Only 22% of charity websites are organized by a visitor’s needs

publication date: Nov 19, 2014
author/source: Todd Jamieson

About 90 per cent of your major donors visit your website before making their first gift. The new State of the Nation survey revealed, however, that charities are not treating their websites like the essential communication tools that they really are.

The State of the Nation is the largest Canadian survey of its kind: over 500 charities across Canada participated. The survey asked 26 questions about everything from website strategy and revenue tracking to metrics and digital fundraising activities. This much-needed fact finding report was produced by Fraser Green, Holly Wagg and myself and the results were astounding, with Holly calling it The embarrassing state of the web nation.

This article is one in a series that will take a key question and look at it in more depth. I’ll be answering these questions:

  • Why did we ask the question?
  • Why should you care?
  • How do you improve? 

Question #9: “How would you say that you organized your website’s navigation?”

Here’s how the 500+ charities responded:

  • 48.06% It’s a combination of what the visitor wants and what we want to tell them.
  • 22.67% We carefully designed it from the point of view of what we think the visitor wants.
  • 10.47% We’ve just sort of layered one thing on top of the other as we went along.
  • 9.69%   We designed our site along the lines of our own departmental org chart.
  • 6.59%   I don’t know.
  • 2.25%   What do you mean by “navigation”?

Why did we ask this?

Poor navigation structure is something I’ve encountered consistently on the 100+ charitable website builds I’ve worked on personally. I’ve found it especially pervasive in large charitable websites that existed before open source content management systems (like WordPress or Drupal) existed. Back in those days, managing content was a big deal and was mostly done by the IT guy or gal. Unfortunately, this usually results in a Frankenstein-like navigation structure that leads us to a lot of head scratching.

I wanted to see how far we had come since then. 

Why should you care?

There are three primary reasons why properly constructed site architecture is important:

  1. You’ll get more visitors on your website. Google loves content and it loves structured content even more.
  2. You’ll have happier, more engaged visitors. Less confused visitors will spend more time on your site and will become more interested and involved in your cause.
  3. It’s easier to measure what’s right or wrong. A better structure allows you to better analyze visitor flow and what parts of your website are working and what parts need fixing or need to go all together.

How can you improve?

The good news is that developing a logical content structure is very doable, and if you do it you can expect real performance improvements. The bad news is that this task can’t be ignored, and it will take some time.

Getting your site organized can be broken down into four steps that must be done in the following sequence:

  1. Take an inventory. We recommend taking a website inventory of what content you currently have, ideally in an Excel file. There are several tools that will crawl the site for you and provide an Excel export.
  2. Organize your content into buckets. Once you have a list of your pages, you want to look for topics or themes. Each page needs to belong to one of them (but only one).
  3. Identify your users. We suggest finding 3 - 5 user groups that you want to attract to your website. “Donors” does not count - get specific. Create personas if you can.
  4. Create a new site structure. Using the newly found information, start creating a new site structure and merge or purge content.

Once you’ve gone through this, your site will have an effortless flow, and it will be easy for people to make your cause their cause.

If you don’t care, who will?

There are literally thousands of worthy causes out there, and all of them have websites. No one can donate to all of them. The sad fact is that your site is competing against hundreds of others that are similar - or better.

If you’ve done the work to get someone to the point where they’ve actually looked you up online, that’s a huge win. But you are throwing away all that hard work if someone can’t find the information they’re looking for once they arrive. You should be making it easier for people to care about your cause, not harder. If you make it hard, most people will take their concern, time and money elsewhere.

At the end of the day, your ultimate goal is to increase awareness of your cause and bring in more donations so you can help solve real problems. Having an organized site structure is a critical step on that road. 

If you would like to take a look at the full report you can download it here. If you would like to discuss it with us send us a tweet. We would love to hear from you. You can reach us here: Fraser Green, Holly Wagg and yours truly, Todd Jamieson.

A tireless explorer of new developments on the web, Todd Jamieson has been keeping pace with its constant changes since 1996. Through, Todd and his firm have worked with over 100 non-profits and charities. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and two young boys. Follow him via twitter.

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