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Learning from Website Superstars - 7/10/2012 -

What are the hallmarks of EXCEL Award-winning websites that keep their members engaged?

 

By Amanda Charney

Blink.

That’s about how long it takes for a piece of technology or a web design trend that was once cool (a nanosecond ago) to quickly be come a "don’t.” Frustrating indeed.

But still, the fact remains, as we continue to compete with other professional or trade associations, the power of Google, and myriad other information sources being thrown in our members’ directions, we must be as creative and resourceful as possible to keep them engaged through our websites.

At Association Media & Publishing’s 2012 Annual Meeting, website design, navigation, and content were key topics, dominating the pre-conference workshop and finding their way into several other sessions and roundtables. During "Emerging Trends in Website Design,” Association Media & Publishing board members and association veterans Angel Alvarez-Mapp (Masons of California) and Kim Howard (Association of Corporate Counsel) used a few of this year’s EXCEL Award winners as platforms for best practices and tips for revamping or redesigning websites.

At the 2012 Association Media & Publishing EXCEL Awards, the big hits this year included sites from the Boy Scouts of America, Society of Actuaries and Casualty Actuarial Society, Habitat for Humanity, and American Academy of Family Physicians, to name a few. Though these four organizations serve vastly different purposes and audiences, there were some key similarities in how they presented content on their award-winning websites; keep these ideas in mind as you look to update or redesign your site:

· Dominant images—draw your customers in with a strong image that depicts your mission and members.

· Short, punchy headlines and links—be brief, but descriptive enough that your members know where they’re going.

· Keep it clean and open—create space and select your categories and main links carefully. When there’s too much clutter, your members won’t be able to find anything.

· Streamlined social media integration—use just the icons, as they are well known. No need to include "Find us on Facebook”; it just adds more clutter and text to the site.

· Clear and consistent navigation—use more imagery and/or icons to identify categories; you’ll cut down on text while making a stronger connection with your members.

What you might also notice about these websites is that there are no bells and whistles, no flashing icons or audio automatically piped in, and limited (but carefully selected) video. With so much competition for our members’ time and attention, it’s more critical now than ever to create a site that’s eye-catching and easy to navigate. Remember: Your members can always find information elsewhere—make sure they come to your site and stay there.

More tips from the experts:

· Readers scan websites in an F pattern—position your key messages and action items where your members will be most likely to see them.

· Include an option to increase point size—this allows you to have the clean look you want on your homepage but offer a bump in size for those readers who might need it.

· Cut to the chase—choose your audiences and make them clear and concise within your navigation.

Amanda Charney is the director of publications for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, where she’s the project manager for the organization’s website redesign.


 

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