Association websites: 7 ways to optimize user experience

User experience is a topic that’s often explored in our blog and encompasses how a person reacts when visiting your website. This is impacted by various factors, such as how quickly the user met their objective and if your website answered their questions clearly and provided value. 

With our partners at Fonteva, we often work with associations that are aiming to expand their reach. We empower you with unique and powerful insights that can bring your association’s website to the next level. This is accomplished by optimizing the user experience.

According to, websites that promote a positive and valuable user experience are not only effectively expressing the organization’s mission and goals but also considering each visitor’s specific needs and values. This same concept can be applied to associations. 

Your goals likely revolve around increasing member retention and acquisition rates, and your website’s user experience can greatly impact that. Consider the two types of visitors on your association site— prospective and current members— and how your website will effectively meet their needs. 

Using the following site factors identified in the User Experience Honeycomb, we’re going to walk through how your association website can optimize the user experience:

  1. Usable
  2. Accessible
  3. Useful
  4. Findable
  5. Credible
  6. Desirable
  7. Valuable 

You don’t need to be a world-class coder to upgrade your website and better engage your site visitors. With a capable association management tool in hand and these top tips, you’re sure to build your most loyal and satisfied member base yet.

1. How usable is your website?

Visitors shouldn’t need outside instructions on how to navigate your website. Instead, the entire experience should feel streamlined and intuitive as soon as the user enters your site. If it takes a large amount of time and effort for someone to achieve their objective, there’s a high chance they will give up and deem your site unusable.

Once a user lands on your site, they shouldn’t have trouble finding the information they want. This is why an individual’s first impression of your website is extremely important for the entire user experience. 

Your best bet is to invest in a content management system (CMS), or website builder, that is made to meet the needs of membership-based organizations like associations. This way, you can easily access solutions that speak to potential or current members’ needs, such as in these examples:

  • Potential members are considering joining, but want to learn a little more information first. Ensure you structure your pages and navigation so that on various pages there is a clear button directing users to an application. Consider including this call-to-action in your FAQ, association’s “about us”, event calendar, and member testimonials pages.
  • Current members want to connect with other members they haven’t met yet. Provide access to a navigable member directory or even an online discussion forum hosted in a member portal. Members can get familiar with their community and even engage personally with each other.

These are just two of many examples. If your website does not consider how “usable” it is, visitors likely won’t stay on long enough for any meaningful engagement to occur. 

2. How accessible is your website?

Accessibility describes the ability to use the services on the website, regardless of device used or disabilities. This is similar to website usability, but doesn’t quite include whether the person attains an objective.

This means your association website should accommodate the needs of all site visitors, no matter what the situation is. Consider using human-centered design as a framework and keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Site can be accessed from any device. Whether a user is on their desktop computer or a mobile device, ensure that they can access your website and everything that it offers. This includes the membership portal, a contact field, and a navigable event calendar. 
  • Site can be accessed by people with all abilities. This one may be more challenging to achieve, but making a genuine effort to accommodate users with disabilities can have a very direct impact on user experience. Consider if you can add features to help people  who are color-blind or visually-impaired in another way.

It’s simple. If people can’t easily access your website, they can’t truly experience it. 

3. How useful is your website?

Probably one of the top components of user experience, and likely responsible for making your association stand out, is how helpful your content is. Think deeply about your website’s core purpose and whether it is fulfilling that need.

For starters, your association website serves as a resource for current members by providing  important updates and other member engagements. According to Fonteva, there are specific site elements that can encourage even more member engagement. Consider the following examples of how you can make your website content more useful:

  • Member portal access so official members can start to engage online.
  • A navigable member directory so that members can become familiar with one another online.
  • Member profiles that users can self-edit to ensure that they’re only sharing information they’re comfortable with. 
  • An online community forum for members to engage with each other.
  • Event calendar and registration pages for those who are curious about upcoming opportunities and activities.
  • Further learning opportunities, whether it is a live class or through a learning management system.

Your website also acts as the transition between a curious visitor and an official member. To confirm that your website is useful to potential members, include these site elements:

  • A page dedicated to the benefits of joining the association.
  • General association information, including how the association got started and its main mission.
  • A FAQ page for those who have questions but don’t need to contact a staff member.
  • Testimonials or other real-life experiences so site visitors get a sense of what membership life is like.
  • Membership guidelines and requirements so that potential members understand what is expected of them if they wish to join.
  • Social media connections and contact information for further engagement.

In order to be useful, ensure that your website is working to bring current members together while also answering the questions of those who are more curious.

4. How findable is your website?

As you’re structuring your association’s website, make sure that each piece of content, page, and form is findable. Put simply, you want a site that is easy to find online and contains content that’s easy to locate once on the site.

For example, it would be extremely frustrating if you were in a library looking for a specific history book but nothing about the book you need is giving you the clues to find it. Similarly, when someone is looking up your association’s name online, make sure your website pops up. 

Additionally, if you do find that history book in the library, it’s even more unhelpful when all of the content is jumbled up and not organized by chapter. Think of your website’s navigation menu as a table of contents. Without a clear and intuitive site structure, your website’s user experience diminishes from the start.

Findability is vital to overall website user experience, so make sure that you have a clear navigation menu and your website content holds enough value for search engines to recognize.

5. How credible is your website?

To keep users coming back to your association’s website, you need to ensure that your content is credible. A credible website is one that is trusted by users. It’s almost impossible to encourage a positive user experience if the person is wary of your website’s validity. And when your website is deemed untrustworthy, your association is likely to be so too.

To ensure that your association’s website maintains a sense of credibility, follow this checklist: 

  • All your site content is accurate. Regularly update your website so that new visitors always receive the most recent information.
  • Your membership portal has error-free member details. Members won’t appreciate it if their own profiles aren’t accurately representing them. A good way to avoid this problem is to let members self-edit their listing.
  • Your event calendar is up-to-date. Your association likely hosts multiple events each year and that’s one of the exciting perks of being a member. Whenever members are curious, they can easily check out your event calendar and get a good sense of all the experiences you host.
  • Any payment processing is secure. Your association needs a safe way to collect member dues and process event registration tickets. While you can look into third-party payment processors like PayPal and other top alternatives, some association management solutions have access to integrated solutions.

A great way to keep your information up-to-date and ensure your content is accurate is to centralize your association data within your software system. This way, as soon as one update is made, the change is reflected across the board for all association processes.

6. How desirable is your website?

Associations are member-based organizations. In order to attract visitors and members, it’s important to include website design elements that evoke emotion and appreciation. This not only attracts prospective members to your website, but also makes current members feel proud to be a part of your community.

Online design elements and display choices influence the desirability of your association’s website. Consider each website component as a stepping stone to your association’s overall image, identity, and brand.

While all these components may seem superficial and surface-level, there is incredible value in prioritizing aesthetically-pleasing elements that are designed to draw people in. When a user comes to your website and there is a lack of effort to meet their needs or create a visually stimulating experience, they’re not driven to learn more or take any action.

With a desirable association website, you can both attract more prospective members and maintain members who are proud to be a part of the experience.  

7. How valuable is your website?

The final factor of your website’s user experience is value. How much value does your website hold for your association and how much value is it providing to your visitors? 

As you already know, your association website’s goal is to promote member acquisition and retention. The great part about this is how your website engagement efforts go hand in hand with the value that website users gain when they’re on your website. In the end, the value of your website is dependent on each of the previous factors. 

Ensure your association is valuable by reviewing these six factors and leveraging your management tools. Always keep both your association’s goals and your site users’ needs top-of-mind. There are a wide variety of membership-based tools you can look to, but it’s important that the one you choose is able to accurately reflect your unique association.

In order to optimize the user experience, carefully consider your website’s overall goal, and how each site element and component provides value. Follow the steps in our guide and make sure you’re providing the best user experience for any type of online visitor to your association’s website.