4 Best Practices for Association Web Design

What can you do in seven seconds?

You might be able to shuffle a deck of cards, text a friend a birthday message, or chew and swallow your favorite fun-sized candy bar. The point is, that’s not a lot of time. And seven seconds is all the time you have to grab your website visitors’ attention.

This means your association’s website visitors have short attention spans, even when they’re visiting for a specific purpose, such as to pay dues or register for an event. To use your seven seconds effectively, you’ll not only need great content and resources on your site. You’ll also need effective web design that provides an excellent user experience.

We know that designing a great website is easier said than done, especially because you might not be a coding expert or webmaster. But there’s no need to stress—with a content management system (CMS) built for associations, you can easily incorporate the following design best practices into your website:

  1. Use consistent branding.
  2. Adhere to accessibility guidelines.
  3. Add an intranet network and private pages.
  4. Ensure your website is mobile friendly.

As you design your association’s website, think through what your members need and want from your site. Ask yourself, “How can we make our website more useful for our members?” and “What types of information are members looking for when they visit our website?” These questions will guide you as you design the look and layout of your website.

1. Use consistent branding.

Your association’s brand is made up of your mission, stances and values, and visual elements like logos, fonts, and color schemes. These elements work together to show the world what your association is all about. That’s why your website’s branding should be consistent with other public-facing elements of your association, like your marketing materials and social media pages.

Web Design-branding

Consistent branding is crucial to your website’s success for two reasons:

  • Consistent branding allows your association and what it stands for to be easily recognizable by members and the public. Good branding helps with publicity, so if you’re looking to recruit more members or get people to register for your upcoming conference, having a consistent brand will help them find you on the web.
  • Consistent branding helps your association appear professional and organized. It’s confusing for members to see a poster for a volunteer opportunity with your association that is branded one way and then to get on your website only to see seemingly different branding altogether (or no branding at all!). What this communicates to your members is that your organization doesn’t have its act together. To avoid this, make sure your team is on the same page about what should and shouldn’t be included as part of your association’s brand across all your operations.

If you’re struggling to identify what your association’s brand actually is or feeling like it’s a little dated, it might be time for a thorough brand refresh. Frequently revisiting and re-evaluating your brand can help your team streamline your public look and message and increase your association’s brand recognition among your target audience.

2. Adhere to accessibility guidelines.

One critical component of good web design is accessibility. Having an accessible website means that people using assistive technologies (like screen readers) are able to easily navigate your website’s content.

When designing your website, adhere to the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). Here are some easy ways you can make sure your website is up to par:

  • Use text and graphics that have a high contrast ratio. A high contrast ratio makes it easier for people with visual impairments to read your web content. Black text on a white background provides the highest contrast ratio.
  • Choose easy-to-read fonts. No one likes to waste time deciphering a wacky font. Keep things simple by choosing a sans-serif font, as these are typically better for web content.
  • Add alt-text to images and graphics. Alt-text describes an image or graphic for a website visitor using a screen reader, meaning there won’t be any holes in their browsing experience even if they’re unable to clearly see your images.
  • Offer closed captioning and transcripts for multimedia elements. Multimedia elements like videos can’t have alt-text, so if you’re providing important information in a video (or a podcast), consider providing a transcript that is clearly labeled. You can also use free online tools to provide closed captioning on videos.
  • Include an accessibility widget. The right CMS for associations will allow you to add an accessibility widget to your website. This puts power in the hands of your website visitors, giving them the ability to change the coloring of the website to greyscale, increase the font size, and highlight links for easy access.

Though following accessibility guidelines may seem like a lot of work, in the end having an accessible website will only benefit your association. An accessible website will allow you to connect with people of all abilities who might be interested in working with or joining your association. Plus, your reputation will likely get a healthy boost when people see you’re making a concerted effort to welcome every visitor to your website.

3. Add an intranet network and private pages.

One of the greatest benefits of association membership is the bonds your members form with others in your professional field or those who have similar interests and values. It’s part of your job as an association leader or membership manager to facilitate opportunities for members to mingle, network, and advise each other. This is why a portion of your website should be dedicated to members-only resources, like member directories, forums, job boards, private event pages, or a members-only blog.

With a CMS built for associations, you can easily keep these sensitive and exclusive parts of your website secure by creating a password-protected intranet network. This will help you establish a strong community within your association and prove to your members that being part of your organization is worthwhile.

Here are some tips to ensure that your members-only web resources stay secure:

  • Monitor account registration and deny any suspicious-looking registration attempts.
  • Encourage your members to regularly update their passwords.
  • Consider requiring a two-factor authentication sign-in process to preserve the security of your site.

On top of providing valuable information and resources to your members, emphasizing security and creating an intranet network also shows your current and prospective members that you’re a trustworthy organization. People will be more willing to give you their contact information or payment information when they feel confident in your web security measures.

4. Ensure your website is mobile friendly.

We’ve all encountered websites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices, and it can be a frustrating experience to pinch and zoom to read pages and view images that aren’t mobile responsive.

Much of what your association does revolves around keeping your members involved and up-to-date on your operations. This means members want to be able to find out about your upcoming events and opportunities while they’re on the go, so your website must be phone and tablet friendly.

Here are a few things you can do to optimize your site for mobile devices:

  • Use a CMS that takes care of mobile responsiveness automatically.
  • Make forms like your donation or dues form “thumb friendly” by including drop-down menus and single input areas.
  • Ensure pop-up windows scale to mobile devices so that website visitors can easily exit out of them.
  • Compress images to increase your website’s load speed.

When your website is mobile friendly, it will be much easier for your association’s members to use it on a regular basis. Plus, a mobile-friendly website can encourage users to share your content straight from their phones, whether they’re emailing a webinar registration form to a colleague or sharing a blog post on social media.

And optimizing for mobile devices doesn’t mean you have to give up a sleek look for your website. Check out Morweb’s list of the best nonprofit websites to get inspired by captivating websites you can mimic in your own design.

The Gist

Even if you have little to no web design experience, there’s no need to settle for a subpar association website. With a CMS designed with associations in mind and a knowledge of these best practices, you can design a beautiful, easy-to-use website that will help you get information and resources out to your members and continue cultivating lasting relationships.

This is a guest post from Murad Bushnaq

Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software and strategic communication.