You don’t need to be a big name charity with a large budget or marketing team behind you to design an impressive website, and we are here to prove it. Every charity is unique, but most good website design follows the same foundation rules, as we explain below.
As a small charity you may have more constraints to work with, but there is plenty that you can learn from the big, household name charities about designing a website that inspires and informs. Before you begin the process of building your own website, it can be helpful look at what some of the bigger charities are doing first, and analyse what you do and don’t like.
Here are four steps to small charity website design success, with examples from charities who are doing website design well.
Start with an understanding of your audience
Your website is an essential shopfront to the world and the first port of call for many people who come across your organisation. When beginning the design process, your starting point should always be to define who those people are and what their motivations are for visiting, approaching your website as if you’re the outsider and putting yourself in their shoes.
James Gurd, writing for econsultancy, talks about how he was asked to help a local children’s charity in Nepal who wanted more visitors, but struggled to answer when asked who those visitors were.
“The first morning was spent discussing who the primary target audience should be, including geography and demographics,” he says in the blog post. “The conclusion, drawing from their knowledge of the customer, was to focus efforts on people in the UK interested in volunteering abroad and who wanted the chance to work with local people to support children. Instantly we had a focus.”
In a large charity with many different aims and audiences, prioritising which content should be prominent is vital, but it can be challenging. In a smaller charity this job is thankfully easier, but even small organisations can have lots of different strings to their bows.
It’s not always possible to know exactly why someone is visiting, but you can build a rough picture by researching and putting together a profile or ‘persona’ of your audience – this blog from charity digital specialists Lightful explains how to do this by talking to your constituents and looking at the data available to you.
Once you know your primary audience, you can start to design your website’s user experience around their needs.
Who does this well
Shelter clearly knows its main target audience – people looking for housing advice. On its homepage it clearly signposts users to its online advice section in a way that is bold and minimalist, so it’s easy for users to find what they’re looking for straight away, with links to common topics on the homepage itself. It does not overload people with everything at once but has figured out what to prioritise, with plain language and important links highlighted.
Clearly define Calls To Action
Once you have an idea of who you’re targeting, you need to be clear about what you need the user to do on each page and section of the site. This is known as a Call to Action (CTA) – and a good CTA is your main tool to make your website work harder for you and provoke people into getting involved with your cause.
As Harry Hurd, founder of non-profit web design agency Clear Honest Design, explains:
“90% of the initial challenge when redesigning a website is actually nailing down what it is you want people to do on a site, then framing it around that. If it is, say, donating then you go through with a fine tooth comb and, for every single design decision you make on the site, check if that is going to make it more likely or less likely for someone to click a donate button, and if not – change it.”
A specific action on a page might be donating, calling a help or advice line, getting involved with volunteering, signing a petition, helping promote a campaign or signing up for a newsletter. Start by defining a clear hierarchy of what these should be on each page.
Some general rules are – use action words and keep it specific and simple, to make it as obvious as possible to visitors which actions they can take (some more tips here). Creating buttons or signposts around these can also help you measure how people are navigating your site and if people are clicking on what you need them to.
Who does this well
Macmillan’s main CTA on their homepage is hard to miss. They use bold text that stands out from the rest of the page, and a telephone icon to point people in the direction of their helpline. The use of a question followed by a concisely worded solution leaves you in no doubt of the charity’s main mission to support people around cancer.
Test, test, test
Once you have built the first phase of your charity website, it’s a good idea to get stakeholder involvement as early on in the website design process as possible, to ensure your site architecture makes sense to the people who are using it.
UX (User Experience) testing might sound techy and complicated but it simply means circling back around to your audience and keeping them core to the design process at every step. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in what your organisation’s internal stakeholders want from a website, but taking a user testing approach keeps the users top of mind.
It can be carried out in person, through online feedback or through social media. Software like Hotjar can track exactly how users are interacting with your site by recording and analysing their clicks and exactly how people are interacting with your site. This blog post by Crazy Egg explains some key tools and methods for user testing.
Who does this well
We recently spoke with MS Society CEO Michelle Mitchell about how the charity used the feedback of over 1,000 people with MS to help develop its new website. Because the website is a source of support for many people with MS, it was crucial to involve both existing service users and potential new users at every stage, through in-person focus groups, online and over the phone.
Monitor your search performance
There is a lot that can be said about SEO and how to ensure your new charity website is actually found by people online. The Tech Trust blog provides a good beginners guide for charities, with some further tips here.
However, it’s important to be aware that Google changes its algorithms constantly (over the past two years along we’ve seen nine major updates). Once the foundations of good SEO are in place, you should be continually monitoring its performance. Fundamentally, a website should never be a static thing, but should always be evolving and improving.
Free tools like Google Analytics can help keep track of where your website traffic is coming from and what your users are doing once they arrive (econsultancy suggests reviewing this information at least monthly for any potential problems).
And while Google won’t share the exact algorithm for search rankings, they are very good at giving information about it in some select areas. One important ingredient for ranking well in Google is having a site that is easy for Google’s bots to read. By signing up to Google’s Webmaster Tools you can monitor how well you are ranking and learn what to do to improve.
Who does this well
Meningitis Now significantly increased the amount of organic traffic reaching its site by using data from its Google Grants account, giving them a strong understanding of how the charity’s content performed within the organic search results. Now more people will find its lifesaving medical information for lesser-known types of meningitis.