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Top 10 takeaways: What makes a good club website?

Does yours do the job you need it to?

SocialB's 'How to attract new members through your website' workshop was one of the most popular at the RYA Midlands Affiliated Clubs Conference. Why?

Because in a world where everything is done online, if you want to present your club as a professional, welcoming outfit this is where your first impressions are made, the front door you open to invite people in.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from the workshop.

1) Good design is everything

We still see so many club sites that look like Blackpool illuminations. Design changes with trends and will always be subjective but current advice is keep it as uncluttered as possible, use white space / background and limit the number of colours used, typically those from your club logos / branding, using the same style throughout. It looks smart but you can still tell you are on the same website as you navigate. A well-designed homepage should make people want to find out more and take them to where they want to go quickly.

SocialB identified Brightlingsea SC's as a good example, but the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association's webmaster, Mary Coles, was in the room and she revealed they had used the same Groupbuzz template to create HOEOCA's new website.

She said: "We needed a new site and had already spent some time drawing up a specification for a web developer. We realised it could cost a few hundred pounds, if not more, and would take time to develop so concluded there was no point re-inventing the wheel if there was something out there that could do the job.

"We did a web search for Sports Club website templates. Having put the effort into the specification we knew what we were looking to do and so were able to evaluate the options fairly easily. We initially looked at Club Buzz but it didn’t quite work for us, but Group Buzz did 80% of what we wanted. We decided to invest in a year’s membership and set up a test site. It's the best £120 a year a club could spend in our opinion. We have learned less is more!"

2) The importance of navigation

People will give up looking for something if it's too hard and they don't find what they want within three of four clicks. Sticking to a few key navigation items at the top, which can be grouped into drop downs is the best approach. Language is crucial too. Speak the language people coming to your site will speak, especially non-sailors. Don't use 'training' use 'Learn to sail'. Don't use the off-putting 'membership', use 'How to join'. It's much more lower level, accessible and instantly says your club is welcoming.

3) Credibility

People trust what's online so using logos and/or endorsements that instantly tells a visitor you are a reputable, professional outfit is recommended. They don't have to be splashed across your homepage but just a subtle reassuring presence will act as a powerful sales tool for your club.

4) Use clear calls to action

Make it easy for a visitor to do something when they are on the site. Whether it's 'Join us', 'Contact us', 'Find us', 'Book a taster', 'Book a course' it creates sense of urgency. If, like most clubs you are volunteer-led, explain on your 'contact us' page you are run by volunteers so it might take a couple of days to reply, but the enquirer will get a response. That way you set a realistic expectation and the enquirer doesn't feel like you've ignored their query. Using rolling pics on your website homepage can also provide an immediate overview of what you do. 

5) Use social media buttons 

But ONLY if your club actively uses social media! You might have a club Twitter but if it's never updated don't promote it as it makes people think there isn't much going on. Have the icons at the top of your homepage and not the bottom too. Something like an active Facebook page can really paint a very positive, friendly picture of a club that has a big impact on someone's overall impression of your club so don't hide it away. You can embed your social media feed on your homepage too, but again, only do this if it's an active account.

6) It must be mobile friendly

Many old websites aren't automatically responsive when viewed on a mobile device, meaning the text is often too small, the navigation is
all over the place and the design looks awful. This again will turn off potential customers who will file it under 'too hard' and go somewhere else.

So many people use their phones/tablets as their primary internet search tool and if a website isn't mobile friendly it won't get listed by Google in a mobile search either. That's quite a big deal. Is your current website mobile friendly? Look at it on your phone and see!

If not there are some plug-ins you can purchase to adapt some sites. Meanwhile Duda is one site builder where mobile-ready is included in it's 'lite' package as standard.

7) Content is key

You know what your site is going to look like and how people are going to find things but what are they going to find??

Using sailing jargon is a no-no - search engines are text driven so the language (keywords) used on your website should be what people are searching for. For the same reason it's important to complete the 'alt text' in images so Google can read it otherwise you won't appear when, for example, someone searches 'learn to sail Birmingham'.

Good quality (not blurry) images that are relevant and recent are critical as is using video. Facebook called 2015 the year of video as more people than ever are using video as their main source of getting information. But before you panic the RYA You Tube channel has HEAPS of 'how to' and 'get involved' type videos you can share on your site as a starting point at least.

Have lots of click-throughs and calls to action too so that there is not reams and reams of repeated information on pages - you want to encourage user choice.

8) Keep a content calendar

Tied in with the above but if you have static site that never changes it not only looks rubbish but it's also less likely to get picked up on searches as Google thinks you're inactive. Changing your content every now and then so you are promoting say three month blocks, with imagery and copy to reflect the focus of that period accordingly, and updating events is a good thing. Having a calendar, factoring in things like school holidays etc, provides a focus and also means more than one person can update it.

9) Measure your hard work 

Google Analytics costs nothing yet the information you can get from it on how many unique people are visiting your site, which pages they are going to, how long they are spending there and what other parts of the site they interact with are mind-blowing. One of the most important pieces of information for you is knowing where people are coming from and how they are finding you (search engines, social, etc) so you can tailor your keywords. You just need a Google/Gmail account to get started.

10) Member areas can add value

So many club websites dilute their message as they are trying to speak to too many audiences at the same time. As a result nothing gets done well. Having a members' only area, with a login, where things like race results, duty rota etc, is posted contains all that sort of information in one place and also gives members another reason to feel like the club is looking after them and any secure information too. 

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