Building an effective website

What do you do if you want to learn more about an organization or cause? Today, the answer is simple: look it up on online. What’s your first step? Despite apps being all the rage, you’ll probably turn to your favorite social network or Google. Either way, you’re probably going to end up on a website. It’s imperative that you’re ready for them.

Think about these three salient points about your site:

  1. It’s the primary way most people experience your brand.
  2. It’s the digital center of activity for donating, volunteering, etc.
  3. 69% of donors research an organization on their website before giving.

Focus and the web design process

Today, a site needs to be treated like a living, breathing being. The problem is, most of the time, sites feel like overgrown behemoths with the dexterity of an elephant. But there is a solution.

What every site needs is focus. At Masterworks, we accomplish this by tackling strategy before we get to actually building a site. To be effective, your strategic roadmap must identify and prioritize:

  • Goals
  • Audiences
  • Actions
  • Features

Over the years, we’ve discovered that two of these areas are especially important: emphasizing goals and actions and serving specific audiences.

Focus on next actions to accomplish your goals

The key here is to ensure your site primarily focuses on what you want your audience to do. This usually leads to drastically cutting content. As a content strategist, I’m ruthless about making sure every single piece of content can be mapped back to a goal.

This kind of focus ensures that your site doesn’t get overgrown with content. Reducing the amount of unfocused content improves engagement.

Focus on real people to get real results

If you focus solely on your goals and the actions, you’ll miss a key ingredient. It’s essential that your site not only serves the needs of your users, but also engages and excites them.

The only way to really serve your audience is by getting to know them. You can spend a ton of money on user research, but there are ways to do it on the cheap as well. Run a site survey, conduct interviews with your supporters, or do a deep dive into the demographics in Google Analytics.

Once you have the data, define the major groups of people that you’re dealing with from a demographic perspective and tie those groups to specific actions. This will allow you to design content specifically for those groups instead of using your best instincts and assuming you think the same way as the general public. You likely have the curse of knowledge about your site. You’ve spent too much time with it to know how someone would really interact with it. A redesign case study

Prison Fellowship had an editorial-oriented website but was struggling to get visitors to their blog/news section. We worked with them to prioritize their audiences and products based on organizational objectives and then decided on a next action strategy which emphasized: every piece of content on the web should drive visitors to take a next action.

Our top objectives were: get gifts, get volunteers and get churches to sign up for their Angel Tree program. We built the site structure and designed the content strategy (web and social) around those objectives. Once they started creating content that was focused on their audience, their editorial engagement doubled. But that’s not all. The next action strategy raised all hard metrics as well. Here’s how things look compared to the same period in the previous year:

  • Church recruitment rose 464%
  • Organic online revenue rose 56%
  • Volunteer engagement jumped 250%

Keep in mind that although Prison Fellowship was a redesign, these principles apply even if you’re simply enhancing your site. Either way, I’d be happy to talk with you about how to increase the focus of your site. You can also read this post on whether you should focus on site enhancements or a redesign. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@doughj).

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