Exceptional Environmental Websites – Part II

Last week we talked about why environmental organizations today have a website. The answer to that may seem clear. In today’s world, it’s an absolute priority. Websites demonstrate you are a legitimate business, you have well educated staff, loyal donors and are an expert in your field.

But what elevates a website from just an out-sized business card to something exceptional? Unfortunately, many environmental websites today are missing the mark. If you think yours could use some help, stick around. 

The main element of an excellent environmental website 

In my opinion, the reason people jump off a website before they’ve achieved what the marketing manager wanted?

They’ve lost interest. And it’s likely they’ve lost interest because they can’t find what they’re looking for.

The best way to avoid this exodus is through very clear, very specific pathways and headlines.

I’m a great advocate for pathways.  

If an online reader can’t find out the answer to a question instantaneously, they’ll split.

Always remember that 1-minute maximum. Attention spans are short, and if they have to scroll or search for an answer, they’re outta here.

Therefore, not only does each and every page have to be clear, easy to read, and have a definable marketing goal, you also have to anticipate what a reader will actually be looking for on that page, where they came from (on your website, a search engine, or through social media) and where you want them to go from there.

The main elements of excellent environmental websites

The websites that stand out do more than guide the right person to the right place at the right time to take the right action. In addition to having clear pathways that gently lead the reader to the appropriate call to action, they also:

  • Stun you with beautiful imagery
  • Support that imagery with clear, easy to understand writing
  • Place prominent emphasis on compelling, emotional storytelling
  • Offer options for engagement everywhere

One of the other reasons people split from an environmental website is that they’re not emotionally engaged. If this occurs, the fault lands solely on you.

Let’s take a look at a few of these main elements a little deeper.

A picture is worth…?

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For environmental organizations? It could be everything.

It’s not hard to imagine how environmental organizations can take advantage of the visual side of things. Pictures of the environment, in all it’s pristine glory and trampled human-caused mess are extremely powerful.

Don’t underestimate the power of conveying emotion through images. If you have great visuals, use them. They’ll do far more to convince your donors of the importance of your mission than a block full of scientific analysis ever will.

Emotional hooks are a one-way ticket to the Donate button

Storytelling is becoming increasingly popular in environmental marketing, although it has a long history of engaging readers. You don’t have to be Wallace Steiner, John Muir, or Aldo Leopold to tell a good story.

In fact, really, don’t try to compete with them, please.

Just tell us a good story, better yet a success story, about the environment or people your organization has helped. It will go much farther than any how-to article or scientific explanation ever will.

The [Read more…] clause

Images, clear, easy to understand copy, and compelling stories are the best way to emotionally connect with your environmental donor. Hands down.

But, when time and budget permit, there’s one more element that I find even some of the most user-friendly environmental organizations miss out on.

And that’s the Read more… button.

When prioritizing your website, the Read more… link isn’t at the top. And I’m usually the one to tell my clients that. Put other priorities first. But… when you’re ready, this is a very powerful tool.

The Read more… button is for a small section of your population, but I argue that it’s a very important one.

99.5% of your online readers will only read the lead in. These are people who are just looking for the 10-second takeaway. This is where you place a great image or two, a good headline that encapsulates the project, briefly outlines the problem and explains what you are doing (or have done) to find a solution.

Then, you stick them with the Read more… button.

This should take you to a longer, more text-heavy description (it’s okay to raise your reading-level a bit here). Reading like a Case Study, this page is for granting institutions, your big-ticket donors, fellow scientists, and perhaps even a few journalists to get to the nitty-gritty of your work. Not many people will read it. But, personally, I find that when I only get the brief overview of a project, with no chance to dig a little deeper, I’m always left with unanswered questions.

And, if you didn’t already know, unanswered questions raise doubts. And doubters rarely donate.

The magic in the mix

As is typical with any type of writing, you can choose to incorporate these elements, or not. You may have an absolute slam dunk of a website that performs very well with only a few, or perhaps none, of these elements. Or, you may have all of these elements, yet your website isn’t performing at the level you’d like.

The magic here is in the mix. A mystical mash-up of slight differences that make your break your business. Try going with your gut first. If that doesn’t work, try working with a professional. Sometimes all it takes is a little distance from your work to see how the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

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