Improving Your Professional Association Site: Tips for Driving Engagement
Blend's CTO Joe Kepley has tips for how to increase website traffic and engagement for professional associations.
Like pretty much every other part of modern life, the world of professional associations has been changed drastically by pervasive access to the web and social media.
In the past, professional associations often provided the only easy way for members to connect with each other, and the best way for the public to find certified professionals. Today, those same organizations compete with a tremendous amount of free information (authoritative and otherwise).
What’s more, in many industries, association membership is not regarded as a professional requirement in the same way it used to be. According to a survey by Personify, the average member age is climbing for many organizations. And while younger members still consider it important to be a part of an association, only 40% of them reported that they felt their membership experience was worth the membership dues.
While the value of professional association membership depends upon dozens of factors, one of the keys to pushing back on these trends is to ensure you’re providing a great online experience for your members. There are some key steps you can take to make sure that you’re most effectively serving your membership.
Provide a focused and organized experience.
Many associations provide a lot of great information for their members. But this information has to be organized in a way that allows members to easily find relevant content — and, provides exposure to new content they’ll find valuable. After all, there’s no sense in creating a great article if the people who would get the most out of it never find out.
Language and labels matter, here. It's important to group and organize your content the way your members will think about using it, which may be different from how people inside the association think about creating it.
Don’t take good search for granted.
Many content management systems provide a basic level of search out of the box. But if you’re an association with years — if not decades — of backlog available, it’s worth focusing on how search will work for your members and, consistently tuning it over time.
Many search systems can offer “federated” search, meaning they can search across your main site and other content repositories, like your professional journal website, learning management system, or other resources. Providing your members a one-stop shop for the most relevant content anywhere in your organization increases its value.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your most commonly searched terms and make sure the search index is providing the best results. A number of search tools offer the ability to manually "elevate" a key page for a certain search to make sure your users are getting the best answer for their questions.
Tailor your experience by audience segment.
Which information is the most relevant and valuable to your members will vary based on who those members are. A first-year student will be looking for different information than an experienced specialist. A prospective member will be looking for different things from a lifelong member in good standing. It’s helpful to take a minute, write down what you know about these different groups, and think about how you might deliver information to them differently.
On the web, this can be as simple as creating different pages for these different audience segments, and regularly updating them with the most relevant information. It also makes sense to segment your newsletters or other outbound communication in the same way.
You can take things a step further by using more sophisticated tools like web group-based personalization and algorithmic content recommendations. These can vary key pages (like your homepage) so that known members are promoted content that is specifically targeted to their interests based on their profile and past behavior.
Focus on content that’s working.
Web analytics can tell us a thousand different numbers. It’s important to dial in on which of those numbers are actually answering important questions. For associations, these are often, “Are we engaging with our members?”, and “Are we driving renewals and new memberships?”
Make sure you have defined goal measurements in your analytics package for these goals. For renewal and subscription, measuring your 'thank you' page at the end of the process makes a good goal. For engagement, you can set a custom event to let you know when a user has scrolled to the end of an article. This, along with time-on-page, sharing, and printing, can provide engagement guides.
Take a look regularly at the types of content that engages members. Use that list of topics as a guide to help steer your editorial calendar. You only have so much capacity to create new content, so make sure that time is directed at content that your members find valuable.
Leverage sharing to drive new membership.
Nearly every study of the association space indicates that the biggest driver of new membership is a direct referral from an existing member. Associations, at their core, are social entities, and that personal relationship really matters!
You can use this online by giving your members the tools to help drive new referrals through social sharing. Many organizations have a wealth of information that’s available to members only. Consider providing members with a share code that would allow them to share an article with a friend who could skip the paywall for a limited time, alongside some unique member benefit messaging. Putting some limits on how often this can be used and monitoring its usage can prevent abuse of the feature, and you could even ask for the referee's email before generating the code to run a follow-up campaign.
This type of approach allows you to not only leverage your wealth of content, but also allow your members to spread the word virally instead of marketing everything directly!
It’s always been about experience and relationships, and it still is.
Professional associations have always gathered a community of people around a common mission. While it may seem difficult to cut through the noise in the era of ubiquitous search and AI-generated content, most associations have a head start in creating valuable information and building community. By carefully crafting your members' online experience, you can continually deliver on and demonstrate that value every day in a way that the rest of the world can't compete with.