The website. It’s your organization’s most valuable marketing tool. It is the first thing people check when learning more about you, after all—this is true of everyone from casual observers to passionate advocates to major donors and foundation program officers. Yet, the sad truth is a lot of nonprofit websites fail to perform.
When I say many nonprofit websites fail, I’m not talking about design. Your site may look good. But if it doesn’t perform—that is, if it doesn’t inspire visitors to sign-up, to donate, to take action or do whatever it is you’d like your visitors to do because it’s boring or difficult to navigate, then your website is failing you. It doesn’t have to. These six changes can help.
Before you can move forward, you need to know where you are. How will you know if changes to your site have really improved performance if you don’t know how it’s performing now? You won’t. With Google Analytics, you can how various elements of your site perform, see what keywords people are using to find you and track the conversion process—do people click on the donate button but drop off at a certain page before finishing? Is there a particular page that gets more email sign-ups than others? Monitor analytics for at least one month (three is better) to get a baseline view of how your site performs.
The navigation menu’s job is to help people easily find what they’re looking for. That’s it. It simply isn’t the place to get creative with design, placement or naming. Keep it simple and easy to figure out. For example, while a specific program name in the top-level menu might make sense to you, it won’t make sense to someone with no knowledge of your programs wanting to learn more. A menu option like “Programs” will. No, it’s not clever or unique, but that’s the point: people know what to expect from traditional navigation options, making it easier for them to, you know, navigate.
The main reasons people visit nonprofit websites are to get news and stay informed about the cause. Yet, I don’t know how many websites I’ve seen where you have to hunt for the e-news sign up, while a search bar is given prime placement in the top right corner of every page on the site. Too many. Make it easy for people to stay informed by including your e-news sign up at the top of every single page—your search bar can go somewhere else, it’ll be okay. Then, make it easy for people to complete your email form by requiring only the information you need, which shouldn’t be more than a name, email and zip code.
Like email sign-up forms, donate buttons are often hidden and obscured, or live only on the home page. A shame considering that 1 in 5 visitors to a nonprofit website are there just to donate. Again, make it easy for visitors by including a Donate button near the top of every page on your site. If you include the Donate button in your site’s main navigation, make sure it stands out from everything else by being bigger, bolder or a different color. Lastly, make sure the actual donation form is no more than one or two clicks away—people shouldn’t have to click through pages and pages just to give you money. Make it easy for them to help you.
A huge problem with many nonprofit websites is the copy. Besides having way too much of it, copy is frequently written like it belongs in an academic journal: boring and dry third person with too much jargon and stats no one cares about. When it comes to writing for the web, keep it short, snappy and sweetened with visuals. Think of it as a conversation—talk with people through your copy using the simplest language possible. charity: water is great at providing chunks of text with striking graphics that gets across information in an engaging and readable way.
You can have the best, user-friendly site, but it’s kind of pointless if no one ever visits. While press, social media and all other kinds of getting the word out are important, do not underestimate the power to be found by a simple Google search. Even the most basic SEO can help with that. If you consider only one SEO related thing, make sure it’s Page Titles. Every page on your website should have a unique one—and it should include more than just your name (but keep it under 60 characters). For example, are you a local youth center in Detroit? A page title like “Your Org Name | Helping troubled youth in Detroit, MI” will help people who have no idea you exist find you better than using just your name. Also helpful: regularly updated content, optimized urls and using header tags throughout your site. Please note: by header tags, I mean header tags [h1, h2, h3…] and not simply making the font larger or bolder. Finally, add a short (160 characters or less) but sweet meta-description, and your site will be in a much better position to not just get found, but also visited. And there you have it. With these six changes, not only will people find you more easily, but the website they do find will be one whose performance makes the grade.