37 Must-Have Strategies to Better Engage Website Visitors, Part 1
[Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a four-part series on the session “37 Must-Have Strategies to Better Engage Your Website Visitor” at the Bridge Conference.]
The central hub for any nonprofit organization in today’s world is its website. It is where donors go to learn more about your organization, research, sign up and even donate. That’s what makes having an engaging, user-friendly website so critical for fundraisers.
At the 7th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference last week in National Harbor, Md., three fundraising technology professionals shared some website best practices in their session “37 Must-Have Strategies to Better Engage Your Website Visitor.” Here are the first eight strategies from presenters Sue Anne Reed, account manager, online fundraising at The Engage Group; Allyson Kapin, founding partner of the RAD Campaign; and Rob Manix, director of marketing technology at Defenders of Wildlife.
1. Keep your design simple and clean
You don’t want your website to be cluttered and confusing when visitors get there. Keep it simple and clean, with a good balance of copy and imagery. A good example, said Reed, is Defenders of Wildlife’s website.
2. Keep your navigation easy to use
Reed provided the examples of the League of Conservation Voters and DoSomething.org. She said both organizations do a tremendous job of keeping the design very simple and making sure donors know what those organizations want them to do. That — making it clear what you want donors to do — is key, she said.
3. Put your important messages first
When visitors get to your website, they should see the most important messages you want to get across before anything else. More and more, organizations are using light boxes or overlay shades to put that main message they want to get across first, really making it stand out, Reed said.
For example, GirlEffect.org uses its entire home page to display a prominent message, with the option to skip to the main site underneath. Currently when you go to GirlEffect.org, up pops in large text: “THE WORLD COULD USE A GOOD KICK IN THE PANTS,” followed by a button to “AGREE” or a button to “DISAGREE.” It’s a great way to get its message across right from the get-go.
4. Make sure your website visitors know where you want them to go
Harkening back to No. 2, Kapin said you have to have a clear and intuitive navigation setup that moves website visitors along to the places you want them to go. She shared the example of Little Angels Needy Children & Orphan Project, which has a "WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP!" section right on its homepage.
“Navigate people where they want to go but also where you want them to go,” Kapin said. “You want to have a clear path to the donate page and give people several ways they can donate — even by mail and phone.”
Manix added that Defenders of Wildlife launched a website redesign in April to add the options to join, renew, donate and adopt on every page of its website, making it clear that’s where it wants visitors to end up.
5. Use a prominent donate button
“Have it in the header, and make it really easy to find and easy to donate,” Reed said. “If people can’t find your donate button, they’re gone.”
Kapin added that she’s done a lot of testing with donate buttons and found that if you change the color of your donate button to make it stand out, it increases the amount of people who click on it. For instance, during the Obama campaign in 2008, a red donate button really worked well. Since, Kapin said, she has found that just a color contrast that’s different from the rest of the navigation on your site increases clicks on the donate button, for instance using a green donate button on a red background.
Reed said Best Friends Animal Society and Paso Pacifico have strong donate buttons.
6. Choose an appropriate color scheme
Make sure your website’s color scheme matches your organization’s other materials. Plan ahead before you start to code what colors you want to use for your design, link color, text, etc., said Reed.
She suggested using a palette generator to find matching colors if you have to adhere to specific branding guidelines. If there is a strong branding color you have to follow, using palette generators such as kuler.adobe.com or colorschemedesigner.com allows you to put in a color and then generates a palette to use on your site that doesn’t create a lot clashing. It’s all about keeping a cohesive design.
7. Test your links
“There is nothing worse than someone coming to your site, clicking on a link and getting a 404 error page,” Reed said. That’s what makes testing your links so vital. There are several tools available to help automate link checking, such as validator.w3.org/checklink and home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html
8. Use great images to help tell your story
Manix said using images is a given for Defenders of Wildlife because animals lend themselves so well to imagery. Plus, images help grab people’s attention.
“People’s attention spans are something like 2.7 seconds online,” he said. “If you’re text-heavy, you’ll lose someone. On all landing pages, we have rotating carousels of animals. Whatever speaks to your supporters, those are the images you should use.”
Manix said Defenders of Wildlife keeps its images up for five seconds on its rotator, but there is still debate among his colleagues on the timing. Kapin added that to decide how long images should remain on screen, you should think of your audience. If it’s an older audience, she said, you may want to keep them up there for seven or eight seconds, while if your visitors skew younger, you may want to try three or four seconds. Of course, it’s best to test it and see what works for your audience.
Check back for the remaining 29 strategies.