How Associations Can Increase the Value of their Websites
Will Lutterman, Former Digital Strategist
Websites play a critical role in shaping how members perceive an association and interact with the broader organization. What can an association do to increase the value of their website?
Earlier in my career, I worked with mission-driven professional associations and trade organizations. I’ve seen firsthand the magic these organizations have to transform their industries and professions, but I’ve also learned some of the structural challenges that every association is facing. The longer I work at Viget, the more I realized the degree that these associations could have benefited from the user research, behavioral analytics, and technological re-imagination that are commonplace in our Viget projects.
Many conversations on the future of associations focus on the need to modernize rapidly and maintain relevance among members. Associations' interactions with their prospects and members increasingly happen digitally, and an association's online properties contribute significantly to people's perceptions of the association. Some organizations use surveys to learn and improve, but an opportunity exists to gather better insights by directly measuring users' behavior.
What Does It Meant To Conduct Research?
There are two main areas of focus to Viget’s research:
1) To better understand the goals of users
This answers questions such as, “What are users trying to use this website for?” and “What are users expecting for this website?”
2) To measure how a site performs against set goals
This answers questions such as, “Are members finding the educational content we’ve created?” and “If they are finding this content, are they engaging it?”
Associations must understand the reality of how people perceive and interact with their organization before they can make informed decisions about how to update their digital properties.
Say an association has invested in a tool or functionality on its website (e.g., a online community), but the tool hasn't received expected levels of use. The decision of how to proceed depends on whether low usage is the result of users perceiving the tool to be of low value — or just because the tool isn't easy to find.
Improved site performance, resulting from decisions influenced by user research, can help associations increase their membership base, improve overall satisfaction, and increase membership engagement, such as RSVPs for events.
Four Easy Next Steps
At my time at Viget, I’ve seen four ways associations can improve their websites using research and data:
- Conduct an analytics audit. We’ve found that the low-hanging fruit is ensuring your data collection methods and analytics are properly set up and configured. Often, organizations may not be properly collecting data or insight, so it’s impossible to understand how visitors interact with your site.
- Engage with an expert partner. While your association is an expert on your members and your organization, you may want to consider enlisting a UX, research, or Google Analytics partner. By doing so, you’re working with subject matter experts to assess your site, analyze data, and identify key areas for improvement.
- Talk to your members. While it’s common to send member surveys or ask for feedback, it’s rare that associations ask for specific feedback about key areas of functionality on your site. As I mentioned earlier, your website is a key way members’ perceive your association. So using interviews or survey tools to specifically ask members if they can access specific content or tools becomes crucial.
- Assess site performance. Site performance is not typically a priority of many organizations. But people have high expectations for sites, particularly when you think of load speed. Slow page loads and page rendering drive people away, which will ultimately decrease revenue, discourage prospects to become a member, and lower the quality of your association brand.
The Tools to Use
Below are some tools for getting started with user research:
Google Analytics for KPIs
Google Analytics will help you measure key performance indicators (KPIs) such as membership signup rate, churn rate of members, and frequency of return visits from key segments (e.g., current members). Google Analytics is one of the web’s most comprehensive tools to understand how users interact with your site. It’s certainly worthwhile investing in proper configuration, advanced analysis, and training your team about ongoing data quality.
Hotjar for Site Intercept Surveys and Heatmaps
Surveys and heatmaps allow you to build upon the data garnered from Google Analytics. Clickstream analytics such as GA will tell you the "what," but on-site surveys will tell you the "why" behind user intent. Heatmaps, by tracking where users click, will help you create a more robust understanding of how users are engaging on the site and what they are doing in aggregate that they may not have expressly stated.
Go2Meeting and YouCanBook.Me for User Interviews
Asking the right questions will help your team understand how users perceive and use the site, as well as provide context to data. Go2Meeting is a useful tool for conducting, and more importantly, recording interviews with participants, and we’ve found that YouCanBook.Me is indispensable in scheduling interviews.
This is just a sample of some of the tools you or a partner might use to collect site data, assess how users interact with the site, and conduct interviews.
The Larger Context
If you’re a leader in the association industry, you’ve been told that your industry has been changing for a while now. In fact, many vendors and consultants use this as a key point to sell their services, products, and web applications. From my experience, I would encourage you to use data and research before implementing new web solutions immediately.
By first understanding your users and how they interact with your website, you’ll not only be able to correctly diagnose issues (e.g., the site is slow, users cannot find a tool), rather than attempting to immediately solve it by building a new feature or redesigning the entire website.
This will lead to a more elegant, effective website that members will love to visit and use. Websites are key components of an association's overall brand equity. If members are not proud to use your website, it’s not likely that they will feel confident about joining your organization or telling their peers and colleagues that they should keep their members. Associations will need to leverage research as they continue their transformation into digital-first organizations.
Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about how research or data can help drive increased value for members. To see it in action, check out this article that walks through how user research and data science can solve business challenges.