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DIY Engagement Benchmarking Survey Section 2: Website

Resources for creating an engaging website.

Even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, your website is still the hub of your online work. It's the place where you have the best opportunity to move people to take meaningful action and make donations. It's where potential donors go before they write a check. It's where online action takers land to sign a petition. It's the place that comes up when people search for your organization, and its address is written on every piece of communication you send out. To make a long story short, it's important.

So how do you make it an engaging experience? How does your website connect people more deeply to your work?

You don't necessarily need expensive, flashy technology to create an engaging online experience. But you do need to make a commitment to putting your audience, rather than your organization, at the center of your site.

Knowing your audiences

You can't build an engaging website (or be an engaging organization) until you understand who you're engaging. Who are you trying to talk to? What do you need them to do for your organization to succeed? And what value are you offering them in exchange? The more specific you can be in answering questions about your audience, the easier it will be to find ways to serve them online.

At Groundwire, we work with clients to capture audiences, roles, and values in a simple spreadsheet that we refer back to throughout our project. Putting it on paper gets everyone on the same page, and makes it easier to brainstorm great ideas for engagement.

A valuable service

Once you've got your audiences nailed, think about how you can offer them something they'll value on your website -- ideally, something they can't get anywhere else. An ideal service is something that:

  • Provides something of real value (think: would someone be willing to pay for it?)
  • Leverages an expertise or resource that is unique to your organization
  • Gives you an opportunity to capture information from people and engage them in your mission.

A great example is Washington Trails Association's hike finder -- it provides a real value for Washington hikers (WTA's primary audience) and it connects them directly with WTA's mission. It's flat out the best way to find a hike in Washington state.

But services don't always need to be that sophisticated. In some cases, you might simply be able to provide information about an issue you're working on, or curate resources.  But I guarantee that if you get your staff in a room with your audience spreadsheet on the wall (you did make one of those, right?), you'll come up with plenty of ideas.

Audience-centered design

Make sure your website is organized and designed for your audience and not for your staff. Just because you divide your work into programs and departments doesn't mean that's how your website should be structured.  People are only willing to click around for so long looking for something before the give up and go somewhere else.

If you want to reorganize your site, you can start by going back to your audience spreadsheet (you did make one of those, right?) and thinking about what different individuals audience might be looking for and how they'd find it. Even better, invite some of your constituents to your office, buy them some pizza, and ask them to help you.  A simple card-sorting exercise can give you a lot of insight into the way people think of your site and your work.

Great content

Every single piece of content you create for your website should be developed with one or more of your critical audiences in mind. Who wants to read this? Why will they find it valuable? What do you want them to do? Is this content part of the process of getting them to do it? You should be able to answer all of these questions before you invest staff resources into content creation.

That audience focus should also guide the style and tone of your content. Unless your audience is scientists or policy wonks, don't write about PPMs or HJRs. Focus on telling a good story.  Keep it brief and use headers to make it scannable. And make sure you include great pictures.

Don't forget to ask

What do you want your site users to do?  I don't mean on your website, I mean in the world.  While you're busy offering value and writing great content, don't forget to ask people for what you need.  Make sure that your asks are clear, compelling, and connected to the content your audience is interested in.

Take the Survey

Resources: Section two

Groundwire's 2010 Website Benchmark Report, Groundwire

You're Promoted.  New Job Title: Fearless Champion of Member Experience, biro creative

What is Your Engagement Superpower? Groundwire

Usability Testing with Card Sorting, Six Revisions

Why Non-Profits Need User Experience Design, Advomatic

6 Ways to Make Your About Us Page Say More About You, Groundwire

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