10 Ways to Improve Your Membership Website in 2021

New ideas for the new year

Whether your membership site is built around a professional association, community, learning environment or some combination of the above, your website has become increasingly important over recent years, especially in 2020 when in-person contact was limited.

However, although most membership organisations have a website, they rarely invest in ensuring it is as effective as possible. Instead, they launch it and largely abandon it beyond adding content. At best it fails to reach its potential for providing a return on investment for the organisation, at worst it alienates members, causing anger or frustration.

An effective membership site needs to be nurtured and evolved over time, continually improving based on user feedback and engagement with your community.

With that in mind, here are 10 areas where improvements can be made based on common complaints or suggestions from members.

Make Content Easier to Find

One of the most common complaints is that membership sites typically have a huge wealth of resources, but it can be incredibly frustrating to find the information members want.

If members cannot find content, then they do not value the membership service.

To rectify this problem, you need to implement a programme of usability testing and fixes to ensure content is as findable as possible.

Among other changes, pay particular attention to search which is typically poor on membership sites. Search is a primary navigational tool and so should be prioritised when improving findability.

Look to customised search results for common terms to ensure the most relevant results are returned. Also, add filtering and sorting functionality to allow users control over the scope of any searches they undertake.

Membership Search

Installing a plugin like Relevanssi is a good first step to improving the quality of your site's search.

Remove the Obstacles

User frustration with membership sites is not limited to finding relevant content; they can also face challenges completing common tasks such as signing up, logging in, making a purchase or participating in community forums.

A common reason for this is that membership sites often rely heavily on off-the-shelf applications to deliver these various functions. Unfortunately, these different applications do not always work very well together, requiring the user to have to re-enter data or in the worst cases, login separately to different parts of the website.

Using these third party systems may seem like a reasonable compromise for the cost savings they provide. Still, we would recommend carrying out some testing with users to see just how damaging they are to the overall experience.

Membership Login

Allowing members to login using existing accounts they have with services like Google, Apple, or Facebook is just one way you can remove obstacles.

Give Members More Control

Users express many other frustrations on membership sites that often originate from the same underlying problem — a lack of control over the experience.

How this problem manifests varies. In some cases, it is users complaining about receiving irrelevant emails and other notifications. On other occasions, they express it with concerns over privacy or that the content they see on the website does not appear to apply to them.

We would encourage you to take a step back from your membership website and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself where you could allow the user greater control over their experience. Could you allow them to customise the emails they receive or personalise the content displayed when they log in? Could you make your privacy policy more transparent?

Membership Facebook

Giving users control over things like email notifications is a good way of avoiding your membership site becoming frustrating.

Giving members a greater sense of control over the experience helps build a relationship of trust, which makes asking them to complete critical calls to action (like making a payment) easier.

Improve the Mobile Experience

The final negative we hear in regards to membership sites is in about mobile access. Many membership sites have still not been fully optimised for mobile devices despite dominating how people use the web today.

A poor mobile experience is particularly frustrating when it comes to community activities such as browsing a forum or interacting with other members. These are commonly carried out in grabbed moments between other activities and are often done on mobile devices.

Membership Mobile

We often access membership site functionality such as forums, on mobile devices. It is therefore essential these sites are compatible with these devices.

Equally frustrating can be data entry on mobile devices such as signing up for an event or registering with a membership website. Entering data on a mobile can be extremely frustrating, especially for older audiences or those with motor control or vision problems.

Not that improving a membership site is all about addressing potential frustrations, there are also many opportunities available that could be grasped in 2021.

Focus on Members Questions

At the most basic level, there are opportunities for membership websites to improve content. There are many ways to do this, but a good starting point is to ensure that your website's content actually addresses the questions members have.

Too often, membership sites spend too much time talking about the organisation behind the website and not enough addressing the questions and concerns that brought people to the website in the first place. This is particularly true when it comes to addressing challenges.

Help Members Overcome Challenges

One of the roles of membership organisations is to help their members overcome the challenges they face, whether in meeting business goals or getting better at a chosen hobby.

Membership Illustrator

The Society of Visual Storytelling provides many resources to help its members become better at telling visual stories.

Often membership sites contain resources to help achieve this role. However, there is much more most membership organisations could be doing from "how-to guides" to live "surgeries" that take place over zoom or through the website.

By focusing on answering questions and overcoming challenges, you will make your membership site indispensable. However, you will also need to allow members to get those answers in a way that suits them.

Introduce Richer Content

We have become used to turning to Youtube when looking for answers on how to wire a plug, do some DIY or solve some other everyday problem. Watching a video is often the best way of getting the answers we need.

Membership Youtube

Membership sites need to make it as easy as turning to Youtube to solve common problems.

Then there are occasions when we cannot give our full attention, such as driving or in the gym. These are great opportunities for audio content to enable people to continue learning.

In 2021, membership sites need to look beyond purely textual content and start making more use of video and audio. They also need to look beyond their website.

Think Beyond the Website

Most membership organisations already make use of social media, email and even YouTube. Some even have podcasts. Yet these different channels are often poorly integrated.

Make this year the year you start looking at your entire digital ecosystem and understand how all of these different channels can work together. Reusing and recycling content in different formats to ensure the different channels enable users to move seamlessly between them.

Membership Journey

Consider the user's journey and what channels are relevant at what parts of that journey.

Consider how these different channels fit into the overall customer journey. What channels are used when? That is important to consider as it will dictate the type of content you deliver via that channel.

Celebrate Your Members

However, ultimately it is important to remember that the online experience is not about your digital channels at all, but about your members.

A truly great membership site is one that celebrates their members at every opportunity from highlighting outstanding membership contributions to rewarding members for their involvement.

Membership Big Knit

The Big Knit does an excellent job at celebrating their members achievements.

There are many ways this can be done from featuring members in a blog, to giving out awards or certification. You can also encourage members to be actively involved by promoting some members to community leaders and giving badges and higher status to those who contribute regularly.

These approaches not only make members feel valued but also encourages their participation.

Encourage Membership Interaction

Encouraging members to get involved is incredibly important to the success of a membership site.

The more people are involved, the more value is created.

Ensure your membership site provides opportunities for people to add content, whether that is something simple like answering somebody else's question or more complex like having the functionality to connect job seekers with employers.

Membership Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow has become an invaluable community for Developers simply by allowing them to answer each other's questions.

So Much Potential

At their heart, membership organisations and their associated websites are about connecting people, and there has never been a time where this is more needed.

2020 changed the world, moving more of our interactions online. Whether personal or professional, we are increasingly interacting with others through digital channels, and no matter what happens in 2021, this is likely to continue to a considerable degree.

Therefore, there has never been a better time to ensure your digital channels operate at peak performance and provide the connection people so desperately need.

Heavy Penguin provide digital services within the membership sector, we would love to hear from you if you are interested in improving your membership website in 2021 and need some help.