Top five web design mistakes unions make

April 18, 2012

As a union, large or small, your website is a vital piece of your campaigning and communications efforts. Members, supporters and potential members come to your site for a specific reason, whether it’s to join, support a campaign or get contact details. You want to ensure that you answer their questions and use your website promote your union’s campaigns and action.

If you get your website design wrong, you can waste thousands of dollars, and thousands of hours of someone’s time — not to mention frustrated members, lost potential members and supporters.

The overriding issue that links most of these mistakes is that unions don’t really know why they want a website or what it is supposed to do. What are your union’s goals? Can you boil it down to one or two main points? If not, you’ve probably got “feature creep” — too many ideas crowding your site.

Here are the top five web design mistakes that I’ve seen unions make.

1. Design is complex, busy or confusing

There are a lot of fantastic non-profit websites out there that unions should take a look at — as well as a few good unions sites — and the thing they have in common is that they are simple and easy to use. A serious problem I see with a lot of union websites is that they are crammed to the gills with all kinds of things plonked down seemingly at random.

Remember, you have ten seconds or less to help your visitor find what they are looking for before they press the back button. If you’ve got your homepage packed with social media links, photos, blogs, news, scrolling news bars, RSS feeds and so on, it’s going to make it confusing for people visiting your site. Read about this phenomenon — choice paralysis — here.

[box border=”full”]Solution: Get a good web designer. I’m in the habit of recommending professional agencies that are a track record of non-profit and for-profit sites. I think in Australia, you get what you pay for, and expecting a cheapie site by a “sympathetic” union-aligned communications agency to be the next Amnesty site is wrongheaded.[/box]

2. No clear call to action

This is the main cardinal sin that most unions commit for their website design.

What do you want visitors to do once they’ve found your website? Do you want them to subscribe to your newsletter, sign a petition, join the union, contact an organiser? You need to tell visitors what the next step is and when (ideally, now!). Your content should answer the question, “Why should I care?” and then the call to action tells them what to do next.

[box border=”full”]Solution: Read up about calls to action and think about the primary goal of your website is.[/box]

3. Paying too little or paying too much

This is a mistake I have personal experience with. It’s very easy for union officials and leaders with no experience with websites to be manipulated or led down a garden path by unscrupulous web agencies. There’s an entire crop of unions whose current websites cost a fortune but don’t have much to show for it. Similarly some unions have asked communication agencies and designers to do a website “on the cheap” and ended up with a useless website. A cheapie website can be a waste of a few thousand dollars.

If you’re a large union branch or a national union (wanting membership database integration, online campaign tools and joining, and lots of features), you’d be looking at a professional agency bill of over $200,000. A small union with a clear online communications and campaigns goal (and no database integration issues, willingness to use SaaS for email and other features) could get a website for as little as $10,000.

[box border=”full”]Solution: Make sure you get quotes from a range of web design agencies, beyond just the usual suspects, and do a bit of research outside the union movement. Ask a few equivalent sized non-profits for their advice.[/box]

4. Out-of-date content

I’ve seen a lot of union websites that haven’t been updated in months or even years! Members and potential members have a reasonable expectation that your website will have the latest information about your union. Most other websites they will visit, banks, Amazon, health insurance, etc, will be up-to-date.

Your union’s content should address the main reasons that your visitors — members, supporters, potential members — want. If you don’t know what those reasons are, find out. Do some research. If you’re getting a new website done, this should be one of the first tasks your web design agency does for you.

[box border=”full”]Solution: If you have a union blog, it should be updated regularly, at least fortnightly, and make it someone’s task to do it.[/box]

5. Doing it yourself

There are times to do make your own website. A small campaign site using WordPress or a HTML template is more than acceptable if you have no budget and a tight time-frame. But for your union’s main website, you should really invest in a professional.

Remember, your website is often a potential member’s first experience with your union. If it is not a good experience, you’re doing your union a disservice. First impressions are very important.

[box border=”full”]Solution: Unless there is an urgent need for your site to get a redesign (in which case, use a WordPress or HTML template), save up your pennies for a proper design firm to do it for you.[/box]


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