9 questions to ask when assessing your nonprofit website

Presentation of the Webcheck Scheme for Voluntary Organizations on 22 October 2013, MaltaLast week I went to Malta and presented the methodology I used for assessing the websites of 10 Maltese voluntary organizations.

This post gives an overview of the questions you should answer when performing such a webaudit yourselves.

1. Who are your audiences & what are their needs?

Most people go to your website because they’re looking for answers. You must identify all these different types of people and list the different types of questions each group might have when visiting your website:


2. What are the needs of your organization?

Next to a place where people get information, your website is also a tool that must help your organization in reaching its goals. This means you must clearly list what you want your visitors to learn or to do once they’re on your website:


3. Which elements should primarily dictate the design of your homepage?

The design process of a website can only succeed when the core messages and desired responses dictate design decisions. An improvised approach results in messy layouts with no clear focus. As a result, audiences don’t know where to look. When feeling overwhelmed with too many choices, audiences tend to choose none— they simply give up!

To avoid confusing the visitors, it is extremely important to prioritize desired responses: the elements to be emphasized have to be established or prioritized. Good site layout will translate the prioritized desired responses into visual hierarchy— some elements are emphasized in relation to others. Good designers use size, color, and negative (empty) space, among other things, to create emphasis. The skillful use of these techniques serves to guide the visitor’s eye.


4. Which helpful navigation tools are lacking on your website?

Good navigation helps users to understand where they are, what section they’re in, and what path they used to get there. Helpful navigation tools that should be present on your website are:

  • A pull-down menu on the navigational menu bar that a user can click on to see all the major sections of the site
  • Way-finding cues to jump to other pages
  • Clearly marked breadcrumbs that help the user indicate the navigation path followed
  • A search tool that allows users to search for something specific on the website
  • A sitemap


5. Which symptoms of bad navigation are present on your website?

End users should easily find their way around – it shouldn’t feel like they’re resolving a puzzle. Symptoms of bad navigation are:

  • Confusing, ambiguous or unclear navigation labels
  • More then 8-10 main navigation items
  • Branching sections going more then 3 levels deep
  • Content pages that are listed under several sections of the navigation menu (resulting in a feeling of repetition)
  • Orphan content: pages that appear nowhere on the navigation menu and are accessible only through an inline link
  • A mismatch between the main navigation drop-downs, the sidebar navigation and the section landing pages


6. Are your calls-to-action landing on pages designed for conversion?

“Conversion” is a marketing term meaning “desired responses that are successfully met”. A conversion-oriented page (or “landing page”) is a page on your website where you want visitors to fulfill your calls-to-action, such as donating money or joining an email list.

Well designed landing pages, will drastically increase your conversions. Follow these tips:

  • Include a compelling & concise headline that states the outcome
  • Use a compelling image – preferably a single person looking directly at the user.
  • Direct the eye by ditching the sidebars
  • Use less words: only focus on story & call to action
  • Use bullet points
  • Use big buttons
  • Keep the important stuff above the fold
  • Reduce page load times


7. Does your content connect with your audience?

Some organizations create content they (not their audiences) would want to see or read. No matter how much you love your content, visitors won’t consume it if it doesn’t address their needs and interests.

Keep your content brief and to the point and avoid repetition. Long-winded text, generic images, and boring videos are some examples of content that will cause your audiences to lose interest.

Tell a story  that moves people. Use the second person: write your copy as if you’re writing a personal email. Use awesome images for your stories and on each of your webpages.

8. Does your CMS system & theme include all the features you & your visitors need?

Using a CMS system is not only recommended for updating your content in an easy way, also the aspect of designing the website can happen in a very smooth, flexible and cheap way. Large communities of web designers have gathered around the most common used CMS systems (WordPress, Joomla & Drupal) and offer their designed graphical template (also called ‘theme’) for prices that are either free or low-cost (also called ‘premium’).

A responsive or mobile site is no longer a nice-to-have, it is extremely important because in the near future the majority of your website traffic will occur on a mobile device.

Depending on your needs, your CMS system should contain all the technical features (native or via plug-in) that ensure your website serves its purpose and end users can do what they need to do on your site.


9. Which third-party services you & your visitors need?

The more sofisticated the CMS system of your choice, the more it will be able to answer your technological needs, but the more complicated and expensive it will become to install and configure the system.

Opting for a more basic CMS system together with a third-party solution for specific technological demands can be a good solution for smaller nonprofits. From email marketing, to membership management, online donation tools, event registering, advocacy tools or online polls & forms – a whole range of third-party services exist out there to create a functional online experience for your visitors.

The above text and methodology are based on the following resources:

[1] Nonprofit Website Assessment Guide by Bureau of Good
[2] How to Make Your Website Awesome in Seven Weeks by John Haydon
[3] 5 Required Elements When Building Websites for Nonprofits by Jay Wilkinson

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