4 reasons your website isn’t working and what to do about it

photo credit: Gary Soup

You’ve got a great organization.  You help a lot of people.  If more people knew about what you do, they would want to join you– as audience members or clients,  donors or volunteers.  Then you’d be in a position to make even more great things happen.  So like many organizations,  you built a website.  Maybe you even started blogging.

But there is a problem.

To put it kindly, you aren’t exactly being overwhelmed by web traffic.

What’s up with that?

You may be turning off readers in these common ways.

You are hurting your reader’s eyeballs
Maybe you’ve chosen a tiny font.  Maybe the color palate is midnight blue with a scripty yellow font.  Maybe the page is overwhelming with tons of text or flashing messages about one offering or another.  Whatever the design disaster, if looking at your page is painful, potential readers will leave before they have a chance to discover what you have to offer.

Your visitors may also be clicking away from visual starvation.  If you page is all text it may not hurt exactly, but there is nothing to draw them in.  Try adding photos.  If you have great photos of your organization’s work, use them.  If you don’t, you can find all sorts of appropriate photos on the internet–just be sure to do so legally!

You are hurting your reader’s brains
We talked about this problem once before and it’s worth mentioning again.  Make sure the writing style of all your online communication matches the expectations readers have of the medium.  For example, blogs are primarily light reading.  The goal of each post should be to highlight one main idea and give readers an opening to discuss the issue with you in the comments.  If there is too much to process in 5-10 minutes, readers will, at best read without commenting, and more likely zone out and stop reading all together.  In any case, they won’t be sticking around, hanging on your every word.

This doesn’t mean there is no place for complex writing.  The more complicated your field, the more important it will be to show you have the intellectual chops to back up your claims.  Just don’t bring out the big guns first thing.  Offer your more complex writing as white papers or special reports.  They make great free bonuses for for signing up to receive your newsletter, which can help you build your mailing list–or you can let people download them, no strings attached, as part of your contribution to the field.

You forgot the “social” in social media

For many nonprofits, this will be your biggest hurdle.  You are already doing so much with so little, but if you want social media to work for you, creating an account and posting links to your new stuff is not enough.  You need to reach out to the people most likely to benefit from what you have to offer,  and engage them in genuine conversation about your content, and about other people’s content.  It’s not difficult, but it can be time consuming.  The key is to pick one or two venues in which to be active (hint:  go where your people are) and ignore the rest.  For a collection of resources on how to get started, check out the post, “Expensive isn’t (always) better.”  If you’d rather have personalized help, contact me.

You forgot to tell your readers what to do next
No matter how great your design, how perfect your writing, or how loyal your fans, if you want people to act, you have be specific about what you want.  Unless you specifically ask website visitors to read your blog, blog readers to sign up for your newsletter, or newsletter readers to donate to your cause, they will not do it.  The good news is a simple ask is often all it takes.  Decide what  you want visitors to do in each venue, then, in a clear and concise way, (as close to the top of the page as possible), ask them to do it.

This same advice pertains to blog comments.  If you want people to comment, ask a specific question and say “leave your answer in the comments.”  Then, when readers do comment, respond to each person.  People comment because they want to talk to you.  When you don’t respond they are less likely to come back.

Tools to make connecting easier

If you skip the rest of the advice and just make these technical updates, you will not see the results you hope for.  However, once the other areas are taken care of, these tools can help make it easier for your people to keep up with you–and to share your stuff with their friends.

  • Add RSS and e-mail subscription options to your blog. Why both?  People who use RSS love it–but lots of people don’t know what it is.  Everyone get’s e-mail.
  • Don’t be selfish.  Help your readers find other resources on the web that can help them.  One easy way to do this is to link to other resources in your blog’s side bar.  (Look to the right to see what I mean)
  • Submit appropriate articles to news aggregators like Association Jam (no more than 1-2 submissions per week) and Idealist News (no more than 2-3 submissions per week).  Be sure to read other articles on the site first to make sure what you are posting is appropriate for the audience.  To make the most of this strategy, submit a mix of articles–some from you and some from others in your field.  Caution:  posting lots of your writing and nothing else will get you labeled a spammer.
  • If you have an e-newsletter, (and you should) include an easy way for visitors to sign up for it on your website, blog, and Facebook fan page.
  • If you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, make it easy for readers to share your articles on twitter.  Eugen Oprea explains how. (If your blog is hosted at WordPress.com, this tip is not an option.)

Not sure where to start?  Help is available:

Your turn

What’s your biggest website turn off?  What makes you return to a site on a regular basis?  Share in the comments!

12 thoughts on “4 reasons your website isn’t working and what to do about it

  1. Institutional language might be fun for bureaucrats, but it doesn’t do the rest of us much good. Hell, I started a blog of my own because I was so tired of institutional language in my own field.

    Non-profits need to focus on their real audience and write for them – the unbreakable rule of writing.

    Nice post. I hope the decision makers get the message.

  2. Thanks Stacey and Marco. I think a big part of the problem is it’s easy to equate serious with boring–and boring is the death knell of the web.

    I forgot to mention I also really, really hate websites where music and/or videos start playing when you land on the page. Nothing makes me hit the back button faster. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m getting old or if it is universally annoying though–so I left it off the official list.

    • Hi Jessica–I may have been more than a bit inspired by some of your frustrations on the information super highway–but I realized your situation was pretty universal–so I expanded my chicken scratching into a full blog post. I hope it is helpful.

  3. What a great article! And I love your new logo by the way. If every non-profit site took these suggestions to heart, I can imagine that volunteers, donations and media exposure would take a noticeable upturn!

  4. […] In this post, I recommended you post links to your blog on news aggregators like Idealist News and Association Jam.  When you do so, do not use a bit.ly link.  Idealist News/Reddit, specifically list using any service that masks a link’s destination as a “don’t” on the redditquite page.  This is primary to keep spammers from gaming the system and tricking people into clicking onto their sites.  I know you are not a spammer–but the best way to keep it that way is to avoid spammer-like behavior. […]

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