1 in 5 relationships start online. This means first impressions are everything and, usually, the first impression is made based upon the website experience. Sites that don’t clearly communicate who an organization is or its mission and values tend to have high bounce rates. So how can associations use their websites to initiate strong, lasting relationships?

The Importance of Your Website User Experience

Your website is open when your office is closed, providing information to visitors from all over the country or even the world. It’s your front line when it comes to generating membership and revenue. After all, something like 80% of all purchase decisions are made before the consumer even speaks to another human. As a culture, we’ve grown increasingly dependent on the internet and the immediate access to information we have at our fingertips.

Understanding that your website is really the first place where people will go to learn about you puts content, organization and imagery into perspective. A poor website experience could mean the difference between a member and a non-member or a new business lead and a lost opportunity. According to MarketingProfs, 50% of websites get only 15 seconds of attention. That’s roughly the amount of time it takes a four-year-old to sing the alphabet while washing his hands—I timed it last night. And, as powerful as a website can be in the execution of your marketing, membership and/or sales strategies, it can also be a weakness in your plan if it’s not working for your target audiences.

Incremental changes that could improve your website user experience

1. Simplify and embrace white space.

One of the most common challenges we face as consumers is a “too-busy” homepage. Too many messages, too many images, and too many calls to action. With the website “all over the place” it’s hard to focus on where you want to go (or where you should go). A site that attempts to do everything rarely does anything well. And, high bounce rates are usually a strong indication that the main message and call to action aren’t recognized by site visitors. So, take a step back and consider removing some of the competing imagery and headlines. Focus on your ideal audience path and make finding the next step as easy as possible for users.

2. Optimize the speed of your site.

While the internet has certainly changed the way we access information, it’s also probably played a role in reducing the average American’s attention span over the past two decades. To quote one of my favorite bands, Queen, “I want it all and I want it now.” #amiright? And, as infuriating as it is to us as consumers when the information we’re seeking takes forever to pull up, our website visitors also feel this pain if our website isn’t optimized to work quickly. Luckily, Google can help you figure out your site’s speed and even offers suggestions on how to improve overall load time.

3. Tell people what you want them to do.

Have you ever visited a retail sales site, found an item you like, and done nothing? Chances are, you clicked a button that said something along the lines of “buy now” or “add to cart”. Retailers make it as clear as day what they want us to do when we’re on their site. Do you? Are your calls to action clear and easy to spot?

4. Present content in a visually interesting way.

Make use of H1, H2, and H3 heading formats as well as numbered lists, bullet points, and even icons and photography to not only engage your website visitors’ eyes on the page but also to quickly draw their attention to specific content that either 1) provides a solution to a challenge they are currently facing, or 2) makes good on the promise you made them on social media or in display ads to get them to your site. Remember, with a shorter attention span, website visitors are more likely to skim content than carefully read it line by line. Break up your content to maximize skimming and hold their attention longer.

5. Stay true to your brand, from the logo to the images and beyond.

Have you ever visited the websites of two competing organizations and seen the same stock photography? While stock photography can fill the gap in terms of imagery that doesn’t exist yet for an organization, it shouldn’t be a long-term solution. Further, even stock photography should adhere to the brand and its style guide. Ultimately, imagery (and content) should create a connection between website visitors and your brand. If people “don’t get it” or have seen it before, you’re missing a major opportunity to build engagement and interest!

6. Clean up your site to improve the user experience.

Does your site have too many pages, include redundant content or have broken links? These are all issues that may confuse and frustrate your website visitors. Audit your site and ask, “Are we telling our story? Have we created a user path that guides visitors to our ultimate goal?” In the process, you may discover the path you’ve laid out is too long (too many pages), redundant or even broken (404 errors). The good news is you can check for broken links on your site through this free tool. And, it’s always a good idea to develop a 404 error page that admits something is broken on the site, apologizes, then sends the user to some working pages to continue their journey. Here’s Willow’s 404 error page. It’s a play on our pledge (ohh!) and includes an opt-in form to get our monthly newsletter and other cool bits of content.

7. Make sure anyone can access your site the way they want to view it.

My parents got rid of their home computer long ago and have replaced it with a tablet. I spend the majority of my screen time on my cellphone. And, like my family, your website visitors are coming to your page from various devices and on different browsers. How your site shows up on mobile or via Safari could make or break the user experience. Make sure your website is responsive and mobile-friendly. And, while you’re at it, consider whether or not your site is ADA compliant. For more information on website accessibility, here’s a great resource.

Remember, a website is an extension of your brand. And, your brand isn’t just a logo. A brand is an expectation that a person or group of people have when they encounter your organization’s name or likeness. It’s the sum total of all experiences and interactions people have with your organization and its people and the emotions those experiences evoke. And, it’s the beliefs people hold about your organization and what you stand for (whether true or not).

If you’re concerned that your website (or your brand) isn’t working for you, we’d like to help. Please reach out and let’s create some opportunities together. Or, if you’re looking for more information on website user-experience (or UX), read this blog post