I am often surprised at how little clarity there is about what really makes an effective charity website, on both client and agency side. However, on reflection there are some good reasons for this.
In this post I explore some of the pitfalls, many of which are well concealed and easy to fall into, and suggest some practical avoidance tactics.
1) Define success specifically
Many small organisations are run instinctively (I know this because I have run a few). While in the early stages of development this is fine, as the organisation develops it starts to be a problem. Bigger organisations are more complex and as they grow it becomes decreasingly likely that this complexity can be held in the heads of one or two people.
The same things go for marketing and communication departments within larger organisations. While the trustee board may have articulated clear organisational goals, the digital strategy often remains instinctive.
As marketing and comms manager, the most powerful approach to defining your goals is to articulate them to others. This assumes you are not 100% right and welcome critique.
2) Measure your achievements
If you think that articulating clear goals is difficult just wait until you try to make them measurable!
There is a reason why, after decades of management jargon coming and going, SMART goals remain. There are 1001 other blog posts on these but all you really need to know is what makes up the acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
In the digital realm, the most challenging element of SMART goals is measurement. Start simple and build this into a monthly review routine across your team. If you start simple you will soon begin to internalise the benefits of measurement because you will start to recognise the invigorating nature of small feedback loops.
Once you are measuring things within your digital strategy you will find that small changes can have tangible results quickly.
3) Define user journeys
User journeys only make any sense if you have clear website goals, so if you are unsure of #1 then you should probably start there.
Once you have clear goals, user journeys are the trial run for achieving them. Defining and testing user journeys is the simplest test of whether your website has the potential to meet your goals.
4) Write INTERESTING content
We have been working with one of our clients recently to improve their content strategy. They were investing lots of time into their 'news' section but couldn't understand why despite their efforts the section continually failed to attract traffic.
Organisations, like people, tend to over-estimate how interesting they are. Among our clients, 'news' sections attract very little traffic. This is largely because they contain information that is more interesting to the authors than to the readers. One of the simplest ways that many charities can improve their content is to talk less about themselves.
After spending time with this particular client, it transpired that within the 'news' section there was a lot of valuable content. By clarifying a bunch of audiences we were able to simply re-shape the presentation of the content as follows:
- Impact stories aimed at donors giving a personal story-based perspective on where their money is going.
- Thought pieces aimed at peers in the sector to promote cross-organisation debate on key challenges and issues.
- Best practice resources aimed at the broader sector which give away valuable lessons about service delivery thereby increasing the impact of the sector as a whole.
One secondary advantage of this restructuring was that the whole site started to feel more dynamic and up-to-date rather than all new content being in a single 'news' silo.
What could this approach mean for your charity?
5) Have clear calls to action
The call to action is your 'ask'. Whether you're asking for a donation, registering interest in volunteering, sharing a link, or signing up to a newsletter, these actions need to be clear.
You may have provided enough interest that users will give you their email address but if it's not clear how to do this or you ask for too many details then the price will outweigh the benefit and they will go elsewhere, just as an online customer of a business would.
How easy is it for your supporters to complete the action you're asking of them? What reward are they receiving as a result? Is the ask diminished by competing content? It's likely that using these type of questions as a framework to assess the quality of your website's calls to action will prove enlightening.
6) Learn and adapt
Arguably the most powerful trait in humans (and much of nature) is the ability to learn from our experiences and environment and adapt our behaviour accordingly.
As they say, 'change is the one constant in life'. Just like humans and their environment, organisations are in a constant process of learning and adapting.
In this context it is quite remarkable how many people think that the mark of a good website is one that is 'robust' enough to not need any modification for a period of three to four years.
Yes, you most certainly should not need to change the underlying technical framework of your website very often, but if you are not regularly measuring your site against its (evolving) goals and then making substantive changes then you should not be surprised if your website stops working without you even noticing.
Key action points:
- Externalise digital strategy goals in a way that invites correction and critique.
- Start measuring simple stats linked to specific goals and build this into a monthly review routine across your team.
- Map out your top 4 goals as user journeys.
- Remove any content that talks about you without clearly offering value to the reader.
- Do a clinical cost/benefit analysis on each of your calls to action.
- Build an organisational routine of reviewing and refining your digital outputs.