Websites That Work: Making Effective Use of Your Affiliate Website
By Melissa Dewey Brumback
Melissa Dewey Brumback is an associate editor of The Affiliate and practices with the Raleigh, North Carolina, firm of Ragsdale Liggett PLLC.
These days it seems that everyone has a website. And yet, many websites are sadly lacking in visual appeal, content, and timeliness. If you want your affiliate’s website to be the powerhouse communication tool that it can be, read on.
1. Update the Website Regularly
The number one mistake many organizations make—affiliates included—is not updating their websites on a regular basis. Some websites reviewed for this article listed “upcoming” events as far back as 2002! Even sites that list events from several months back tell the browser that nothing of current interest can be found on the site.
At a bare minimum, your website should only include timeless information that does not “expire,” such as information for the public or informational handbooks. To truly maximize the benefit of having a website, however, it must be maintained regularly. How often a website should be updated depends on the affiliate—the more activities going on, the greater the need for regular updating.
An up-to-date website can assist in bringing members back to the website again and again, for example, to check out the address of an affiliate event—information they know can reliably be found on the site. By updating regularly, you are halfway to your “goal”—scoring yourself a spot among members’ “favorites” or “bookmarks.”
A second mistake many websites make is lack of clarity. The ideal affiliate website should quickly and clearly identify who you are, how your group relates to any broader group, and contact information. Consider also making your affiliate’s leadership team a feature, such as the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association Young Lawyers Section ( Missouri), which publishes its officers’ pictures online at www.kcmba.org/YLS/ylsboard.htm.
A second step to visual appeal is to provide easy navigation. Use links to subpages and group similar information into categories. If your affiliate publishes a number of downloadable pamphlets, group them together under a “Publications” link. If you have many social opportunities or continuing legal education programs, consider a link to a subpage with that information to keep the homepage streamlined. The State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division’s webpage ( www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Young_Lawyers) is a good example of this concept, in which the webpage offers several links to its projects and publications, job search information, and an entire educational resource library of state law.
3. Content, Content, Content
Your website will only be as strong as its content. Need ideas for great content? Look no further than your fellow affiliates’ websites.
The State Bar of Arizona Young Lawyers Division’s webpage ( www.myazbar.org/SecComm/Sections/YL/) is a model of useful information, providing a Q&A hyperlink section of common questions and ways to volunteer for the affiliate’s projects, including the “Wills for Heroes” public service project and the state speaker’s bureau database.
The King County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division ( Washington) ( www.kcba.org/ScriptContent/KCBA/YLD/index.cfm), through links on its publications subpage, provides browsers with a small claims handbook, a state practice manual, and a pro se handbook. The Multnomah Bar Association Young Lawyers Section ( Oregon) provides links to its leadership board, publications (including pro bono opportunities, domestic violence, and new bar admittee guides), continuing legal education programs, and committees, at www.mbabar.org/MBA_yls-home.htm.
Do you need an article for your peers explaining why they should be involved in your YLD? Check out the Iowa State Bar Association Young Lawyer Division’s “Top Ten” reasons at www.iowabar.org/YLD.nsf/$about!OpenAbout.
4. Consider Cross-Selling with Your Other Communication Tools
Another concept to consider is publishing your newsletter online. A separate link to the newsletter subpage easily directs readers to the newsletter without cluttering the homepage. See the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division’s newsletter at www.flayld.org/articles/newsletter or the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division’s newsletter at www.gabar.org/young_lawyers_division/newsletter.
If you do publish your newsletter online, consider the content appeal of your newsletter as well. One great piece is in the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference’s most recent newsletter ( www.vayounglawyers.org/docketcall/docketcurrent.pdf), which provides a quick tip sheet for procedures concerning the Virginia Supreme Court.
Does your affiliate maintain a list serve? If so, consider following the example of the Minnesota State Bar Association New Lawyers Section, which provides directions to subscribe and unsubscribe directly on their webpage at www2.mnbar.org/sections/new-lawyers/discuss.asp. This is a good way to keep the number of requests to unsubscribe from overwhelming the list itself, while cross-selling both communication tools.
Now that you know easy navigation, timely information, and content are the keys to a website success story, check out the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s webpage ( www.tba.org/YLD/index.html) for a good model to follow as you develop, or redefine, your own. The webpage offers a quick link to make the page the user’s homepage, provides regional weather information, and offers links to an online search engine, several Tennessee newspapers, and a membership directory. These types of features keep the reader coming back again and again, resulting in a website that works!