10 Must-Haves for your REALTOR Association Website RedesignWednesday, February 11, 2015
By Claire Belby
Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR)
Redesigning your association’s website is a major undertaking. It typically occurs when the site has become unwieldy. Too many add-ons over time have made the site cumbersome to navigate, content is buried or information is just plain outdated and not useful anymore. So what starts as a physical redesign quickly evolves into a rewrite, rethink and redesign that was bigger than you planned.
Most marketers suggest that an organization redesign their primary website every two to three years. Highly competitive industries are on a much more aggressive schedule. I think it’s safe to say associations move a bit slower. When we launched our redesigned website in February 2014, it had been…wait for it…seven years since we had made an announcement like that. Seven years.
With that in mind, here are a few things we quickly learned are must-haves.
1) A clear vision.
I’m not talking bells and whistles, this is all about audience. Clearly define the audience you plan to serve. Is your site a member-facing site, a consumer-facing site or a hybrid? Defining this early will guide key decisions including the need for distinct sections, password protected areas and the like.
2) Time to explore.
Look at lots of comparative sites and read about the latest technology. Even if you are a 2-3 year redesigner, this world moves fast. See what’s new out there.
Make sure the staff responsible for all content areas of your organization are aware of the plans and given the chance to contribute. You’ll have a better product to launch and they will be more engaged when you ask them to continually monitor their specific content for updates moving forward.
4) Good analytics.
Your website redesign is definitely a mix of needs and wants. If you are tasked with redesigning a site to represent you organization, you are balancing the needs and wants of many staff members, departments and audiences. Everyone will think their content needs premium placement and that’s…well, nearly impossible to fulfill. Review your analytics to see concretely which areas are most viewed by the end user. Then balance that with what you want to be most viewed and with the needs and wants of your co-workers. In the end it’s a mix of art and science, but start with the science of your analytics.
5) Documentation on current site.
Archive the current site so you are aware of what it looked like and how the navigation functioned. Screen shot key areas. You’ll be surprised how quickly you forget.
6) Data Debrief.
If your site requires any database functions like member searches, get your IT, marketing and vendors together early and often. As a marketing professional, do not attempt to translate between your IT staff, website vendor and any database vendors. Get them all on calls or together in person if possible and be present. Remember, the cost is likely coming from your budget so even if you have no idea what they are talking about, you need to know the depth of the issues and potential expense.
7) A testing period.
Even if the design phase moves along on schedule, content migration always takes longer than expected. So once you’re ready, you’ll be eager to launch. Don’t. Take a breath. Make sure you test all sections and functions of the site on every browser platform. Test it on PCs and MACs from different servers. Try every combination. You’ll never uncover every issue, but try anyway.
8) A search function.
This is getting specific, but if you don’t start out with one, someone will ask for it soon. Beat them to the punch. Enough said.
9) A cutover plan.
Make sure you and your design and hosting vendor have a clear, documented plan for cutover (transitioning from old site to new). Make sure your staff and key audiences are well aware of the timing. Be sure you have the vendor’s full attention with after-hours emergency numbers. Talk with your hosting service to be certain they are capable of handling the added traffic to the site at launch and after.
10) A sense of humor and thick skin.
It never fails, soon after launch someone will find something. Don’t sweat it. The beautiful thing about websites is that nothing is forever. Correct it and move on.
Claire Belby is Communications Director for the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR) in Indianapolis, Indiana. MIBOR is the professional trade association representing central Indiana’s residential REALTORS®. MIBOR currently employs 29 staff serving more than 6,500 members in 10 counties.