Why did you start a website in the first place? Was it because staff, members, customers or clients kept asking or telling you to; or because it seemed like all of your colleagues, peers, or competitors had one; or because you thought it would get your message out to your constituents more efficiently or effectively?
The reason you started your website is not as important as the reason you keep it going and keep improving it. What we have learned in the past few years is that it is not just nice or good to have a website; it is essential to any organization’s vitality and growth. And if our website is more than 3 years old, it probably needs a new design or at least a refresh of content. (Groan…)
Three years is a long time by today’s standards because life is moving quickly and life on the Internet is evolving even more rapidly. The expectations of visitors are changing as are their needs and questions. Our website needs to about serving them.
One of the principles of web writing that has become very critical to online success is that visitor-centered copywriting is a must if we want to succeed.
In the past, those who wrote copy for bulletins, newsletters, magazines, and other print communications delivered the content that they wanted their readers to have. They organized the content according to their own organizational system (departments, ministries, groups, etc.). It made sense to them even though some, if not all, of it may have been irrelevant to some of the readers.
Times have changed. Does anyone read the parish bulletin word for word? Commercial newspapers and magazines are shrinking—people are not subscribing to them the way they used to. Today’s readers have many more sources of information and many different channels to access it. If we cannot deliver what they are looking for in a way that they want to receive it, they go somewhere else or give up looking. The question many parishes and organizations have to ask is “If people are not reading or even getting the bulletin or our newsletters, how else are we delivering our message to them?”
Website visitors are a new breed of readers. We have to be strategic in getting their attention, answering their questions and communicating our message. We must understand some basic elements and be sure that we include them in our planning process.
First, we should identify the primary and secondary audiences of our site and anticipate the questions users in each of these groups will have.
Second, our site’s design, navigation, and copy should direct visitors to the place where the answers to their questions are provided. The answers should be obvious and concise. Additional content can be provided, but let the visitor decide if he/she wants to read more. Don’t bury the answer in paragraphs they may not want to read. Being disciplined about this is very hard to do. When we are in charge or the experts, we’re always tempted to tell people more than they want to hear or read.
Third, give visitors contact information if they need to speak to someone directly.
Whether we are designing a new site or reviewing our current site, if we include these three steps, we will go a long way to producing an effective website.
What would you add?