There are over 250 million Internet users in North America alone. That is an astounding number of potential supporters for your organization. How can you make sure you are putting your best face forward and achieving the impact you desire through your website? Below are a few recommendations to help you develop a website that meets your goals.
This is one of the most critical, and often overlooked, steps to creating an effective website. Before enlisting the help of a design company or beginning the creation of content, you MUST determine what you want your website to accomplish. Are you attempting to recruit new donors, or simply provide information on your organization? Perhaps you are promoting an event, increasing awareness of your cause, or providing resources to clients or students? You are likely to have several competing goals for your site. It is important to evaluate these goals, define the true purpose of your site, and determine what items should be given priority in the design and development phase. We recommend you build your site around no more than three priorities – with an obvious top priority. This will limit confusion for the site visitor and make it easier to meet your goals, and measure your effectiveness.
Determining site navigation is often a challenge for organizations. Many times competing departments, team members, or Board members all want their projects, or areas of passion, listed on the home page and in the primary navigation. This often leads to a laundry list of links that is way too long and extremely overwhelming to the site visitor. It is your job to sort through the many requests (or demands) and create an easy-to-understand and logical navigational scheme for your site visitors. Fortunately, once you’ve defined the purpose of your website, it will be much easier to develop a logical plan that fits within your priorities. It will also be much easier to tell some people “no” and others “yes” based upon these priorities.
1. Remember the Three-Click Rule: The general rule of thumb to follow when creating your website is to allow visitors to find the information they want within three (3) mouse clicks. This does not necessarily mean that your site can only be 3-levels deep. Visitors will click more than three times if they are certain they are heading in the right direction. For example, a site visitor researching web design may feel confident looking deeper into your site if your top item of navigation was Resources, then Marketing, then Internet, then Web Design, then a list of articles.
2. Include Search Tools: Including this functionality is especially important if your site is rich with content. Providing quick and advanced search boxes and site maps will allow visitors to quickly find what they are looking for and increase their overall satisfaction with the experience.
3. Include Internal Links: Be sure to make links to your home page and other key pages available throughout your site. This will allow visitors to quickly get their bearings and find their location if they’ve gone too deep and need to backtrack to a previous page. Providing ‘breadcrumbs’ is another great option for making your site easy to navigate. Breadcrumbs are found at the top of the webpage and provide a historical path of navigation for the user. An example of breadcrumbs is below:
Home > Resources > Marketing > Internet > Web Design > ‘Developing an Effective Website’
4. Don’t Get Too Creative: Many people come up with creative naming schemes for their site links. Though the names may be catchy, it is often the case that those outside your organization don’t know what you’re saying. Keep the names of the links simple and obvious to avoid confusion and frustration.
Now that you’ve defined the purpose of your website and outlined the navigation, you can begin the design and layout of the site. This is the stage where your website comes alive. The primary consideration when designing your website is to maintain a focus on the priorities you’ve already defined. These priorities should be obvious and included in all aspects of the design and layout. You must also be sure the look is consistent with your organizational brand – aligning with the overall appearance and message of the organization. We recognize that many organizations take this opportunity to launch their ‘corporate image’ and we encourage you to work with a branding specialist to consider colors, images, fonts, etc. before launching. These elements can all have an impact on the effectiveness of your website and the marketing of your organization.
Make your website easy to read. Research indicates that people read 15X slower online than on paper. Therefore include headers and subheads to break-up the copy and make it easier to scan. We also recommend including bulleted lists or columns of information.
Determine the intended audience for your site and then create the copy. Chances are that you aren’t the end audience you are seeking. So we recommend you spend some time researching your audience to find out what types of information they would like to see on your site. Ask people why they come to your website and what they hope to find. Ask those who don’t come to your site, “why not?” and “what could you include that would appeal to them?”
Once you determine which information is most important, you can begin preparing copy. Keep in mind that people will only return to your site if there is a reason to come back (new information). Therefore, you need to plan on either producing (or finding) new relevant content to update your site regularly.
You’ve worked hard to plan and produce a great site. Now you have to determine if it can achieve the goals you have in mind. We strongly recommend you test the usability of your site with potential site visitors. Usability testing can sound very intimidating – not to mention expensive. However, organizations can do simple usability testing in-house. Ask several people (clients, friends, donors, staff) to find items on your site (Where would you go to donate? How would you volunteer? Where would you go to learn about our after-school program?). Assess how long it takes them to find each item and if there is confusion locating any of the information. If so, consider making modifications based on the feedback you’ve received.
We wish you the best of luck in creating or updating your organization’s website. If we can assist you in any way, please contact us at 800/883-7196 or [email protected].