Your Website as an Experience of Your Brand
Your organization’s brand is more than just its logo, its name, or how it all looks on letterhead. It starts with the core purpose and vision your organization hopes to fulfill and goes all the way through how people experience your organization—via programs, events, videos, newsletters, and yes, your website.
If you had to describe your organization in a single word or idea, what would it be? What about your personality? Are you more professional and academic; hip and cutting-edge; or grassroots and responsive? Now, keep that idea and those adjectives in mind, and take a fresh look at your website…
- Is the single idea that you want people to associate with your organization immediately apparent?
- Does the general design of the site—including navigation, colors, content, and features—reflect the personality you want participants, donors, and advocates to associate with you?
- Did you develop your website with these audiences in mind? Do you involve them in the ongoing operation of your organization’s website in any way?
Many nonprofits invest in a logo design and messaging work and strive to communicate their organization’s brand consistently, with varying degrees of success. Although your website is only one application of your brand, it is one you must pay increasing attention to. Your website represents your organization 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People trying to get help or information will come visit your site from work, from home, from the library, even from their phones day and night. If they can’t find what they need from your site immediately, they’ll go elsewhere, and you may have lost them forever.
In addition to helping those looking for services, your site needs to answer existing and potential donors’ questions. In this tough economy, donors are being even more critical of how their dollars are being spent. Presenting your work in a credible and engaging way—through design, copy, structure, and interactive functionality—reassures donors of their investment.
Here are a few simple things you can do to improve the experience of your brand through your website.
- Look at your domain name. Is your URL an acronym that only insiders have any real connection to? OR is it so long that people easily misspell or forget it? Having a URL that is easy to remember and also contains some of your target keywords helps for marketing and search engine placement, but it’s important to look at it from all angles. Your organization thought hard about its name, so apply some of the same questions to your domain name. And once you come up with some ideas, reserve them soon—before someone else does.
- Compare your website to other materials. At the next staff meeting, place examples of the past two years’ worth of communications on the table—newsletters, annual reports, appeals, etc. Then pull up your organization’s website, e-newsletters, and online appeals on a computer monitor. How do they all look together? Does the same feel and message immediately come across or does it feel like you are looking at the work of two (or more) different organizations?
- Ask how you are doing. Whether you are trying to reach program participants, volunteers, activists, donors, funders, members of the media, policymakers, or all of the above through your site, how do you measure that success? Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your website and other online communications are audience-centric:
- Review users’ comments sent via email or posted on blogs;
- Ask staff for feedback;
- Review website statistics for popular pages, time spent on site, top keywords from search engines, and other metrics;
- Conduct surveys and ask direct questions about content and features;
- Develop user personas to help you structure and design a site built around user needs and interests;
- Conduct user testing with five-to-eight real users to test actual scenarios and see if these users can find the content they seek and you want to deliver;
- Facilitate focus groups to help determine the direction of new designs or features.
Your website is a vital tool for communicating your brand, whether setting your organization apart from peers and competitors, expressing your personality, or simply showing how you keep users’ needs in mind as they browse.