet. Choosing Drupal, WordPress, or another top-tier platform can’t guarantee an effective website. As website technology has evolved over the years, your organization can gain many of the features you need from the majority of the top-tier CMS platforms.

Baseline Requirements for a Modern CMS

Fundamentally, a good CMS will deliver the following five features:

  1. Expandability and flexibility:  The platform should be customizable to serve all the technical requirements of your organization.
  2. User-friendly editing experience: Editing and publishing should be easy and intuitive.
  3. Scalable: The CMS should expand over time to fit your organization’s current and future goals and needs.
  4. Consistent updates: Your CMS should be open-source and supported by an active community. This means that along with addressing shifting security standards, your CMS will also be in a state of constant improvement.
  5. SEO-friendly: The platform adheres to best practices to ensure your site is visible to search engines.

With these core elements in place, be weary of proprietary systems. When you use a proprietary CMS, you not only are limited to very specialized agencies and developers that can work on your website, but your organization is also at the mercy of the private software company’s development schedule for new feature releases and cost increases. By contrast, popular open-source systems ensure the platform remains in a state of constant improvement and is easy for almost any agency or developer to work on. Otherwise, choosing a CMS is no different from the debate between major automakers like Ford and Chevy. At that level, either brand provides a reliable way forward. However, your greatest priority is ensuring members have all they need to reach their destination.

User Experience is Your Website’s Differentiator

A good CMS will supply the right technical tools to generate an impact on your organization. But the greatest difference-maker comes down to how that technology is applied to create an intuitive and engaging user experience. 

How you strategize your association website’s design, content, and navigation makes up its user experience. Much like your organization’s brand, a strong user experience communicates to members who you are and what you offer.

Your CMS is important, but it’s invisible to your users. Think of the user experience as the gateway to how your members will access your website’s functionality. Everything on the front end of your website (what your members see and experience in their browser) should be designed to guide users toward the resources they need. If members can’t find or understand what your organization offers, then all that impressive technology is useless.

You can have the best CMS in the world, but your website will still be ineffective if the user experience and interface don’t resonate with your users and serve their needs.

Member-Driven Organizations Need a Design-First Website Approach

Associations have specific needs when it comes to creating a positive member experience, and each website should incorporate certain elements to be effective.

However, you must ensure that your agency partner has the right experience level in all the areas your website requires. For example, a marketing or PR-focused agency may understand how to develop a clear messaging strategy for your website, but they may lack the design and user experience expertise to create a website that resonates with your members.

An organization may also take the wrong path by focusing solely on its website’s CMS and backend technology. A tech-first or SaaS-oriented company may specialize in creating functionality for association websites. However, skills in development and databases can’t compensate for lacking marketing and design skills essential to creating an engaging user experience. When you prioritize technology, you often end up with a cookie-cutter website that doesn’t adequately reflect your organization. 

Ultimately, your organization needs a design-first agency with strong development skills that are informed by years of association experience and marketing expertise. 

How to Find the Right Web Design Agency for Your Organization

For many associations, the RFP process is the first step toward finding an agency partner for a redesign. Unfortunately, RFPs typically lead to finding one-size-fits-all solutions that won’t address your organization’s real problems

You need an agency partner that will design a user experience specific to your organization and its members. You should present the objectives for your project and evaluate how well an agency communicates with your team and demonstrates that their experience aligns with your needs.

Have they solved similar problems for associations like yours? Are the services and resources on the websites they produced organized in an intuitive way? Do their designs tell a cohesive and compelling story about the organizations they serve? Good design ensures a website works seamlessly.

When you’re working with the right agency, you don’t need to start with technology questions. Any qualified candidate should offer a strong, stable CMS. What matters most is finding a partner who will expertly plan and design the website to cater to your members. Ensuring your members will find what they need in a way that also communicates what’s unique about your organization.Does this sound like a website to carry your organization into the future? If so, we should talk.

7 Website Features That Empower Associations to Serve Members at a Higher Level

Member-driven associations like yours play a vital role in bringing together businesses, professionals, and stakeholders within your industry. A well-crafted website is not only a digital hub for your members. It’s also a powerful tool for demonstrating the value of membership. As the next generation takes over the workforce, you need to rethink your website to serve a new audience of digital natives.

We’ve found that every member-driven website thrives with the support of several core features. While the use cases for the following elements may vary depending on the size of your organization or its focus, each offers a crucial opportunity to empower members and make a positive impact on your industry.

Core Elements of Every Website Experience

Your website often gives the first impressions of your organization. Given its importance, every element of your website must look, feel, and function in a way that attracts and engages your members. For associations, that effort begins with ensuring your brand draws a strong connection between your organization and its audience

Once your brand and messaging are aligned, every association website begins with the following foundational elements:

  • A clear and compelling design: A design that’s appealing and user-friendly is essential to ensuring your site’s visitors have a positive experience.
  • Intuitive navigation: A logically structured and easy-to-understand menu is necessary to ensure your site visitors can find what they need.
  • Responsive and ADA accessible: A responsive design that’s optimized for all devices and accounts for the differing needs of your audience ensures your website offers an inclusive experience.
  • Seamless integrations with external systems: Real-time integrations with outside data sources are essential to providing streamlined functionality that builds user trust.
  • Flexible and functional CMS: Your site editors need an easy way to create, edit, and update your website.

7 Must-Have Features for Every Association Website

When your website is built on a platform that’s tailor-made for associations, you can access a suite of features to serve your current generation of members — and the next one

With effective design and seamless integrations, your site can operate at a higher level by utilizing the following seven features.

1. Member Login and Member-only Content

Your login page should be easy to find and enable access to member-specific features with single-sign-on (SSO) capabilities that keep them logged in across your site, AMS, and any other resources.

Create a custom user experience by determining the sections of your website that should be accessible to the public as well as vital information that is exclusive to your members. By incorporating single-sign-on (SSO) capabilities between your website and your AMS, your members will be able to log in once and have access to managing their membership, signing up for events, as well as member-only content across your site based on their level of membership (member, associate, committee, board, etc.)

2. Events

Events are the heartbeat of most associations. They’re often the primary way for members to connect with each other and the organization. Every conference, seminar, and convention should be branded in a way that elevates the attendee experience and draws a positive connection to your organization. Incorporating a dynamic and easy-to-use event section into your website allows members to find and engage with these events, purchase tickets utilizing the AMS, and streamline the registration process. Plus, it builds excitement for what’s ahead.

3. Member Directory

Nurture the bond between members by offering a full directory of members. Users should be able to browse membership by whatever category suits their needs (region, role, etc.) By syncing your website member directory with your existing member database, you can ensure information about your organization’s most important audience is current and accurate.

4. Resource Library

Tap into your website’s potential as an educational resource by offering a library of articles, white papers, toolkits, webinars, and other content vital to your members and their industry. It’s critical to organize the resources by categories and implement robust filters that allow users to find what they need quickly and easily.

5. Automated Job Board

Manually managing job board submissions is both tedious and inefficient for your members and staff. A modern website enables members to submit and pay for job postings on their own. An approval process allows your staff to review and approve each posting with ease before it’s published, and the posting will automatically expire at the end of its contracted time. This process will not only empower your members to more easily and readily use this important resource, but you’re also saving your team’s time from having to manually manage all these details.

6. Testimonials and Success Stories

Your membership is a community. Strengthen those bonds by publishing stories and updates from your members that highlight the positive impact of your association. Real-life examples and testimonials inspire current members and encourage new members to join.

7. Committee and Working Group Pages

Volunteering is critical to most associations. Highlight the various groups and committees within your organization on their own pages. Your website should include details about these groups as well as their leadership and objectives to encourage member involvement. When integrated with the single-sign-on(SSO) functionality, you can give board and committee members tiered access to protected documents.

Strong Websites Are Essential to Member-Driven Organizations

Association websites are much more than digital brochures or informational archives. They’re the lifeblood of the industries they serve. Implementing these features empowers your organization to connect with its audience and deliver education and advocacy for your overall mission. If these sound like features that will enable your organization to function at a higher level, we should talk.

What Goes into Building Your Next Association Website — and How to Stay on Schedule

Securing approval to redesign your association’s website typically comes down to two questions: How much will this cost and how soon can it launch?

The answers for both questions vary, and they’re ultimately determined by your organization’s needs. But no matter how much you’re planning to spend, website projects require a considerable investment in time and effort — and you have to be realistic about both if you want a new website that will serve your association’s goals.

If your association wants a new website by a specific date, you have to understand what goes into its production. At the same time, you should know what factors impact the time required to generate the kind of website your association needs to be successful.

How Long Does It Take to Create an Association Website?

With so many factors in play, successful websites take time. Most well-executed websites require at least six to nine months to produce. And that’s only after the procurement process is complete and the contract is signed. This means you should get started on your project up to a year in advance of your desired launch date. 

Hearing your new website project will take so long to design and develop can be frustrating, especially if you hoped to pair the launch with an upcoming event. But your agency needs a minimum of several months because so much planning and effort goes into creating a website.

Successful association website projects typically incorporate the following:

  • Full strategy services: What are your association’s goals for the website? What does your audience need? You and your agency need to answer core questions like these to uncover the best strategy for your new website and how it’s built.
  • Messaging: Your website offers members their first impression of your association and sets the standard for how you operate. You need to ensure every element of your site — navigation, design, color, and content — tells a unified and compelling story of your brand.
  • Custom design: every page on your site needs a unique design that takes into account the goal of that page and aligns it with your audience and organization.
  • Custom development and AMS integration: Features like single sign on, member directory, and integrations with your AMS all take time to develop and test. Similar to custom design, each page of your site needs to be built to load quickly and function as it should.
  • Customized CMS: Depending on your current site and your goals, your association may be best served by a platform like WordPress. Tailoring a CMS to suit your publishing needs also requires time and effort.

Although six to nine months is an average timeline to research, strategize, wireframe, design, develop, build, test, and launch a new website, the range isn’t set in stone. There are always plenty of factors that can change your time to launch.

Factors Impacting the Project Timeline for Any Website Project

At the beginning of a project your agency will develop a custom plan and timeline based on your needs and availability. 

Sample timeline

The following common factors can potentially increase (or decrease) the time needed to launch a website:

  • Changes in scope or your organization’s goals after discovery: Every stakeholder should be informed about the project and its progress to prevent disruptions in the timeline. Sudden shifts in website requirements can easily derail your team’s progress.
  • Complexity in custom-designed pages: If your association needs more involved assets like custom illustrations, videos or animations, those take more time to produce.
  • Functionality: Complex features such as single-sign-on (SSO) functionality, AMS integration, or searchable libraries for member resources contribute to a longer project timeline. 
  • Lack of availability of your team or vendors: Successful website projects demand ongoing involvement from your internal team. You need to be an engaged participant to ensure your project stays on schedule. In addition, being proactive in coordinating with outside vendors to secure the assets your project needs will also protect your timeline.

5 Tips to Ensuring Your Association’s Website Launches on Schedule

Member-driven association websites require a strong strategy, user-focused design, and the flexibility to connect with external systems. And very often, that only scratches the surface of what goes into a successful launch.

If your association has a firm deadline for a site launch, you need to be realistic about what’s required. Along with allowing enough time for you and your agency to collaborate, you have plenty of other ways to protect your timeline.

You can protect your project launch date by following the following 5 tips:

  1. Maintain consistency in communication. Your agency partner depends on your organization to deliver timely feedback about the project. You should appoint a liaison that will prioritize the project and ensure that lines of communication remain open between your organization and the agency.
  2. Stick to agreed-upon timelines. As your project begins, carefully review the timeline and share any of your concerns. Conflicts such as vacations, events, or major initiatives scheduled at the same time as your website project should be addressed to keep the project on track.
  3. Be the leader of your team. As the head of marketing or communications, the website is your responsibility. You should take ownership of the project by consistently thinking about the requirements before each project deadline. Whether it’s sending feedback or ensuring it’s consolidated to eliminate conflicting information, you have to ensure your team plays its part.
  4. Get buy-in from stakeholders early. Identify project stakeholders and engage them in the discovery phase, so they feel heard and aligned with the goals of the project. Additionally, regular check-ins and progress reports can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that any potential issues or roadblocks are identified and addressed early on. 
  5. Create a list of launch-critical priorities if timing is tight. By considering your most important needs for launch, you can launch with your core priorities addressed and then work toward subsequent improvements post-launch.

Of course, without gathering all the details, your association can’t really know the time required to take your website from where it is now to where it needs to be. If you’re looking to get started, we should talk about the next steps.

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