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Digitally lead: Three ways to pandemic-proof your website

By Rod Zylstra


It feels like we’re surrounded by it this year. We’ve all felt some global pandemic-sized dread of late and we continue to experience it during these particularly extraordinary times. I’m sure you have had to adapt within your organization, and even in your home life, to accommodate the twists and turns of a most bizarre time.

As we “bob and weave” virtually, adapting as best we can with this uncertain future, it demonstrates more than ever that what is vital are reliable communication platforms.


•   Face-to-face meetings at some point this upcoming year? Fingers crossed.

•   Will we be able to connect at conferences? Not the way we used to.

•   Will my kids ever go back to school full-time? Oh God, I hope so.

Only a crystal ball can provide insight on these and many, many more questions we all have. One thing is for sure: if you want to lead your audiences and communicate your message, your website will be your organization’s most powerful marketing and communication tool for the foreseeable future.

Now, I don’t think I can help you on the home front, apologies, I’m barely in control of my own…BUT, if you use my ‘checklist’, supplied below, I’m hopeful that I can provide you with either comfort in the knowledge that your organization’s website is foundationally set up for success, or, if not, perhaps this can help spark an action plan for addressing what needs to be tweaked this upcoming year.

Let’s give you some peace of mind that the most important communication platform, your website, is ready to help your organization lead your members into 2021.


Now, of course I’m aware that a list like this, with some dire warnings around web development, may feel a little self-serving for someone who works for an agency that has been developing association websites for more than 20 years, but I’m hopeful that whether you work with my agency or another digital outfit, or even if you have an internal design and development team that is building and maintaining your website, this list will provide you with some pause for thought and help spark some conversations within your organization.

My advice is to take a moment, step back and honestly assess your organization and try to identify what you are doing right, what could use a little polish and what strategically needs to be completely rethought.

Today, let’s discuss three important considerations:

1. Mobile Adaptability

Are you reaching your membership on and off their desktop?

Your site needs to be mobile-friendly. In 2020, it’s not just a “nice to have,” it is absolutely imperative that your website deftly adapts to any screen size. If your mobile website experience is lacking, it’s guaranteed that a few things will happen:

  1. Poor User Experience – A poor mobile experience will result in a poor user experience with members struggling to take in your content as you hoped it would be presented. Confuse them and they will cut the visit short and look for similar content and connections elsewhere. Templates and content adaptation must be planned for and tested to make sure the viewing experience is optimized on desktop and mobile.

    2. Suffering SEO – Your search rankings will suffer if your site is not mobile-optimized. Google will identify a properly optimized site and increase organic search by favouring it when displaying search results.

    3. Poor Brand Reflection – Your audience is using mobile! Year-over-year, your mobile audience grows and your window to hold their attention shrinks. If you don’t take steps to optimize the mobile user experience, what is this doing to your organization’s brand? Are you leading in the digital sphere or looking like an outdated dinosaur?

So, grade your mobile website experience:

    a) We’re doing it right.

    b) We could use a little polish.

    c) Oh boy, this needs to be completely rethought.

2. Content Management Systems (CMS)

Is yours working for you?

Just so we are all on the same page here… a content management system (CMS) is a software tool that allows you to create and publish content on your website. A good CMS solution allows for easy editing of existing website content.

Take a moment and quiz yourself:

    •   How old is our website?

    •   Does our team feel technologically empowered?

    •   Are we agile enough with content, information and templates?

Answers to these questions will be a huge help in guiding you in the evaluation of your current CMS. If you are breaking a new trail and looking to start fresh, these questions can help chart a new course.

Modern, open source content management systems are fantastic for non-technical organizations. They allow you and your staff to become empowered to create and update the content you require to keep membership engaged and informed. It’s important that you do a full evaluation of your needs before making any decisions regarding what CMS to use, but a couple of industry leaders that we are very fond of are WordPress and Drupal. Both of these CMS solutions have huge communities that are constantly collaborating for your benefit and have plugins galore that can simplify your web development experience and serve your audience’s future needs.

The most important thing when choosing a CMS is to select one that will work for your organization and when implemented will become a solid digital foundation for your needs now, and provide an ability to grow with future ambitions. Phase 2 and possibly phase 3 are coming soon, perhaps an e-commerce solution or a learning management system will be added. You need a modular foundation that can be easily added to and with WordPress and Drupal you have that freedom.

So, where are you with regards to your CMS?

    a) We feel great with our current system.

    b) We probably should look at upgrade options or a new system.

    c) We need to start over.

3. Look and Feel Update

Is it better to look good than to feel good? Nope, it’s a tie.

Once again, take a step back and look at your website with a critical eye:

    •   How long has it been since we’ve done a redesign?

    •   Does our current site match our organization’s brand?

    •   Do we need a modernizing update or a reset?

Very outdated sites can reflect poorly on your brand and in turn have a negative effect on user experience. Well-designed sites have thoughtful palettes, template-layouts and considerations for accessibility, and in the end will perform much better from a user experience standpoint.

You may be slightly skeptical about added investment in your look and feel; perhaps focusing more on the content and features side of your website makes more sense? Well you’re not wrong, content and features are incredibly important, but let’s not forget about the 15-second rule. You have an incredibly narrow window of time to captivate your audience and make an impression before they go elsewhere. Modernized visuals, coordinated with your brand standards and dramatic photographic resources, can go a long way to keep your users engaged.

How do you feel about your current site’s look and feel?

    a) We’re killing it, it’s beautiful.

    b) We should get someone to give us some feedback, it feels a little out of date.

    c) Disaster, we are extremely out of date and it’s hurting us.

Well, that wasn’t so painful was it?

I hope this list allowed you to take a step back and grade your website in three very important categories for 2021 readiness. This is not meant to be a comprehensive checklist by any means, but rather a place to start, focusing on a few really important issues. I hope it helped! I guess this means I’ll have to do a “Part 2”…stay tuned for that!

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