1.    Use a Decent Content Management System

wpOne of the worst things you can do is allow your site to stagnate. And it’s more likely to do so if you need to call your web developer or learn HTML in order to update something. Using a dynamic CMS like WordPress or Joomla! will allow you to make regular updates to your content by yourself via a simple admin panel that handles everything from making small edits to published pages to adding entire new sections.  If you’re not ready for a decent CMS, there are several tips below for easy-to-configure ‘widgets’ from third parties.

2.    Blog/News Section

Center for Animal Law Studies Blog_1257191630018Blogs aren’t just for telling the world what you had for breakfast and publishing photos of your pets. They’re a vital element for building community and keeping people coming back to your site. A well-written, regularly updated blog will lend a personal touch to your organization, keep visitors informed of your latest projects, and provide an easy way to interact with you (via the comments). Also, it’s a magnet for search engines since the kind of posts you write about your organization are going to be full of useful keywords you’ll want to rank highly for. If you’re not using a blogging-friendly CMS, sign up for a free one with Blogger or WordPress and link prominently back and forth between it and your site.

Example: GoJoven’s Blog’

3.    Event Calendar

Eventos - El Centro Latino de Maine- Portland_1257191290431Show how much is going on with an event calendar. While many sites have a basic calendar showing when you published something in the blog, you can go further by embedding a fully interactive Google Calendar on a page. It can be updated by as many people in the organization as you like, you can send invitations through it, and people can even subscribe to new events.

Example: El Centro Latino de Maine’s Events Calendar (note you can configure the calendar to appear in most languages)

4.    A prominent donation link

PICA — Peace Through Interamerican Community Action_1257191687062If your organization is financed by donations, make it as easy as possible to accept them. Make sure there’s a prominent donation link on all the pages and have a specific page that outlines the benefits of contributing and where donations would go. Make the link an immediate “Call to action”, like Donate now! rather than something more descriptive e.g. “Donation Options”.

If you’re looking for a way to accept credit cards, consider PayPal.com. Accept in-kind donations and advertise volunteer opportunities too in the same area.

5.    Quality Photos

gojoven.org ENGLISH_1257191413126

Don’t skimp on decent images, find a photography student willing to do some “pro-bono” work or, failing that, there’s plenty of free stock photos out there, my personal favorite is http://www.sxc.hu/ (though you can’t beat real photos taken at one of your events). As to how to display them, Google’s photo management service, Picasaweb, is very user-friendly. Flickr.com is also a good option and if you can prove your non-profit status they’ll give you a ‘pro’ account which has almost unlimited storage and provides another point of entry to your site.

Example: El Centro Latino uses a WordPress plugin to automatically import their Picasa Gallery.

6.    Decent, and ideally free, hosting!

The less you have to worry about with your site the better. Eliminate concerns about the technical side of things by using a well-established hosting service. I’ve been impressed with Dreamhost.com. Not only do they offer a friendly, dependable, professional service but if you can prove your non-profit status documentation, hosting is FREE.
(disclaimer, if all goes according to plan I’ll get a referral fee…)

7.    Maps

Directions to our Offices - vancouver-therapist.com - Professional Counseling and Therapy in Vancouver, WA - Wise Counsel & Comfort_1257191777764If your organization has a physical location, mark it on a Google map. Got several offices? Create a map with all of them so people can find the nearest one. Once you’ve finished, grab the code and paste it in to one of your pages and voilà! People can now find you easily, get directions by car, foot or public transport. While you’re making maps on Google, submit your site to the Local business search, it’s often the quickest way to get featured on the 1st page of search results.

Example: Vancouver Therapist has a map page showing all their offices

8.    Make contacting you easy

Kitty Huffstutter, LCSW, PhD - Individual & Family Counseling in North Portland, OR - Contact Me_1257192208336Don’t just put an email address, have a contact form. “mailto:” links often don’t work properly and by the time their email client’s fired up they’ve forgotten what they were going to write to you about in the first place. Make as many of the fields as possible are ‘optional’ to encourage communication. If you’re worried about spam, there are plenty of WordPress plugins that will take care of it for you.

Save all your correspondence from the form. Are there any Frequently Asked Questions? Because that would make for a very useful page which would also boost your SEO and give you more time to answer the less frequently asked questions…

9.    Collect and analyze statistics

Summary (AgaveWeb)_1257192300102Stats are useful for all kinds of reasons. You may want to show your funders how successful your site is. You might want to know which are the most popular pages. What kind of search terms are being used to find your site- is there a demand for something you weren’t aware of? What browsers/screen sizes are most popular with your visitors- is your audience highly ‘techy’ or are they visiting you on a tiny screen in an internet café in Guatemala? Make appropriate changes.

WordPress has a plugin that will keep track of search terms internally (those typed into your Search box). Keeping track of those will show you what people are looking for but not seeing immediately. If you notice a trend there act on it. Make that information easier to find.
Google Analytics is probably the most popular choice for stats these days, but I like the live feedback offered by statcounter.com. It’s just a question of signing up and pasting the tracking code so try both, see which one you like.

10.    Provide as many ways as possible to keep up with your news

Publicize -- Chicklet Chooser_1257192465656If you followed point 1 and have your site running on a modern CMS, the chances are your site will produce an RSS feed of your latest entries automatically. Congrats! An RSS feed is a way of syndicating your content so it can be fed into other places. Sign up with feedburner.com (Google, yet again) and grab the link so you can offer E-mail updates. Configure your Facebook page (you have one of those don’t you?) to automatically publish your new content over there. Tweet it. Consider collecting snailmail addresses to send out monthly bulletins.