Sunday, January 3, 2010

Communications Reviews: Look at Your Organization As an Outsider Does

When we review our marketing/communications—call it an "audit" or "review" or whatever you like, there's an incredibly simple approach I recommend that I don't see used very often, even though it takes maybe 30 minutes to do. I started to "tell" a lot as I began writing this, but I thought, better to "show" instead.

1. Home Sweet Homepage--At a Glance
It's such a truism that the website remains your entrée to those who don't know you that it almost goes without saying. But in turn, what are the impressions that these folks form? I decided to visit ASME because it's big, very successful and professional, and I don't know anyone there anymore. There is nothing special about my random choice, just an illustration of an association website that I bet will look at lot like yours when you look at it closely.

Before you scroll lower, it's very easy to wonder "what's the big deal?" The homepage, like the overall site, has lots of content. ASME is being very transparent, the Strategic Roadmap is front and center. Visit the site and you'll see that it makes very good use of its CMS so there is new content on the upper left that clearly rotates to keep the content fresh.

2. We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Landing Page for Strangers
Key to my point, there is an "About ASME" banner at the top of this page. It basically takes the first-time visitor by the hand and leads them to a less-crowded but still very content-packed page that summarizes the organization, albeit with the same right navigation banner featuring the Calendar of Events, Codes & Standards, Courses, Distance Learning, Books, Conference Papers, and Periodicals.

The Get More button at the lower right (not a joke, these are after all engineers) goes into another visually complex page that presents the ASME Product Catalog with titles presented in order of sales. Not a bad sequence although of course I realize I'm trying to look at the organization as an outside when I'm approaching it as someone who knows little about engineering and I'm sure a real engineer would have clicked somewhere by now and happily immersed themselves in pertinent data.

3. But How DID You Find Me?
With an audience-centric site review, figuring out how people find you is just as important as what they find when they get there. Not being an engineer or conversant with the hottest topics in the field, I used the generic term "mechanical engineering resources" and looked to see ASME in the search results in Yahoo (call me a traditionalist...)

I suspect the fine print is a bit difficult, but when you do this exercise you can see there is a lot of competition: paid ads in the right column, universities that seem to do a very good job of search engine optimization in he search results and career sites and content-aggregator sites that also do pretty well.

Now, it may be that this term is too generic to paint a true picture of ASME's search engine performance but the key point of this exposition is for you to plug in the terms used most often to find you--and perhaps to think of search terms that are being used commonly and aren't finding you.

4. I Found Myself Pretty Easily, Though
I don't know how often many associations "try to find themselves" among the trillions of potential hits, but I think it's common for us to use our association name. In this exercise, I simply searched for the association name and the world looks quite a bit different. There are only three sponsored results and paid ads cluttering the results, and these are for ASME products (Standards and Codes). ASME hits appear first and then there's the Wikipedia entry, a strand of student chapters, coverage of ASME events on other sites--enough to 1) drive traffic to the site, 2) direct product-focused customer traffic to other sites where presumably ASME generates revenue and demonstrates relevance, and 3) demonstrate to a key audience that ASME is a network of local communities where they can interact. 

5. In Conclusion ....
The point of this post is to remind you to look at the basics of your web presence, because tweaking there will yield by far the greatest results in your marketing. This review includes content & design, and search results.

I find with my clients (and in fairness, to my own rudimentary site!) that we often don't do the basics of reviewing our site as it must look to others, and to ask if we have at least a trapdoor to a simpler introduction to those who don't know us.

I know from my own association positions how siloed we can become even with the best of intentions, so it can be hard to perpetually manage a site to keep it relevant to your core constituency and sticky enough to reward and promote frequent visits. But the good news about your presence to the outside world is that it IS simpler to do and maintain--it should be visually less complex and most of the content can remain static for longer periods of time. But the most important step is to try to put yourself in the shoes of your visitors and to consider how your site is helping them form or reconfirm their impressions, self-promted, driven by a conversation, or a reference in the trade press. Ideally you should interact with first-time visitors but the 80/20 rule says you can learn the most by periodically auditing your own site and search results, and tweaking to accommodate.


1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Kevin. It's so important for associations to have a decent Web site that isn't overwhelming to the first-time viewer. Visuals help this - never underestimate the power of some good photos online. Organizations should be sure they use several key words on their sites (such as "mechnical engineering resources" in your example) in order to earn a decent Google result location.

    -Shannon Otto,