10 steps to making your Charity's website effective
Based on 10 years internet experience we are suggesting some ideas for making your website work for you – our underlying theme is that you want people to visit it; when they are there to spend time on it; find what they want and perhaps donate money; and to come back again.
1. MAKE YOUR WEBSITE FINDABLE
For most websites, a large chunk of their of traffic comes from search engines, mainly people “googling” to find the site. It is therefore vital that you do things that will make it findable and preferably come near to the top of the lists generated by the search engines (the search engine results pages or SERPS). There are two key steps:
- you need to make sure that you have lots of relevant content and that you use plenty of the words that are important to your subject. If you are a dog charity use “dog” and “dogs” in preference to “canine”: use simple words, in preference to long technical ones. You will hear reference to “keywords” – these are just the words that people use to search. You need to consider what people looking for, or who are interested in, your organisation would be searching for, and include those and related words in your site content, without compromising readability. The more material you have on the site the more likely you are to be found for specific and maybe unusual keywords.
- you need inbound links – links from other people’s sites to yours. Links are particularly effective at raising your website's profile within the SERPS, especially links from related or prestigious websites. You can ask people in your sector, suppliers and even your supporters to link to your site. Most of all, give people a reason to link to you: a table or list of useful information, a diary of forthcoming events in your sector or an authoritative guide to a subject.
2. BUILD A MAILING LIST OF SUPPORTERS
A mailing list enables you to send out targeted information and encourage people back to your website when there are updates. Mailing out is free and this helps you to keep in touch with supporters. Email has also been shown to be a very effective marketing medium – the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in the US found on average a huge $57.25 ROI (Return on Investment) for every dollar spent on it in 2005.
However, you should show respect by only sending appropriate, relevant and interesting material; not mailing too frequently; keeping people's email addresses private; and making it easy for people to unsubscribe.
There are two effective ways to get people on to the list:
- have a prominent subscription box on the appropriate pages of your website (you can see an example at www.woodlands.co.uk)
- use events or visits to your shop/office to ask people to fill in slips with their email address which you can then add to your list.
3. PROMOTE YOUR WEBSITE AT EVERY AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITY
Make sure that your website is widely promoted on, for example, letterheads, cards, all literature, promotional items, doorways, phone directory entries and anywhere else where you are specifying wording.
4. COPY YOUR WEB EDITOR INTO MOST INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS.
If you have an employee with responsibility for the website, make sure that he/she is “in the loop” so that the website can be kept up to date.
5. HAVE VERY CLEAR NAVIGATION THROUGHOUT YOUR SITE
It is very important that your site is easy to use – in particular, your information structure and your method of navigating through this structure must be obvious and straightforward. For example, do not simply mirror your organisational structure – it is likely that your users will have little interest in this. Rather develop a structure that holds your content in categories appropriate to tasks that users might wish to perform when on your site (eg about us, donate, what we do, contact us etc).
If your users find it hard to locate what they are looking for, they will most likely leave your site, and retain a negative impression of it which will reflect poorly on your organisation. There is lots of material online about usability which your web editor and designers/developers should be aware of, but a basic introduction is “Don't make me think” by Steve Krug.
6. USE A GOOD DOMAIN NAME
Ideally something short and memorable with the obvious suffix (probably .org.uk for a UK charity). If you are changing your website name you can of course have the old one and the new running in parallel for a transition period, or set up a forward to automatically redirect users from your old site to your new one. You can also use domain names to capture extra traffic that is going to the wrong address such as the right name with the wrong suffix, or names with and without hyphens (e.g. anorganisation.org.uk and an-organisation.org.uk). There is a short guide to good domain names at http://www.giraffe.co.uk/domainnames.php.
7. USE YOUR WEBSITE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WORKS
Initially you will have to guess what features or characteristics of your site are most effective at drawing in users, but once your website is up and running you should be able to test it out to see which items people click on, which pages they spend most time on, at what page in your website they arrive on, how many pages they view and so on. Your ISP hosting service will probably offer statistics which can be useful but in addition you can add something like Google Analytics to your website which gives you a very powerful and, above all, free web statistics package. There is no substitute for finding out how your users respond to your site - it is guaranteed that you will be surprised by the results!
Another way to find out what works is to do user testing. Sit next to new users of the website and watch what they do, perhaps set them tasks and watch how they go about performing them, and how easily they accomplish them (you must resist the temptation to give them guidance!). Things that you thought were obvious will not be so easy for them and you may decide some parts of the website or its information structure need redesigning.
8. HAVE A DONATION PAGE
People may want to give money to you using credit cards – make this possible and easy for them. You might also set up a special facility for donating to sponsored events. The advantage of this is that the person doing the sponsored walk, swim or run does not have to collect the money themselves and the donor doesn’t have to worry about whether the money gets to you. The facility could keep a record of how much has been raised by each sponsored supporter and the total for the event as a whole.
9. DO NOT TREAT YOUR WEB-DEVELOPMEMT AS A ONE-OFF
Websites are necessarily fluid entities that need constant updating. This is one of the main strengths of the medium as compared with traditional print media – the ability to react quickly to current trends, news stories, organisational changes etc. You can’t just make your site and forget about it.
Websites are rapidly becoming the main point of interaction between an organisation and its present and future supporters/customers, and because of this, your site needs to be a constant consideration within your organisation. The question of its cost needs to be split into costs of initial development and costs of maintaining and updating it.
10. ABOVE ALL
Ensure that your site is easy to use, that your visitors can find the information, or accomplish the tasks they are likely to be looking for, and make sure it is an accurate representation of the intentions and ethos of your organisation.