User Group Best Practices: Web Site Tips

More than almost anything other than interesting meetings, your group needs to produce and maintain an effective web site. More than any other single point of contact, your web site is the identity of your group. It keeps your members informed of what the group is doing, (hopefully) attracts new members, helps vendors make decisions about visiting or supporting your group, and delivers information about your group and what it offers to the world at large, including media outlets who might be interested in giving you coverage.

We surf *a lot* of MUG web sites each week as part of gathering news for the MUG Event Calendar more. We’ve also had discussions with mainstream Mac journalists who cover user group news and events. Their frustrations are ours, so that’s where we start.

Pretty is Good; Functional is Better
We’ll leave the attractive design discussions for another time. Having a great looking web site is important, but delivering the information is what is really needed. You would be amazed at the number of sites (is yours among them?) that don’t incorporate the basics in a user friendly, efficient fashion.

The Front Page
More people will see your front page more than any other on your site. That means it has to deliver the most critical data efficiently and either answer the questions the visitor has or allow them to get to their answer quickly.

Keep the most important information “above the fold,” so visitors don’t have to scroll (let alone click) to find what they are looking for. Where “the fold” occurs depends on the screen size and resolution of your visitors’ computer, so the general rule is, “the higher on the page, the better.”

Does your front page deliver? Let’s start with two basics.

Identity Crisis
This should be an easy one. Make the name of your group clearly visible. Acronyms are popular in the user group world, but very few stand up as an identity. If your group is SFMUG, does that stand for “San Francisco” or “Silicon Forest” or something else? Don’t assume that you are the only xxMUG out there. To get an idea of how many acronyms are potential repeats, take a look at The MUG Center’s Surfboard. You’ll find more SMUGs, SMOGs and TMUGs among the alphabet soup than you can shake a stick at. Any letter or two preceding “MUG” has a better than not chance of being taken.

If you feel your group’s acronym is truly that important, integrate it in to the presentation. A couple great examples of this come from MacCORE and the Serious Macintosh Users Group of Bloomington. While their acronyms are prominent, there is also no doubt about what their name is or where they are located.

Location, Location, Location
Unless you are located in a major, absolutely unmistakable metropolitan or geographic area, list something in the way of a city, state and, yes, perhaps even country. What is obvious to you is not to someone outside your immediate area. The web is a global medium and surfers want to know where on our little ball of mud you are.

“Smithview, only a few minutes drive from Jonesburg in Franklin County”

That type of description isn’t going to help when a vendor surfs your site to see if they might be able to stop by when they are in your area on unrelated business.

“The Lloyd School District’s Macintosh User Group, meeting at Lincoln High School.”

Um…where? If you are associated with an educational insitution, company or any entity of that nature, please include a few more details. Your visitors will thank you.

Directions to your meeting location are a terrific idea, but put them on a separate, dedicated meeting location page. You save valuable front-page real estate and also make it easier for them to be printed. Be clear, cite major highways and landmarks, and give accurate mileage estimates. Linking to MapQuest is nice but go out and drive the routes yourself, just to be sure.

And please, please, please, label the link as something like “Meeting Location” or “Directions” and differentiate it from the page where you list details of your next meeting topic and details. We will talk about that in a future Best Practices, but for now, trust us.

“I Read You, Over”
Finally, as cool as that title graphic or logo is, all of the above information needs to live in text in some fashion on your front page so the search engines can find and catalog your site appropriately. Besides our Surfboard and the Apple User Group Locator one of the other primary ways surfers find your group is through a web search. If you aren’t listed, you can’t be found.

The Bottom Line
None of those are difficult and they can greatly increase the usability and greatly reduce the frustration of your guest surfers. Go take a look at your group’s web site right now and see how it measures up.

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