11 Common Mistakes Associations Should Avoid
We hear this from associations all the time: “We’re complicated.”
Our association clients come to us with frustrating stories about how they can’t get anything done on their website. They have too many systems. Their members can’t find what they’re looking for. Or the organization’s stakeholders just don’t agree on, well, anything.
The truth is it’s not as complicated as you might think. Many of the challenges that associations face online are common problems that have resulted from decades of growth. We often see associations that have tacked on system after system to handle their growing needs, but they’re lagging behind the latest technology and may not be thinking strategically about the right way to grow.
Isn’t it time your association had a website that lives up to your organization’s crucial mission? Here are 11 of the most common mistakes we see associations make and how we can help you solve them.
Not set up for digital.
A lot of associations have been around for ages. Their departments are siloed. It often feels like people are pursuing separate missions. To make your website work, you need to break down these walls and pursue a digital transformation that reimagines how the organization operates and how your website is governed.
Too many websites.
Most associations have more than one website. There’s the meeting site, a marketing campaign site, an initiative launched in 2015 and sometimes dozens more. We typically hear that a bad content management system (CMS) made it easier to create a new site rather than add to the existing one. What we do is build you a better CMS that can grow and put all your properties onto one system that’s easier to manage, better for SEO and better for your members.
The site is organized like the organization’s departments.
When you look at your site’s navigation, does it resemble your association’s org chart? This is an easy trap that many associations fall into. The problem is that users don’t think like internal departments. They may need information about a particular topic, but they don’t care if it was created by the education or the events team. Our number one goal when developing a site’s architecture is to align your user’s needs with your own.
Not providing enough member value online.
You could have a cutting-edge website with all the bells and whistles, but your site won’t succeed if it doesn’t contain benefits your members find valuable. You probably have the
content—you just need to package it correctly. Rethinking how you deliver content and products online can make your website as valuable as the annual meeting.
Requiring members to sign in more than once.
In the age of Amazon, members expect to sign in once and get everything their membership offers at their fingertips. But far too often, members are required to find their password and sign in again when they want to buy a product, read a paper, register for the meeting or connect with other members. Platforms like OAuth help solve this problem by connecting separate systems and giving your members a seamless experience.
Valuable content is on another platform.
Many associations publish a highly valued journal that reveals the latest research and trends in the profession. Too often that journal is on a distinct publishing platform, so members have no reason to visit the main site. Instead, associations should integrate the journal and the primary experience. If that’s not possible, we recommend pulling in some journal content via an API and showing it on relevant pages to add value.
Giving away too much for free.
One of the biggest challenges you may face when building a new website is deciding what’s free and what’s for members. It’s common for associations to give away valuable resources, so site visitors don’t have a reason to sign in or join. We challenge associations to think strategically about how to gate your content. When gating, we encourage you to make sure that non-members can see the first couple of paragraphs or a summary of the content so they know what they’re missing.
Members use Google instead of your search.
We hear it from just about every focus group we do. Members use Google instead of the website’s search because the search is broken or it doesn’t provide the results they’re looking for. This problem is easily remedied by putting together a thoughtful search strategy and integrating a top-of-the-line search platform like Coveo that offers advanced search capabilities.
Lacking a governance plan.
As associations grow, they often begin letting people across the organization update the website. When everyone is publishing content, there’s no overlying strategy, there are too many messages, and the organization’s mission gets lost. Spending the time to create a governance plan will give your website a clear content strategy, editorial structure and workflow.
Missing a consistent voice.
Voice is one of the most overlooked components of an association website. It’s not enough to have a mission, you need to make people care about your mission. That’s where voice comes in. Before we write a single word, we develop powerful voice descriptors that connect with visitors on an emotional level and convert them to your cause.
Not attracting younger members.
One of the most common things we hear from associations is that their membership is aging and they’re struggling to attract the next generation. The solution? Create content young members value or package it in a way that speaks to them. The best way to do that: Make content that is essential to their career and professional development so they won’t have any choice but to register.