Getting the Most From Your Affiliate's or Chapter's Web Site by Ronald E. Milliman

The following information is a summary of one of the PR committee's quarterly open conference calls.
 
This conference call began with participant introductions.  Ron Milliman, chair of the PR committee, reviewed the various affiliate web site certificates of recognition that were presented during the combined workshop of the membership and PR committees at the ACB national convention in Louisville in July.

Ease of Access and Navigability

Most of the web sites were easy to access and navigate.  However, on some sites you could click on a link to an interior page, but then you could not get to any of the other pages of the site, including back to the home page.  You should be able to get to the other pages within the site and back to the previous page easily.  Some sites were not set up very well for a screen-reader user.  For instance, many sites had no way to change magnification.  Annette Carter, web site administrator, mentioned an accessibility bar that is being incorporated into the newest versions of browsers.  Putting accessibility-related options in headers was recommended, linking it to an accessibility tab where text and background color and size can be adjusted.  The web site www.w3schools.com has tutorials for learning code for building web sites.  Drupal 7, an open-source content management system (CMS) for web design, offers two modules called text size and page style.  You can find tutorials on these modules along with language options at the creator's page at http://www.zwahlendesign.ch/en.

Website Content

While some of the web sites evaluated were quite current and appeared to be kept up to date, others were not.  The dates on the pages were often months, and in a few cases even years, old.  In some instances, the content on the page was much more current than the date shown on the bottom of the page.  Make sure your contact information is current, visible and accessible.
 
To keep your site looking fresh, it was recommended to change the looks of your front page quite often.  This also makes your page more visible to search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others, resulting in a higher ranking on these search engines when searches are done.  Displaying pictures and graphics is highly recommended, too.  Be sure to alt-tag all pictures and graphics so that screen-reader users will know what they are.  Alt-tags are also important in facilitating photo recognition and cataloguing by the search engines.

Writing and Obtaining Content

Maintaining a consistent layout and style was highly recommended.  Keep the information current, present a variety of information, and continually ask members if they have done anything recently that could be included in the content of your site.  For instance, a member might have participated on a city mayor's advisory council, or perhaps someone received an award or some kind of special recognition, or maybe someone has a unique hobby worthy of a story.  Be sure to include pictures whenever possible.  Pictures add appeal and credibility to your content.  Much of your content needs to be of interest to your members, but some content should be of interest to non-members as well.  It's important to have a reasonably complete list of resources, categorized by the type of resource, e.g. blind and low-vision products, blind and low-vision related services and organizations, common eye diseases, etc.  Again, your resource list should be current, extensive, inclusive, and well organized.  It is extremely important that your links on your resources page open in their own separate windows.  In this way, when the link is closed, it will take you right back to the original site. 
 
While participants agreed that it is good to include a donation link on your web site, a rather lengthy discussion ensued about how often and where a donate button should be placed on your site.  The conclusion was that a link to a donation page should be included on the front page of your web site, and it should be clearly visible on the bottom part of the page to avoid projecting the image that you are only interested in soliciting money.
 
Ann Chiappetta, a member of Guide Dog Users, Inc., informed participants that GDUI uses an open-source content management system called Joomla, available from www.joomla.org/. It is fairly easy to use and is accessible.  Be sure to find the 508 compliant template.

Some Additional Observations

The remaining time was spent discussing other things to consider when designing your web site.  Having a site map link at the top of your pages is highly recommended.  A "skip to content" link is also good to incorporate into your site.  A "contact us" link should be visible on every page.
 
Ron emphasized the main limitation on nearly all of the sites was the lack of pictures and graphics.  When designing web sites, you need to meet the needs of these three populations: screen-reader users, the low-vision population, and sighted people.  You need to make the necessary tools available for people to change their own settings for visual preferences.  Design your site with simple navigation and with screen-reader users in mind.  Clear color contrast of print and backgrounds on your web pages is also important.  For color scheme samples, visit www.colorschemedesigner.com. After designing your web site, have other people look at it with different browsers and versions of browsers to make sure your site is fully accessible and functional using those different browsers.

Driving Traffic to Your Site

Use social media to drive people to your site as well as different search engines.  Interactive content and blogs will help improve your search engine rankings.  Contact owners of other web sites devoted to blind and low-vision issues and arrange to exchange links with them.  This will also help to improve your listings and rankings on Google, Yahoo, and MSN, among others. 
 
All of your individual pages should be optimized for search engine recognition, listing, and ranking, making sure key words are emphasized on every page, reflecting the essence or theme of that page.  To increase optimization, be sure to use whatever word(s) or phrase you want to help you get to the top when people are searching for information.  You can even pay a small fee to the search engines, e.g. Google Pay Per Click, to make sure your site is ranked among the top listings when people search for the key words or phrases on which you want to be ranked.  You could pay a small fee to receive a high listing whenever someone searches for the phrase "blind support group," or "low vision services."  You pay the fee for each time someone clicks on your listing when they have put in such a phrase.  The fee varies depending upon the word or phrase.  Google and other search engines have tutorials available to help you optimize your site.  Remember that web site rankings are extremely dynamic, and you can make the top 10 listings one day and drop to the top 100 six months later.   Monitor your rankings and modify your web site frequently.