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It’s hard enough keeping up with association best practices that apply to your day-to-day operations. Now you have to worry about the ever-changing best practices for your website as well. I’ve had a few association professionals ask me, “What should I be doing with my website that I’m not already doing?” Here are the three things I tell them they must be doing in 2017 to keep up to date and get the results they want out of their digital presence.

Social Proofing
Believe it or not, each and every one of us has experienced social proofing at some point in our life. Defined as "the psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation," social proofing is the art of using testimonials and opinions of others to drive consumer behavior.

An example of social proofing would be when you’re looking for somewhere to eat and you hop online to look up reviews. You see two restaurants you’re interested in but one has reviews and the other doesn't. You decide to go to the place with reviews because the restaurant without reviews can’t be any good if it hasn’t been reviewed, right? You’ve taken other peoples' word for it (mind you, complete strangers) and made your purchasing decision. You’ve been social proofed!

Talk with the influential people who are part of your association to participate in testimonials, blogs or even a photo shoot. You can then use this material on your website to show that well-known industry members find your association valuable enough to be members. Add individual or organizational member photos (with their permission of course) to your site to show other potential members which big names are already part of your association.

Responsive Design
We all know that people live and breathe on their mobile devices today. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to make sure the experience you provide to your website visitors is just as good on a phone or tablet, as it is on a desktop. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you look something up on the internet and you can’t find what you need because the website doesn’t work well with your phone. We’ve all experienced those websites on our phones where you’re constantly trying to zoom in and out on your phone to click those tiny, little links. It’s extremely frustrating!

Many web developers are now using what is called “mobile-first” design practices. This means the website is designed with the smallest screen sizes in mind, working the way up to large screens. This practice ensures that anyone trying to access your website on the go is provided with the best possible experience and, in turn, can see the value your association brings immediately.

Do yourself a favor and put your non-member cap on. Pick up your phone and go to your association’s website. Is it abundantly clear what the benefit of joining your association is? Can you search for resources easily? Are links big enough to click, or do you have to zoom in? Make sure they walk away talking about the content and value your association offers, and not how terrible the mobile version of your site is.

SSL
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an important way to show visitors that your website is secure. SSL is technology that establishes an encrypted link between a web server (where your website lives) and a browser (the vehicle that gets people there). The encrypted link makes sure that any data passed from the visitor to your site is and will remain private.
SSL creates a pathway for your visitors to search your site, purchase things like memberships or publications and share information safely. You should especially consider it if your website requires login to a members-only portal. The internet is swamped with bots scouring websites for unprotected password pages so they can add unwanted content, or delete it all together.

Getting an SSL is a standard and straight-forward procedure for any IT team. Your association should work with your web developer or the IT person directly to get this set up as soon as possible. This is a great way to build trust with visitors and show them that you’re aware of the potential dangers of sharing data. It’s just one more way to show them you care about them and their valuable financial and personal data.

 

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responsive-design

Responsive design. It's all well and good. Your site adjusts to the screen size, and your users get a good mobile experience, without having two or even three separate websites. But the process for making your site truly "mobile friendly" is a bit more complicated.

Why would someone view your site on their mobile device? What info do they need? What do you want to offer them and why are they different from your desktop computer users?

All these questions need consideration when creating a responsive design.

What is responsive design?
Responsive design is a design technique for websites that allows a page to rearrange itself based on the size of the screen displaying it. Modules rearrange themselves or even hide themselves so that nothing gets too squished and too small to view on a smaller screen, meaning mobile users have the same viewing experience they would have when visiting your website on a desktop computer.

The introduction of responsive design solved a few problems for website viewers. First, they were able to see the proper display of the website. But another, perhaps more important problem this solved, was the need to have a separate, dedicated site for mobile viewers.

Most large, modern websites now use a content management system (CMS) of some kind. To have the same CMS service content for two separate sites — a normal desktop site and a separate mobile one — was an extremely complicated and frustrating task and required a lot of extra administration time, skill, and effort.

Responsive design solved these issues. Simply having a design or template capable of responding to any screen width meant that you needed only one site, and that site worked on any device.

But there are some other really important reasons why you should make the switch to responsive design for your website.

Mobile usage is increasing
Take a look around and you'll notice a lot of people on their mobile phones. In fact, it seems that just about everyone is attached at the hip with their phone, tablet, or other mobile gadget. Consider the following stats from Smart Insights.

• More than 20 percent of Google searches are now being performed on some sort of mobile device.
• In 2012 over half of all local searches were done on a mobile device.
• 25 percent of Internet users in the United States only access the Internet via a mobile device.
• 25.85 percent of all emails are opened on mobile phones, with another 10.16 percent opened on tablets.
• In 2014 mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop usage.
• Out of the 4 billion mobile phones in the world, 1.08 billion are smartphones and 3.05 are SMS enabled.

Recommended by Google
We all know that Google is a really big deal. In fact, Google claimed 67 percent of the search market share in 2013, making it the most popular search engine in the world. So, if Google claims that it prefers responsive web design as the recommended mobile configuration, hadn’t we better listen?

Why does Google prefer responsive design? For starters, it's more efficient for Google to bot crawl the site and then index and organize all the content that is online. This is because with responsive design, all your sites have just one URL and the same website coding across all devices. When a business has a separate mobile site and desktop site, there will be separate URLs with different website coding for each. This forces Google to crawl and index multiple versions of the same exact site.

A better user experience
Responsive design gives users a better experience. For example, users don't have to mess around with zooming and shrinking, swiping and pinching, to see the text or images on screen. Instead, all of the content automatically adjusts to the screen of the device. This makes it easier and more convenient for users to read and navigate on your site.

And, there are stats to support why the experience of users is so important. According to Google's Think Insights on Mobile, when a user views your mobile website and is frustrated, or doesn't see the content that they are searching for immediately, there's a 61 percent chance they will head to another website. However, when a user has had a positive experience with your mobile website, that individual will be 67 percent more likely to buy a product or use a service. Further, 48 percent of users stated to Google that when a site doesn't function on their mobile device it makes them feel that the company does not care for their business or about their viewers.

Social media has gone mobile
I’m guessing that you're involved in some form or another with social media. But even if you're not, you still realize how important blogging and social media are in the 21st Century. And, social media has also now gone mobile, which you may have also noticed. How important is mobile for social media users? According to a study from ComScore, 55% of social media consumption happens on a mobile device.

When you have a single responsive site that will function on any device, it is much easier for your users to share, interact, and engage with the content of your site. For example, what if a user shares your mobile site URL over social media and one of her “friends” views the site on her desktop computer? The experience would be less than optimal if it wasn't intended for a mobile audience. This makes the user unhappy, and we all know an unhappy user will go elsewhere.

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