Take Your Group to 2.0: Spring-Cleaning Your Web Site

User Groups 2.0

Yesterday we told you about this year’s annual spring-cleaning of The MUG Center’s Surfboard, our analog list of Mac User Groups around the world, and how we learned a few things from visiting several hundred MUG sites in the span of just a few days. We want to share some of those with you, combine them with earlier UG2.0 tips and help you spring-clean your web site to make it a better, more positive representation for your group. (Our apologies for being a bit northern hemisphere-centric; that’s where we sit. For our friends south of the equator, consider it a fall-cleaning.)

The first step is to invest 11 or so clicks to help improve your perspective: the first one would take you to the Surfboard (yes, click right there). Next, select ten groups at random and take a good look at their sites. Don’t explore them, but just get a feel for the impression they give. Are they a modern-looking site, or do they have that Web .5 look? Do they make you want to see what the group is doing, or do you just want to move on? Is the information they present relevant to you as a visitor? Can you even find out where they are located? When they meet? What the next presentation will be?

Here’s a list of items to look for while you’re reviewing those sites, and to use in cleaning up your own site:

  • Check Your Links: Make sure that all your links, internal and external, are correct and live. Nothing says, “neglect” more than a dead link.
  • Check Your Affiliations: Our last User Group 2.0 tip had to do with evaluating your group’s affiliations. Re-read that article, and take a look at the web badges for those affiliations to see if they are current or even still exist. During our spring cleaning we say badges for conferences that were held a year ago, user group programs that are outdated and worse.

(Hint: Aladdin Systems is now Allume and has no active user group program.)

(Hint: Connectix is no longer in business.)

(Hint: The User Group Report evolved into MacVoices a year and a half ago.)

(Hint: The MUG Center has had a new logo for quite some time.)

  • Get Rid of the Tag Clutter: We visited more than a few web sites that looked more like a link farm than a MUG web site because of all the badges, links and company graphics. These images not only slowed down the loading of the site (significantly in some cases), but also distracted and detracted from the purpose of visiting the site. They also serve to pull visitors away from your site, something you obviously don’t want.

    If you like the NASCAR look, that’s great, but under the heading of “Less is More,” consider creating a separate, dedicated “Affiliations” page where you can place all sorts of graphics in a nice, neat matrix, arranged in whatever order you select (alphabetical, by importance, relevance to your group, etc.).

    If you feel you must have a space on your front page for a graphic or badge, limit that space and rotate the content on a monthly basis. Use the space as a reward for a vendor who donated or presented to your group. In doing so you will actually increase the value of that placement because it won’t be lost in the clutter. Your site will look cleaner, more professional and less like the weekly shopper magazine.

  • Remove Outdated Graphics: The Apple TV, iPods, iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros are all great-looking pieces of equipment…so why would you continue to display images of a first generation iBook or a Luxo-style iMac? Visit the Press section of Apple’s web site and grab some high-quality images of the current product line if you feel that will improve the look of your web site. Keep in mind, however, that those images can go out of date just as quickly, so either plan to upgrade regularly or adopt a design that doesn’t include product shots.
  • Don’t Use The Apple Logo: Yes, you get sick of hearing it, we get sick of saying it, but it has to be on the list. If you are a recognized Apple User Group, there is one, and only one, logo that is approved for display your web site. You can obtain it by logging on to Apple Sales Web with your Ambassador account. And please, please, please remove any rainbow-Apple logos anywhere on your site. They make you look like you’re living in the last century.
  • Use Dates, Including Years, for Everything: “Our next meeting will be the second Wednesday of the month and we’ll be discussing the latest news from Apple.” That could have been posted last week, last month, last year or earlier.

    “Our next meeting will be on June15.” That’s a little better, but depending on when viewed, a vendor or potential new member doesn’t really know if that is for this year’s upcoming meeting or last year’s long-gone presentation.

    Many of the modern web authoring packages include automatic date stamping of items; if they do, use it. If not, make a point of using a complete date in your announcements or postings.

  • Include Contact Information: We were shocked at the number of MUG sites that don’t have any type of contact information: No email, no phone number, not even a snail mail address. May others had email links that returned errors or “unknown recipient” messages when we tried to email the contact. Double-check that you have valid information posted, and that any links to it are functioning properly.
  • Evaluate Every Single Item On Your Front Page: Some MUG web sites have very clean, appealing front pages that deliver exactly what you need to know and no more. Others remind us of a rummage sale: there might be some good stuff there, but it is hard to find in the jumble. While you’re cleaning up your site, identify what value each item adds to your site. If you can’t answer the question, then it shouldn’t be there.

There are many other characteristics of an excellent MUG web site, but they are for the future. If you clean up your web site using these guidelines, you’ll take a huge step toward showing the world a User Group 2.0 identity.

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