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5 Web Design and Development Challenges for Associations, and How to Overcome Them

By Dave Gambino

Cross-posted from ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, September 14, 2015, Washington, DC.

Don't let your website go stale. Consider these five tips for keeping it fresh and up to date without starting over from scratch

As a reflection of your association, your website is key to engaging and retaining members, while supporting your mission. Yet, it can be a challenge to manage and maintain your website—especially when other duties, like collecting member dues and hosting events, often take precedence.

While many inherent challenges come with developing and designing a website, some surface time and time again for associations in particular. Here are the five most common challenges and a look at how to overcome them.

1. Curating Content
Your site may have a great deal of content that is of little or no value to your member base. This content not only takes up space, but it adds extra clutter to your website that prevents visitors from effortlessly finding the information they seek.

To determine which content to add or replace, consider its value to your site's objective. For example, if your website's purpose is to serve as a resource center for the general public, then you must ensure that content is not only easy to find and relevant but that it also speaks to nonmembers and members alike.

For further insight into which content resonates with your current user base, use Google Analytics. Which pages are visitors hitting most frequently? Are they spending time on the pages you want them to visit? Or, are they "bouncing" from your site after just one page? Are there any pages receiving minimal traffic? With this information, you can more easily decide which content to cut, keep, or revise.

2. Maintaining Aesthetics
Time is the enemy of all websites. Once they launch, they immediately begin to degrade from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint. Therefore, it is important to continuously monitor and review the look and feel of your website.

To maintain an aesthetically pleasing site, establish strict brand guidelines and maintain a style sheet. If you manage your site internally, make sure your staff is familiar with your branding standards and reviews the site on a regular basis. If you don't have the internal expertise (or time) to maintain your site's look, consider enlisting the help of an outside web or graphic design firm. It is well worth the investment.

3. Identifying Key Performance Indicators
Associations are often hard pressed to explain what makes their sites successful. The key step is figuring out at the beginning how you will measure that success. Putting key performance indicators in place gives you measurable points to review after a period of time.

Examples of KPIs include online membership signups, lead generation, online inquiries, user counts,
pageview counts, and time spent on site. Websites can often take significant investment, so you should be able to justify the cost by presenting your board with accomplished goals.

4. Budgeting
It is important to establish a realistic budget and make sure that budget is adequate to help you meet the goals you set when you established KPIs. This is why you should have an idea, upfront, of the elements, features, and functionalities your site must have. Naturally, a very basic, "brochure" website that serves the purpose of proving your existence will require a low budget, whereas a robust, fully interactive, responsive website integrated with association management software (AMS) will require a more hefty cost.

If you have trouble defining your new site's requirements, take a more agile approach. If you work with an outside web design firm, consider a monthly retainer option in which the development team runs under your direction, helping you figure out what works and what doesn't work—all with your budget in mind.

5. Establishing Organizational Consensus
When embarking on a web development project, you may find yourself pulled in 10 different directions by 10 different departments. If possible, appoint a champion (usually someone with decision-making authority) who can keep your organization on task to ensure the website meets the association's goals.

It is very difficult for a website to be all things to everyone inside the organization, so you have to pick and choose what to accomplish. Plus, if everyone is focused on their own pet projects, you'll probably end up over your budget.

Even if you already have a well-established website up and running, it is still important to routinely take a look at how it is performing. Is it supporting your mission and your goals? Is it attracting long-staying visitors? You may find that it's time for a facelift or to redefine your KPIs. Regardless of whether you are launching a new site or refreshing an old one, overcoming these five challenges will make a big difference in your site's success today and in the future.

Jason Stone is vice president of sales and marketing at web design and development firm Engage in St. Louis, MO.

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