Association marketing has evolved tremendously in the last 10 years.
Some of the tactics that were driving membership in the past are in decline, and new and innovative ways to increase member engagement have matured and been proven to work.
Yes, we’re talking about digital, and more specifically, how your website can be optimized to generate memberships 24/7.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “Your website is your #1 salesperson” before, and we don’t disagree. But in addition to sales, the modern association website can do much more, namely:
- Generate leads
- Create referrals
- Increase retention
- Attract new audiences
- Provide member support
So yes, sales is still a goal, but when you embrace the concept of inbound marketing for associations, your website can do so much more!
In this post, we’ll show you how to use your website to its full potential—turning your site into your association’s best marketing tool. Whether you’re new to association marketing or just looking for some new ideas, we guarantee you’ll take away some valuable insight—let’s get started!
Related reading: Getting Started with Inbound Marketing for Associations
1. Prioritize the user experience
The Internet is hardly a captive audience—there are a kajillion websites your potential web visitors can choose from, so what’s to keep them on your site instead of closing that tab and hopping on Facebook?
You need to pull out all the stops to deliver an excellent user experience—don’t give your audience an excuse to leave your site!
Here are a few general tips to effectively use your website for association marketing:
Easily navigable web design
Your web visitors are on your site for a reason, don’t make them go digging for whatever they’re looking for, because they won’t. Clear navigation based on what you know about your audience is absolutely vital.
Do you have online services for existing members? Label it!
Do you have content designed for newbies? Create a “Start here” section.
Design and photography
Outdated design sends a signal to your online audience that your brand is lagging behind the times. Stock photography (that’s obviously stock!) signals that you’re not authentic. Don’t fall victim to either of these common web design traps.
Page load times
Web visitors don’t wait more than three seconds for a page to load, even less if they’re on mobile. Do everything you can to deliver a blazing fast website experience.
2. Create a path that will help guide interested people to signup for membership
So you have web visits, you have some clicks, people are interested in your association—now what?
Remember when we talked about your website being a 24/7 salesperson? What successful salespeople do at some point during their dialogue is ask for the sale. Your website needs to do the same thing.
And if you can’t actually buy a membership to your association online, that’s OK, because that’s not really what we mean. In web design, a “sale” is also known as a “conversion,” and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an exchange of money.
A conversion can be an email signup, an online purchase, or a form submission. Providing content that’s valuable to your audience for free and using lead nurturing techniques to guide that prospect toward a sale is known as “inbound marketing” and works extremely well for products and services with long sales cycles.
But here’s the thing—people aren’t necessarily just aching to become leads—you need to spell it out for them.
The best way to do this is by creating a “conversion path” on your website, which builds off the user experience we already discussed.
What are the top three questions prospective members ask? Answer those proactively in your website copy in logical order! Use clear steps and navigation to guide users through your online funnel to membership with call to action (CTA) buttons, landing pages, and forms.
By combining user experience gained from institutional knowledge with conversion paths, you’ll be more efficient at transferring the info your prospective members want, all while guiding users toward your desired outcome—membership!
Now that’s what you call a win/win.
3. Maintain an active blog
Blogging isn’t just for travel and food writers—it’s an essential component of inbound marketing for associations.
An active blog benefits your association threefold:
Engage current membership: Do your current members have questions, case studies, or opinions they’d like to share? Interview them and post them on your blog! A lively discussion through the comments section of your blog signals a healthy and engaged membership.
Bonus points: New members will be able to get a glimpse of the value you can offer to them.
Demonstrate thought leadership: If you have expertise or institutional knowledge to share, your blog is the perfect vehicle to become a thought leader in your niche. Letters from the CEO or president (even if they’re ghostwritten!) can separate your brand from the rest by demonstrating thought leadership around a given subject.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Blogging allows you to tackle very specific subject matter, which is a perfect match for long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords don’t typically drive a ton of search volume, but they usually have higher conversion rates and less competition because they’re so specific.
4. Optimize for search engines
In case you didn’t get enough SEO in the previous section, we have a few more tips for you!
SEO is the process of getting your links to appear higher in organic search engine results pages (SERP), therefore creating more traffic to your site—who doesn’t want more traffic!?
As we mentioned above, using long-tail keywords on your blog is a great way to enhance your SEO. In addition to the long-tail keywords, however, don’t forget to research your seed keywords for your home and service pages.
You’ll also want to use external links to popular, authoritative sites when appropriate.
Lastly, you need to test your site loading speed—we know we already mentioned this, but it’s so important it merits one last suggestion.
5. Social media share buttons on pages
Social media is a part of life now, and that’s not changing. People are constantly looking for recommendations on products and services, so why not take advantage of that?
Make your web content easy to share by using social sharing buttons or services like clicktotweet.com.
Don’t forget to personalize the message that appears in the share box!
6. Listen to member feedback
Believe it or not, the days of the static website are gone. Modern websites are more like living, breathing organisms that respond and adapt to user behavior and needs.
At least, that’s what your visitors expect!
In order to give your web visitors what they need, first you need to find out what they’re after—we recommend asking them. Don’t be afraid to survey your members and ask how you can improve your association website. Not only will you attain valuable feedback that can help you improve their experience, you also show your member base that you’re actively listening and trying to make things better for them. They’ll appreciate this gesture and reward you in the form of retention and promotion.
In addition to asking or surveying your membership, there’s another way to “listen” to member feedback—Google Analytics.
People can tell you what they want, but sometimes their actions speak louder. Google Analytics allows you to observe web visitor behavior at scale and look for opportunities to improve your website.
For example, do you remember the conversion paths we discussed earlier? By using a Google Analytics feature called “Goal Flow” you can visualize people going through the conversion path you set for them. It will help you answer questions like:
- How often do people make it all the way through my conversion path?
- Do people tend to drop out of my conversion path at a certain point?
- Do people from a certain source convert more often that people from other sources?
These are just a sample of the variety of things you can do with Google Analytics to listen to your web visitors.
In summary, if you’re looking to turn your website into a marketing machine, be sure to make sure your site:
- Prioritizes the user experience
- Has conversion paths
- Maintains an active blog
- Adheres to SEO best practices
- Allows for easy social sharing
- Solicits member feedback
If you’re covering all those bases, you’re off to a great start!
For more information about using your website in conjunction with inbound marketing tactics designed to bring members to you, download our free eBook: Getting Started with Inbound Marketing for Associations.