The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

What to Know Before an Association Website Redesign – Practical Advice

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Tue, Jun 18, 2013


Start your website redesign here

Can you believe that almost 40% of associations have not done a website redesign in more than 3 years? This was a key finding from the Association Website Redesign benchmarking survey we fielded late last year.

A lot has changed in that time including the availability of affordable content management systems like Sitefinity, the importance of responsive web design, not to mention the rise of content marketing and increased competition for your members’ attention.

Another twist in the association web design process is the fact that many of those on the association side who are responsible for the redesign do not have web backgrounds. In fact, many have never managed a website redesign before and have many questions as we start the process. The most common questions we get are “How much will this cost?” and “How long will it take?”  The answers to those are simply “it depends.”

But rather than take our advice, we asked our survey respondents, “What bit of advice would you offer to another organization about to take on a website redesign?”  Here is what they had to offer:

Plan for more time and cost

This is quite frankly what most people want to know.  Here is some advice from survey participants:

“Do not underestimate the amount of time and thought that needs to go into creating a new website. My experience has been that top managers and/or volunteers have totally unrealistic views on what it takes to do a redesign.”

“It's going to take much more time and money than you anticipate! And everyone has an opinion.”

“Don't underestimate the time it will take; invest in usability testing; identify specific points to brief your stakeholders, but exercise caution on making changes based on their input so you don't stray from the strategy.”

An analysis of Vanguard projects finds projects average 8 to 9 months from kick-off to launch. This gives the project enough time for discovery, design, development and testing before launching your new site. As for the cost, it still depends.  Here are some things that will affect project costs (and timeline):

Detailed audience analysis and discovery (Note: as you will see later, this is more of an “investment” than a true cost.)

  • Extended approval processes
  • Recreating custom functionality that isn’t handled by other systems
  • Adding pieces to the project after you have started (aka "scope creep")

Put members’ needs first

Too often, the layout and structure of an association website is a copy of the org chart. Membership. Education. Meetings. Publications.  These are YOUR needs, not the members’ needs.

Our study shows that a “member first” approach drives an engaging experience that keeps members coming back. It's a best practice we follow at Vanguard Technology and have seen first hand how it generates results.

Here is what we heard.

“Don't skimp on the user/visitor research before, during and after. Aim to have as many decisions as possible based on this feedback.”

“Know your objectives, know what your audience wants, and make the hard decisions -- everything can't be on the home page.”

“Take the time to understand who your audience(s) is and why they are coming to your website. Understand what content you want on your new site and don't plan to migrate everything under the sun from the old site to the new.”

“Create a design for your members - your primary audience - and not for your staff. Use data as evidence to help avoid conflict over the design.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Plan the project with a research based, strategic approach

An association’s website is the organization’s most visible asset. As such it deserves strategic considerations when developing your project plan and assigning resources or selecting technology.  Here is some of what we heard:

“Review your long-term plans for your association and your plans for the web/technology as part of it.“

“Conduct a thorough survey of users, but identify an individual or council member who is empowered make final decisions on design.”

“Make sure to have a plan laid out with your vendor prior to beginning any work at all. Also, use a vendor who doesn't just listen to your wants, but provides knowledge of best practices and industry standards.”

“Decide what the problem is you're trying to solve BEFORE you engage the designers.”

“Define requirements, define requirements and define requirements.”

This is very sound advice and fits well with how we approach our projects.  A few things to consider when taking on a website redesign:

  • If you were just launching this association, how would you present the information? (And be sure to look at your competitive landscape.)
  • How are your revenue streams changing? What accommodations need to be made in the site architecture to take advantage of that?
  • How are your users adapting to your new competition? Are you creating a new experience for the old guard or building a platform for future growth?

Considering the significant cost that will go into a new website – in both vendor cost and staff time – it is critical to take a strategic, long term view.

Other things to consider?

Of course, our survey respondents had some other sage advice to offer.

“Consult as many stakeholders (members, internal management, etc.) as possible at specific milestones throughout the project for feedback you'll actually incorporate but keep the actual team that executes the redesign small.”

“Make sure you put in place a good team that represents one individual from each facet of the organization - more importantly, make sure these individuals have the time to dedicate to the project.”

“Rollout isn't the end of the project, it's the beginning. Ours was up for several months before the staff began to think about what we really wanted and recommended changes.”

What did we miss? Is there anything you would add to the discussion? Leave a comment below and share your insight.

About the Survey:

Vanguard Technology fielded our Association Website Redesign benchmarking survey in the 4th Quarter of 2012. 115 association professionals participated in the survey and offered their opinions on how long ago they designed their sites, what drove the design and more. Vanguard has sharing bits of information from the survey on our blog and other content. For immediate results and insight, email me at and I’d be more than willing to give you a quick walk through of the findings.


Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, jakeandlindsay


Topics: web strategy, website redesign, content management system

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