What Makes an Exceptional Environmental Website – Part I

Why is someone on your website?

Or, perhaps, the better question is…Why do you have a website?

That may seem like an obvious answer.

But environmental organizations today face some new challenges when creating or updating websites.

The main obstacle arises from the shifting, fluid importance of today’s website. And, equally important, the shifting expectations of readers who actually make it to your website.

The evolution of online readers

Image result for environmental websites

Today, most readers who land on your website already know who you are.

The days are long gone of someone “surfing” the web, typing “environmental organization” into a search engine, and miraculously appearing on your homepage, eager to find out about the interesting work you do.

Due to the nature of the industry, today’s online readers are almost exclusively directed to your website from somewhere else, mostly from social media. Therefore, they’ve already heard of you and have at least a vague idea of your mission. They arrive at your website with very specific expectations.

Some of them will already be supporters. They will click through to your website from social media to read an article, get a question answered, or read a compelling story you’ve teased. Perhaps some of them will stick around for a few minutes and check out other pages on your website.

But the bulk of them are likely first-time visitors, many will never visit your website again, and the majority of visits are less than one minute.

So, to dig even deeper, now you must ask yourself…

If I only have less than a minute with the average reader, what do I want them to take away from the experience?

What to do with one minute or less

If you are an environmental nonprofit, or a green business of some kind, understanding the marketing objective of your website will get you half way there already.

That may sound dry, and very obvious (Of course my website is a marketing tool!), but you’d be surprised by just how many websites today fail at this goal.

The reason?

In my experience, it’s that you are just too close to your mission. Thinking like a new reader or a donor is too difficult for a seasoned staff member. It’s almost impossible to think like an outsider when you’re very much an insider. You’re too invested. (Not to toot my own horn, but this is the reason freelancers can be so valuable…)

I often see websites that either assume too much, or assume too little.

In the first case, the text is in a lot of shorthand, doesn’t provide any maps, assumes readers will know definitions of scientific jargon, and relies on the vague idea that supporters of environmental organizations are well educated. In the second case, there is an over-reliance on detailed descriptions and long-winded scientific explanations of just why their mission is important for the world.

In both cases, the copy tends to be dry, boring, unemotional, and ends up not really satisfying any of the reasons a reader will be on your website.

Take my word for it. If you load down your prospective donors with the wrong information in the wrong place and time, they’ll leave.

And yet… take comfort in knowing that if someone is actually on your website, they are looking for something specific.

It’s simply your job to lead them to the right place… fast. And effectively. (We’ll get into this more in Part II of this article.)

Teach, influence, act

Let’s get back to those marketing objectives.

In almost every case, the main marketing objectives of environmental websites can be broken down into three priorities:

  1. Educate
  2. Persuade
  3. Act

For many environmental organizations, education and persuasion are often intertwined. You are there to enlighten the general population on a problem, and probably to persuade them to change their personal habits. Therefore, some pages will have a natural mix of both elements. Your storytelling pages will be a good place of this. If done right, a good story will both highlight a problem and demonstrate what you are doing to help fix it, without raising the defense of your average readers. But beware. Donors today have a high degree of skepticism about being persuaded by environmentalists.

The final – and most important – element is the Call to Action. You, as an organization, have achieved nothing if you can’t get people to act. Therefore, there should be no ambiguity here. Every Single Page should have a clear Call to Action and should be carefully crafted to achieve that action.

And please, don’t forget the most important thing about your website

If you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember this.

Your website is not about you.

It’s about your reader, your donor.

What do they want to know? What will they get in exchange for spending one-minute (maximum!) of their precious time on your website? What deep desire of theirs will be fulfilled?

Stick around. Next week I’ll reveal some simple secrets and tools of some of the top environmental websites of today.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know, do you have statistics on the types of visitors to your site? Are they donors, repeat or first-timers? Did they arrive from social media or a search engine? How many took action while they were there?

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