Beat Online Competition; Encourage Members to Keep Returning to Your Website

A good website will keep your members coming back for more.

Twenty years ago, a food truck was often called a “roach coach.” Food trucks didn’t compete with restaurants and mainly served construction workers lukewarm burritos. This morning, I drove across town to get a maple sausage waffle sandwich from a Portland food truck. We have so many food trucks in Portland that we now have “food pods” that occupy entire city blocks where you can dine from a rainbow of exotic and tasty possibilities. Today, food trucks definitely compete with restaurants for customers. The willingness of people to eat good food from a food truck is a recent change and it dropped the barrier to entry as a restaurateur. The result is a market flooded with competition. This phenomenon isn’t just affecting restaurants, though: technology and cultural shifts are dropping competitive barriers across the board and it’s impacting your association.

For example, you might believe that the current generation of workers aren’t “joiners.” Or that people are transactionally-oriented and will only sign up for membership to get something and will leave as soon as they have it. After all, “what’s in it for me,” is what they’re asking, right? 

The truth is:

Your members have more options than ever before. All those options mean that they can find choices that are really valuable to them. They don’t have to settle for something that’s just okay —  they can find something great. 

It’s not that they’re flighty or lack loyalty. It’s not that they’re just trying to get one specific thing out of your association. It’s that they want value back for their investment in energy, time and money. And with all those options out there, they can get it.

In this new, highly-competitive environment, retaining members is a huge challenge and engaging them is more critical than ever before.

Your association’s website has a sea of competitors too

Your website is one of the areas where this competitive challenge plays out.

It used to be a huge win to just have a website. Then it was a huge win to have a website that could actually do something like registering new members. Then it was a huge win to have a responsive website.

Today, an upstart competitor can create an attractive mobile-friendly website that registers members in less than a week. Moreover, there are thousands of other sites competing indirectly by serving specific needs your association used to be the only game in town for.

The days have long passed when it was good enough to just have a website. However, properly implemented, your website can contribute a huge amount of value to members and build the engagement that leads to retention.

How do you do that, though?

The key question to ask yourself

Think about your website like your favourite restaurant (or waffle sandwich food truck.)  You consistently have a great experience at that restaurant: the food is what you want, it tastes great, and you come back again and again. This returning behaviour is a form of engagement.

You want your website to create the same sort of repeat behaviour, where members return to it again and again.

The question you need to ask yourself is this:

What on your website would give members a reason to come back?

It’s wonderful if you can provide a positive, useful, experience for members once with your site, but to build engagement you need to develop repeat behaviour.

What develops that repeat behaviour?

  • Fresh content. Blogs, podcasts, videos continually educating and updating.
  • Deep content that provides answers to people at various stages of their career or work cycle.
  • Forums and online communities where people interact.
  • Tools that are regularly needed and useful.
  • Online education to meet certification requirements.

But… features won’t save you

It’s easy to think that you just need to invest in these sorts of features: pump out content in a blog, invest in an online forum, or implement expensive online education software.

That would be a mistake.

In our restaurant analogy, that would be like selling pizza to members who like pizza, but not caring whether the pizza tasted good.

You need mechanisms that encourage people to return to your site, because they’re valuable.

You want blog posts that are helpful, smart and entertaining. You want a forum that has a vibrant, supportive community. You want online education that’s actually useful and easy to understand.

You need both tactics that encourage repeat visits and content that really does provide value.

When you accomplish this, something magical happens: your website goes from being an asset that members expect you to have, to a reason that makes members happy to get out their wallets when it’s time to pay their membership dues.

5 fixes to build engagement with your association’s website

Creating value again and again for your members through your website may seem intimidating.

Fortunately, if you attend this year’s CSAE 2019 conference, I’ll be presenting on exactly this topic and sharing “Five Fixes to Build Engagement With Your Association’s Website.”  You’ll learn:

  • What unfair advantage you have overall those competitors.
  • How to create value for members without working more or hiring someone.
  • A 15-minute exercise to figure out what members value with a tool you already own.
  • A three-minute test to get actionable feedback on what on your website is hurting your association.

On top of all this, the session is packed with shortcuts, tips and strategies that will help you better serve your members. It’s designed specifically for you, the association professional, with tactics you have the power to implement.

And a bonus!

If you register for CSAE 2019 Conference and attend this session you’ll receive a free copy of our $19 e-book on this topic. (

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