Redesigning your credit union website is a big project with important implications. In many ways, your website is the face or your credit union and your biggest branch.

 

Re-creating a website is a big project because there are so many things to consider. The purpose of this post is to give you some guidance about the Must-Haves and Should-Haves, plus Extra Credit, Mind-Blowing Technologies that open world-changing opportunities and will make you a marketing rockstar if you implement them.

 

Must-Haves

These are the things your new credit union website must have. Now, technically speaking, some of these Must-Haves are not required for a website to exist. Technically, all you really need are a few lines of HTML, a domain name, and hosting; but I’m assuming you already have an existing website and your goal is to create something much better. Therefore, these Must-Haves are what you absolutely need to take your website to the next level.

1. Purpose

Seeing “Purpose” on the Must-Have list may have caught you by surprise, but this is one of the most important steps to developing a great website. You need to know why you’re doing it. What’s the purpose? What do you hope to accomplish? Clearly identify why you are redesigning your website and you’ll find clarity and direction that will guide the entire project.

Be careful when you define your purpose that you don’t just list off a bunch of features like, “We want our website to be responsive.” Yes, your website should be responsive, but why? Look for a purpose deeper than features; features are simply means to accomplish ends; features are not ends in and of themselves. Looking past features is an important principle of identifying your purpose because, for example, you could make your website responsive and still not accomplish your ultimate objective to persuade more millennials to become members of your credit union.

2. Strategy

Once you know your purpose, how are you going to make it happen? Your strategy guides how you will actually bring your plans to fruition. For example, at BloomCU, our strategy is, “Put yourself in the shoes of the user.” Our simple, user-experience strategy guides our work and produces award-winning designs.

Our strategy in action works like this: when we’re facing a design or content decision, we simply ask ourselves, “What’s best for the user experience?”

(If you’re not sure what your strategy should be, you can borrow ours: put yourself in the shoes of the user. But, if you’re going to borrow our strategy, then you have to buy me a bag of bacon jerky. Deal?)

3. Mobile Responsiveness

It’s 2016. Your website needs to work on smartphones and tablets. Looking at Google Analytics data from our credit union clients, 33% of website sessions come from mobile devices and forecasts only anticipate greater mobile browsing in the years to come. Mobile experiences should be simple. View Box Elder County Credit Union’s mobile site to see the type of mobile experience you should create. Box Elder won a 2016 Diamond Award for its mobile website.

4. Gorgeous Design

These days, the first place most people go for information is the Internet. That means the first impression most people have of your credit union is feeling they get when they first see your website. Have you ever visited a website with a terrible design–like it was built in 1999–and you immediately exited the site? That’s called a bounce. If your website’s bounce rate is high, that means visitors don’t like what they see. Your website design should make someone trust you and think, “This is a top-notch, professional credit union.”

I asked our resident Grandmaster of Design, Ryan Harmon, “What makes a design gorgeous?” He replied, “Good design makes a product useful.” Profound.

Here are some principles that will lead you in the direction of gorgeous design:

  • Authentic-looking imagery. Cheesy, posed photographs are always a bad idea. Try to pick images that look like the subjects were caught on Candid Camera, like they didn’t know the camera was there.
  • Big, emotional images. You know the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” There is important design wisdom in that proverb. As humans, our strongest sense is sight. Most of the information we take in about the world around is visual information. That’s why we’re naturally engaged by images. Furthermore, humans are emotional beings. Studies of human motivation show that emotions drive action more often than logic (read Made to Stick, Chapter 5: Emotional).
  • Images of people. People are attracted to people. While not every image on your website needs to have a human in it, the majority of your pictures should have people.
  • Full-width content. Modern websites have content, particularly images, that stretch all the way to the edges of the screen. Full-width content is a great way to make your images bigger and more engaging. If a website is not full-width, that’s pretty much a dead giveaway that the site is 5+ years old, which is ancient in the land of Internet.
  • Attractive fonts. Fonts are an important part of your brand image. Frankly, choosing fonts for your website is something you should have a designer do. A designer’s eye is trained to pick attractive fonts that align with your brand’s logo and message because designers have mystical design powers. Haha, it’s kind of hard to explain how designers choose fonts. I asked Grandmaster Hamron (aka, Ryan Harmon) how he chooses fonts. He said, “Well, first I choose serif or sans-serif. Then I narrow down a set of font stacks (headers and body font combos) and pair them up with the logo, colors, and photos into a collage-type mood board. Then I choose the one that integrates best with the brand.” How does he decide which fonts “integrate best with the brand”? He chooses what “feels good”. Like I said, mystical design powers. Despite the mystique, it works because Ryan Harmon is a design genius–he’s the mastermind behind all the designs in our beautiful portfolio.
  • Generous spacing. Good designs use empty space generously rather than cramming content into a small amount of space. So, spread out your content and let users scroll; you don’t need all of your content to be above the fold (above the fold = in view at the top of a page).
  • Simplicity. People crave simplicity. When it comes to design, less is more. Simply make your messages more targeted. Focusing on one quality message is better than delivering five watered-down messages.

To learn more about the process of creating a gorgeous credit union website design, see this case study with Meridia Community Credit Union: How Meridia Got a Beautiful Credit Union Website Design.

5. Simple Navigation

A website’s structure and function is determined by its navigation. Navigation doesn’t just include what’s on the drop-down menu, it includes the steps users take as they journey through your website. For example, if a user wants to become a member of your credit union, they should be able to start the application process with just a few easy clicks.

There are few things more frustrating than poor navigation. If a user can’t find something they are looking for on a website, the navigation has failed. Usually, a user shouldn’t have to make more than two clicks to get where they want to go.

Start designing your navigation by making an inventory of every piece of content that should exist on your website. Now organize all of that content into categories, subcategories, and pages. This well-organized inventory will become your sitemap and the basic structure of your website.

(For more detail about creating your website’s navigation, see Principle 1: Start with Content, Not Design in the case study How Meridia Got a Beautiful Credit Union Website Design.)

6. Easy-to-Use, Powerful Content Management System (CMS)

Credit unions constantly need to edit or add content to their websites. Examples include promotional graphics and text, news items, rate updates, alerts and notifications, blog posts, etc. Since there are so many things you need to regularly change on a CU website, my soul cries when I hear that marketers don’t have much control over their websites. Too many times I’ve heard marketers tell me that they have to submit changes to their agency and then wait a week or two for even the simplest modifications.

Waiting weeks for an agency to change something that should take minutes is painful. That’s why you want to choose a simple and powerful content management system (CMS), so you can do your job better and faster. At BloomCU, we use WordPress, the world’s most popular, powerful, and pliable CMS. Remarkably, WordPress powers 25% of the web. With WordPress, you can learn in just a few minutes how to edit most of your website’s content.

Obviously, we’re partial to WordPress, but you may want to check out other CMSs, too. Joomla and Drupal are also popular. To learn about other CMSs, Just Google “web content management system” and you’ll find more information than you’ll ever want to read. Make a list of all the things you need to regularly edit or add to your website and ask each vendor if its CMS enables you to easily make those changes.

7. Content Strategy

The purpose of a website is to persuade action. To persuade action, your website content needs to contain these elements:

  • Brand Statements: Explain what you do and what’s special about your credit union. Likewise, on product and service pages, explain what the product is and why it’s special.
  • Benefit Statements: Why would someone care about your brand statements (what you do and why you’re special)? Because they profit in some way. This doesn’t necessary mean financial profit. A person can also profit in terms of self-esteem, self-actualization or feeling loved. Benefits are not features or advantages. A feature is a distinctive attribute or aspect of something (examples: functionality, quality, speed, price, etc.). An advantage is a condition or circumstance that puts one in a favorable or superior position (examples: better, faster, cheaper, etc.). Benefits are deeper human motivators. Learn more about benefits by studying Maslow’s “Theory of Human Motivation.”
  • Evidence: What proof do you have that your benefit statements are true? Share testimonials, examples, statistics, and stories to prove you’re telling the truth.
  • Calls to Action: This is where the rubber meets the road. The whole purpose of your website is to get people to take action. So, what do you want them to do? Keep in mind that conversion is a journey. What call to action is appropriate for a person based on their current phase in the customer journey? The customer journey is well documented:
    1. First, a person must recognize a need.
    2. Second, she searches for information about her need and possible solutions.
    3. Third, she evaluates alternative solutions to her problem.
    4. Fourth, she chooses one of the available alternatives.
    5. Fifth, she evaluates how satisfied she is with her choice.

8. Lead Capture

If you don’t capture someone’s name and contact information, they are a ghost to you: you have no idea who they are, what they care about, how you can help them, or how to communicate with them. When someone is interested in becoming a member or using a product or service, always give them the opportunity to identify themselves and connect with you.

To start, don’t ask for mailing addresses, SSNs, and dogs’ names. Just keep it simple: ask for a name and email address. Then, you’ll at least be able to communicate with leads via email. If needed, you could ask for a phone number, but people are more sensitive about their phone numbers because calling someone’s phone is more invasive. Now that you have some means of communicating with leads, go ahead and ask for more information.

Sending leads to an email address or just leaving them in your content management system (CMS) will quickly get messy. Instead, use a good customer relationship management system (CRM). There are lots of good CRMs: Autopilot, Infusionsoft, Hubspot, etc. We like Autopilot; it’s easy-to-use, powerful, and affordable.

9. Google Analytics

Analytics are powerful. Analytics are what make digital marketing more quantifiable than any other type of marketing. With website analytics, you know exactly how many people have visited your website, how long they stayed, what pages they visited, and how many people acted on your invitations.

Google Analytics is the standard in website analytics because it’s free, really easy to set up, and gives you tons of data. Before putting Google Analytics on your site, do yourself a huge favor and install Google Tag Manager.

10. Google Tag Manager

Using Google Tag Manager will save you a ton of time and headaches. There are all sorts of very useful code snippets you can install on your site: Google Analytics, AdWords tracking, live web chat, CRM tracking code, etc. Installing separate code snippets on your site individually can be painful because you either need to get help from IT or dig into your website’s source code yourself. Instead, install Tag Manager. With Tag Manager, you only have to install one code snippet on your website. After that, when you want to add new code, you can add snippets (“tags”) via Tag Manager’s simple visual interface without waiting on IT. I love Tag Manager!

 

Should-Haves

These are things that aren’t required, per se, but you really should have them.

1. CRM & Lead Nurturing

A Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) isn’t really part of your website, but integrates with your site. A CRM holds data about your website users which enables you to nurture users and leads. The goal of nurturing is to persuade people to take specified actions. With a CRM, you can send targeted emails, text messages, postcards, and headsup messages.

As I mentioned above, there are lots of good CRMs: Autopilot, Infusionsoft, Hubspot, etc. We like Autopilot; it’s easy-to-use, powerful, and affordable.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Google is often the first place people go to find information. If you want your website to be found by Google searchers, you should do search engine optimization (SEO). There are two sides to SEO: onsite and offsite. Onsite SEO is optimizing your web pages so Google knows what your website is about based on your site’s content. Offsite SEO is getting links from other relevant websites. Google sees links from other websites as a sign of your website’s credibility.

If you use WordPress, there’s a nifty plugin called Yoast SEO which helps with onsite optimization. If you’re serious about SEO, consider hiring a firm to do optimization for you. But beware of people and agencies who do SEO but never give you reports. If SEO is working, your site will rise in search rankings. So, ask your SEO provider for monthly reports. Don’t expect results overnight–SEO is a long-term strategy–but if several months have passed and your site has risen in the search results at all, it’s time to fire your provider and get a better one.

3. Video

Video is probably the most engaging form of content. There really isn’t a better way to tell a story than through video. If you want to put videos on your website, hire a professional with a great portfolio; poor videos are painful to watch and hurt your brand.

 

Extra Credit, Mind-Blowing Technologies: You Can Be a Leader or a Laggard

The technologies below aren’t mainstream yet, but will be in just a few years. You can either be a leader or laggard when it comes to adopting new technologies.

1. Personalized, Dynamic Content

Right now, most sites are static, meaning everyone sees the same content: no matter someone’s interests or browsing behavior, they see the same promotions, images, and text as everyone else. With personalization, website content is dynamically changed based on data collected about a user.

For example, if John visits an auto loan page, there’s a pretty good chance he’s planning to buy a car. Next time John visited the homepage, what if the homepage banner automatically showed John an auto loan promotion? Pretty rad, right? That’s the power of personalization.

I have a prediction. Right now, the everyone is concerned about making their sites responsive to mobile devices, and rightly so. I predict the next big wave in website marketing is personalization. Personalization just makes sense. There are several new tech companies providing website personalization services; just google it.

2. Artificial Intelligence

The marketing possibilities opened by artificial intelligence are mind-boggling. Currently, websites are just sophisticated, digital brochures. Websites just sit there while people browse them. Of course, websites are very useful because they enable people to get information about your credit union no matter where they are. But imagine a website that’s alive. Imagine a website that remembers your name and the webpages you visit. Imagine a website that talks with its users. Imagine a website that helps users find what they’re looking for and achieve their financial goals.

Artificial intelligence for websites isn’t fairytale land. It’s here. In fact, BloomCU is currently developing an artificially intelligent website brain named Chip. To start, Chip will chat with website users about auto loans and help them on their journey to getting an auto loan from your credit union. If you think that sounds pretty amazing, put yourself on our beta list and we’ll let you know when Chip is ready for beta testers. Of course, artificial intelligence will take time and effort to perfect, but the technology is incredible; there’s no question it’s the future of the web.

3. Virtual Reality & 3D Experiences

From the beginning of the Internet, the web has been two-dimensional. All web content has length and width but no depth. This is much different from the natural, three-dimensional world we live in. Moving from 2D to 3D web experiences is a natural progression for the internet. Web pages will be replaced by 3D experiences. We won’t only read websites, we’ll be in websites.

Technically, virtual reality and 3D experiences have been around for decades in the form of video games, but a significant advancement in technology has occurred: you can now step into a 3D experience with just a web URL. You no longer need a gaming system to be in a virtual reality, you just need a browser. Every computer, tablet, and smartphone has a browser, which means a person can enter a 3D experience anytime, anywhere they have access to a device.

Now, what type of 3D experiences will be useful on your website? A lot of creativity is needed to answer that question because mankind has only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible with 3D virtual experiences. However, a great place to start is creating 360º videos. 360º videos enable the viewer to rotate the camera angle 360º, so the user controls the viewing experience. When you’re watching a 360º video, it’s more like you’re there, like you’re part of the scene. If you want to create 360º videos for your credit union, you’re probably best off hiring a professional, but you could buy your own 360º camera for a few hundred dollars.

Update, 24 August 2016: Website security is a must-have, but I didn’t list it above because it seemed too obvious. Plus, we all know security is too boring for cool marketing people to worry about, that’s why boring IT people handle it 😉 .  Still, if you want to learn how to make your credit union website secure, check out my article on CU Times: Is WordPress Secure for Credit Union Websites?. I wrote specifically about WordPress websites because WordPress is the content management system we recommend, but the same security principles apply to all websites.

 

 

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