The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

If Content Marketing is the new black, why are associations wearing plaid?

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Wed, Apr 10, 2013


Content Marketing is the new Black for Association WebsitesContent Marketing is the “hot new thing” as for-profit marketers rush to create infographics, whitepapers, newsletters, checklists and anything else that will generate inbound traffic.  SEO agencies change overnight into “Content Marketing Agencies.”  And every marketing expert out there is declaring, “Content marketing is the new black.”

The more we read, associations should be relieved because they are already on the leading edge of this trend. points out the key elements to successful content marketing: content, distribution and trust.

  • Content – Associations have journals, magazines, newsletters, industry reports, seminars, continuing education and more.
  • Distribution – Associations already have established publication distribution, websites, annual conferences, social media channels, grassroots advocacy, evangelist members and other channels.
  • Trust – Associations are the recognized, unbiased leaders for their industry with these same for profit marketers paying dues as members of the association.

Associations should be winning this competition according to this framework, right? Some are, but many aren’t. 

Some have shown up to the Content Marketing party styling like Brad Pitt walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes in a classic black tux. Others miss the mark in their ugly plaid jackets.

How did your “fashion forward” marketing become a “fashion faux pas?”

Members-Only sections turn away traffic 

The reason for profit companies embrace content marketing is for search engine optimization (more search traffic, more leads, more sales).  Key things to remember include:

  • The more content a website has about a subject, the more the search engine thinks you are an expert and places you higher in search results
  • Search engines like fresh content. So when you publish frequently the search engine thinks you must be an expert and places you higher in results.

But here’s the problem:

Search engines cannot read, index, or display content that lies behind a login!

All of your great whitepapers, magazine articles, industry reports that are only available by logging in to your Members Only section might as well not exist for search engines. 

The first step is to blow up your members only area.

The IT department holds the keys to the content

One of my favorite sayings is “the hardest part of managing an association website should be figuring out WHAT words to put on the page, not actually publishing them.”

I am amazed at the number of associations managing web content with Dreamweaver, static HTML or some other tech heavy system. This requires staff to have HTML and CSS skills instead of being subject matter experts, content creators or curators.

Stop and take a look at your technology infrastructure and see if you need an easy to use content management system that distributes content creation and publication to the experts who create and manage content for the rest of the organization.

Acronyms and jargon are turnoffs

People love acronyms and jargon. It makes them feel smart and “in the know.” It gives power in the conversation. Admit it, you’ve seen this sentence:

Push the envelope to reassess the bandwidth within your ERP and leverage successes to maximize ROI of these matrixed systems.

Who is this speaking too??? I’ll give you a hint… it’s not potential members or customers. The reality is that new members, advocates and potential influencers don’t know your internal language.

Visitors to your website through search are coming from all over the internet with a range of backgrounds. You might have a college graduate who hasn’t learned the best practices or a senior level executive who is trying to refresh their skills.  They haven’t become part of your club yet so they don’t know the inside terms.  (Heck, don’t even get me started on user centric design and content.)

Here’s a test. Email the copy from the “About Us” page from your website to a parent/spouse/friend and ask them to tell you what your association does.  If they can’t tell you, you have “jargonitis.”

The key is to make sure your content, page titles and other on page data are all written in plain English so your content will show up in search results.

Listen to your Content Marketing fashion coach

I’m no Clinton Kelly. But I do know a thing or two about making association website content more attractive to potential members and outside viewers.

The good news is that just like that awkward moment on What Not to Wear when the hosts dive into the closet to audit the hapless soul’s wardrobe, the content closets of associations are already filled with great content.  It just takes a good content strategy and following the basic technical principles outlined above. 

And soon you’ll be walking the red carpet in style.


Topics: web strategy, CMS, content management system, content strategy, association websites

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