Achieving a Shareable Information Ecosystem for Your Association

By Jacqui Olkin and Duane Degler

Today’s association may be a producer of information, a curator of information, and an authority on subjects within its profession. It may be a publisher, education provider, event sponsor, public advocate, and think tank, and it may own different technical platforms to house the information associated with each of these roles: a website, journal site, magazine site, chapter sites, learning management system, and so on.

No wonder this information, in all these different systems, is increasingly difficult to keep up-to-date, maintain without redundancies, and present in an easily discoverable, unified way within the association’s information ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the association’s information exists in a larger context: Its profession’s information space. To contribute content and other information to allied organizations and others with an interest in the profession, the association must concern itself with existing industry data standards and nomenclature. Standardizing information makes it more easily understood in context, retrievable and shareable across systems, and maintainable without duplication.

Where to Start?

How can your association provide information that is easily discovered by members and other customers, …

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“ Silos are the enemies of associations and the people who use their websites . . . There should be a clear, simple way to see everything your organization offers on a particular search term.”

8 Tips For Achieving User-Friendly Search

By Duane Degler and Jacqui Olkin

Search is an increasingly important component in desktop and mobile online experiences, yet too often search is not designed to meet the needs of users.

Associations have unique challenges that come with serving multiple audiences and delivering a variety of information types through search—for example, balancing the relevance of publications, issue summaries, research papers, membership information, and event information. They must design their search experiences thoughtfully to meet both the needs of users and the aim of the association.

Here, we offer a practical to-do list to achieve user-friendly search for your association’s websites and apps.

Get to Know Your Users as Searchers

To create user-friendly search, it’s not enough to understand users in a general sense. You must also understand why they search, what they search for, and how they think about searching for different types of information.

Search analytics, surveys, and moderated usability sessions involving open-ended tasks and real data help develop an understanding of users as searchers and the various usage scenarios for your particular search environment. When getting …

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“ On the web, your messaging should be a key part of your overall content strategy; it should inform your decisions about what to publish, the way your content is written, your design, and the imagery you use.”

Content May Rule the Web, but Message Comes First

What would you say if someone walked up to you and asked, “Who are you?” and then, “What is important about your work?” These are questions your website must answer in a matter of seconds, or risk losing its visitors. Yet many organizations’ websites fall short of answering these questions. As many of my new clients say, “Our website doesn’t tell our story.”

The key to answering fundamental questions on your website is to define the unique value of your organization and your work in a way that people can readily understand. You have to know what you want to say (the message), before determining how you’ll communicate it (strategy and tactics).

Many organizations skip the messaging step and jump straight into strategy, figuring out how they will reach their target audiences before they define what they want to communicate. Without coherent messaging, their websites may emphasize the wrong things—for example, a low-impact aspect of their work. Or, their websites may try to emphasize too much, becoming a virtual brain-dump packed with information yet hard to understand. (Think of overly …

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“ Make it a habit to ask the tough questions about your content and let go of it if it doesn’t clearly serve your organization or your users.”

Who Needs Your Content?

Part of my job as a user experience consultant is to impress upon my clients the importance of content in creating an experience. Relevant, useful, and usable content is core to the user experience on any website—and a content strategy is the necessary plan for ensuring that content is produced, assessed, and maintained.

The Problem

Many organizations give lip service to the importance of content and content strategy but have no governing processes or standards for content. They haven’t trained content providers to write for the web. They haven’t assigned responsibility for producing and updating content. They haven’t established rules for who gets to make decisions about various areas and aspects of the website. They don’t have editorial standards or an editorial calendar. These organizations typically have problems with their content—it’s outdated, or inconsistent, or poorly written, or disorganized, or all of these things.

But even the organizations that have taken some steps to ensuring good content may fail at one very difficult but vital step: Asking, “Who needs this?” That’s the question that can keep you from producing content that …

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Get Rid of Your Junk Before You Move

The other day a Salvation Army truck pulled up to a house on my street where professional movers had just moved in a new owner. The driver and his colleague carried several large pieces of furniture and some smaller items into the truck to haul them away. I wondered why my new neighbor had paid to move all that stuff, if he was just going to get rid of it a week later.

This scenario reminds me of website redesigns and the importance of content inventories. Why would you want to move outdated or irrelevant content into your new website? It’s much more efficient to decide what to keep and what to get rid of well before you migrate content to a new website. By making these decisions early, you reap the following benefits:

make the process of organizing your site (information architecture) smoother help focus the scope and purpose of the site and reveal any content gaps that need to be filled get writers/editors started and finished well before you need to move content into the new site get …

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Feeding the Beast: Some Thoughts on Carousels and Other Website Features

Our website redesign clients often want a collection of large, rotating images on their new homepage (we’ll call this an image carousel, though these features vary in functionality). Clients say they want to use the carousel to feature their programs and initiatives and promote upcoming events. One client wanted a huge carousel because they saw one they liked on another organization’s website. But more recently, a client told us, “We just can’t support a large carousel.” They knew their limitations.

Carousels can be compelling, but they require high-quality, high-resolution photography or graphics, and stock art rarely fits the bill unless it’s skillfully edited and isn’t used by other companies. (How many times have we seen that same ethnically balanced group of people huddled around a laptop?) So before you opt for a carousel, make sure you can support it so producing appropriate images and supporting content doesn’t become an unwelcome chore, or, as one of our clients called it, “Feeding the beast.”

Having a carousel on your homepage is a commitment to provide fresh promotional images and supporting content regularly. …

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photo of scary house

Eight Reasons You Need to Audit Your Web Content

When we redesign an existing website, the first step is a thorough content audit. The premise is, you have to know what content you have in order to make good decisions about what to do with it. Some content may be migrated to the new site as is. Some will need to be revised. Some can be eliminated. New content may need to be written to fill gaps.

Let’s be honest, though: Content audits are a pain. They are labor-intensive and can be time-consuming, especially for very large sites. (For ideas for auditing large sites without losing your mind or blowing your schedule, see this post from Brain Traffic’s blog: http://blog.braintraffic.com/2012/04/auditing-big-sites-doesn%E2%80%99t-have-to-be-taxing/.)

Staring down a content audit spreadsheet, clients sometimes ask, “Do we really have to do this?”

Dear clients, Yes. We really need to audit your content. To convince you, I’ve put together a list of reasons, collected from various projects over the years.

You need to audit your content because:

Not even you know what’s on your …

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“Requires Internal Discussion”

I was reviewing the written feedback on an annotated site map I had produced for a website redesign. Throughout the document, my client–an international association–had written, “We need to discuss this internally.” This kind of feedback doesn’t help, I thought. I couldn’t update the site map and get it approved until the client team had their discussion. I felt a loss of momentum.

But then I realized that although my client’s comments didn’t constitute feedback on the site map, they were helpful to the project overall. The client team was signaling that they “got it.”

Some clients nod their heads in agreement when they look at a new site map or wireframe but balk later in the project, when it sinks in that this new way of organizing their content also entails new approaches to producing and managing content. This particular client realized the implications of the new site map. It wasn’t just a new navigation scheme. It represented a new way of working, and also a new way of thinking about their website and its role in the association’s …

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You’re Not Applezon

When we ask what they want from their new websites, many of our design clients say they want their sites to be like Apple.com or Amazon.com. But why? Most of these clients bear little resemblance to Apple or Amazon. Their websites are primarily meant to communicate and inform, not to sell products. They may have member or customer databases, but they haven’t invested in capturing the kind of customer data Amazon or Apple have.

So what are these clients really saying?

“What is it you like about Apple?” I ask. Usually, they say something along the lines of, “It’s so clean.” They are reacting against the busy-ness and excess of their current sites.

What do they want to emulate about Amazon.com? “We want people to feel like the website knows them.” When we probe further, we find this can mean many things: personalization based on an individual log in, role-based access to content, targeting by interest area, topical navigation, or just plain usable navigation and search. But wanting the website to “know people” is usually a reaction to the fact …

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