Paul Beaton outlines five key areas that can make all the difference to your website. First impressions count

Your website is one of the first places that someone will go to find out about you. Often, this will be the first time they have come across your organisation. As the saying goes – first impressions count!

You would never print a brochure that was off-brand, contained out of date information, had spelling mistakes and was difficult to read; yet this is a regular occurrence on websites, which will leave visitors feeling unimpressed, confused and unengaged. Not following best practice with your online presence is likely to result in you missing out on potential donors, volunteers or members.

Essentially – if you don’t care about your website; the people viewing it won’t care about you. The good news is that having a great website doesn’t necessarily require a large budget; just considering the five following areas is a great way to get started.

1. What you say and how you say it

Good design is very important, but the reason people are visiting your website is not to marvel at the brilliant animation you have flying across the screen, or to be impressed by how pretty it looks! They visit your website to find out something about your organisation, to make a donation, to look for a job or understand what you do, among many other things.

In short – it doesn’t matter how pretty your website looks if there’s nothing to read and nothing to engage people with the work you do. Keep in mind:

If your content is out of date it looks like you are not active or doing anything worthwhile. If you use social media such as Facebook and Twitter – link to them from your website. Tell people what you are doing. Give visitors a reason to come back to the website by providing new information on a regular basis. 2. Make it easy to use

Usability refers to how easy or difficult it is for someone to interact with a website. Visitors might have any number of questions when interacting with your website: How do I donate? Where is the report that I read last year? How can I receive the newsletter? Do you have membership? Can I join? What does that button do?

Don’t make it hard for them!

Write in plain English. Don’t use jargon, acronymns or technical terms. Don’t confuse people with too many navigation items; keep the structure of the website simple. Consider the things that you might want a visitor to your website to do and make it easy for them to do those things with clear links and helpful language. Make it obvious to the visitor what section of the website they are in – use a clear trail of navigation links (breadcrumbs) and highlight the current section being viewed. Don’t make the visitor go back to the home page between each page they visit. Test the usability of the website – ask some people who haven’t used the website to try and complete some simple tasks. 3. Engage, engage, engage!

Having a well-structured, well-designed and usable website is a great start – but there’s still more to do. Visitors need to be inspired if they are to take action on your website. Engage visitors with your organisation and show them how they can be part of it – explain how their donation will help or what the benefits are in becoming a member.

Having a big red donate button doesn’t help if people don’t know why they should donate or what will happen to their money. Make clear what the cause is and exactly who will benefit from the work your organisation does. Use case studies to highlight the fact that getting involved makes a difference. If you offer membership, clearly explain the benefits. Use imagery to attract visitors’ attention. Engage people immediately on the home page – they need to have a reason to click through the rest of the website. 4. Calls to action

When people visit your website, there should be clear and obvious next steps they can take. Good design will draw users’ attention to certain areas of the page where they can take action. Items such as ‘donate’, ‘join us’, ‘volunteer’ and ‘sign up to the newsletter’ need to be clear and visible on every page – don’t hide them! Think about what you want your visitors to do, and lead them in that direction.

5. Be accessible

Ensure your website and its content are easily accessible to users with any kind of disability – otherwise, you risk excluding some users from engaging with you and giving the impression that you don’t care about them. It’s also a legal requirement (under the Disability Discrimination Act) that you make an effort to ensure any services you provide are accessible.

If you are having a website built, make sure the web agency knows that you expect it to meet accessibility guidelines. (Many are either unaware of the issues around it or don’t consider it important.) When you are adding images to your website (if your Content Management System allows it) always provide ‘Alternative Text’ via the ALT tag. Provide a site map of your website. Avoid drop-down menus. They have little benefit and cause difficulty for some users.

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