Membership websites or communities often need to perform two vital functions: attract and retain member engagement.

A member website must be useful, interesting, easy and vision-aligned with the member base it represents. This article provides 5 tips for improving the performance of membership websites and online communities.

Identify the needs of your members

This is the first and most important tip for designing better member websites. The web design process must begin with a clear understanding of the needs of the community. If an organization is redesigning their membership website, then documenting pain-points of the previous website will be important for everyone participating in the redesign process.

Build less; observe; improve

Rather than build every feature, tool and resource for the launch of the new member website, consider launching a minimum viable product. Integrate members within a simple, easy to understand platform, and then add features over time.

Provide easy access

Make sure your new member website is designed to provide very easy access to all key tools and resources. Don’t make members search and dig–they will only get frustrated and cease to use the website. Yes, there can be too much navigation. Keep navigation simple, paired-down and clearly labeled. Ensure that users don’t need to jump through a ton of steps to get to the most-sought-after pages or features of the website.

Explain and help

Member websites are often larger than brand brochureware websites. Member websites may support tools to help the community speak and engage with one another. There may be forums, videos, messages, dashboards, activities and photo galleries. Not all members will be comfortable their first time entering the new website. Consider helping them along. By offering explainer videos, site maps, tip windows, fancy tour overlays, feature tours, recommendations, help forums, customer support sections or education material, members may grow to become power users quickly.

Design engagement

New members may engage with the website differently than older members. Use web analytics and event tracking to ensure that new tools and features are being used by members and activity is increasing.

For member websites there should be engagement tools that drive internal recommendations between members–not just social sharing tools to other social media platforms (like Facebook Like and Twitter sharing).

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