The content moves that wow prospects and boost website traffic

November 16, 2021

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At the start of the year, AH released a series of predictions of what lies ahead for associations and non-profits in 2021. We're revisiting those predictions each month to see what's changed as associations and non-profits continue to adapt.

It’s a perennial question for association leaders: whether content is best utilized as a member-only benefit or shared publicly to position the organization as a thought leader. On one hand, the exclusivity of member benefits has long been a driving force behind why members pay dues year after year. On another, consumer behaviors are changing, and prospects are increasingly unwilling to pay dues based simply on a promise without getting to experience what they’d get in return. There’s good news for association leaders weighing these decisions: making select content available to the masses can be incredibly valuable for content marketing, boosting new member acquisition and the organization’s status as a thought leader, if used strategically.

“Association leaders haven’t necessarily been asking whether they share all or nothing when it comes to their organization’s content,” said Sarah Black, MS, Director of Content and Creative at AH. “However, the questions have really centered around how much exclusive content should be shared to be effective?”

Calling on Consumer Trends
As associations attempt to recruit new members, the association industry must be aware of the consumer behaviors affecting the expectations of their audiences.

“Associations have always marketed themselves as exclusive entities, where you’re paying for exclusivity, to be part of that exclusive in-group,” said Black. “That’s less important to today’s audiences.” What prospects will pay for: access to premium content.

“However, before you can convert them to paying members, they need to experience the content to determine whether it meets their expectations of value,” said Black.

That’s where providing a preview, or broader access opportunity, comes in. More than 84% of users visit an organization’s website before making a purchase—meaning associations can’t afford to miss the chance to show what they offer members. This may take the form of curated journal content, made available as a limited-time download (in exchange for contact information) or select content from the association’s member-only newsletter or magazine made available on a publicly available blog.

“We’re in the era of Disney Plus, YouTube Red, Hulu Premium—there is an expectation that you provide a base-level engagement for prospects to get to know your organization,” said Black. “You simply can’t make the best impression you need to without making some of your organization’s high-quality content available for non-members to access and experience. It’s the gateway for them to become paid members.”

While making select content available for non-member access allows the association to showcase what lies beyond the wall for members, it also does double duty as high-value marketing content that can help associations that have trouble getting found in the first place.

Generating Website Traffic
Association that embrace content marketing may have a goal to drive website traffic in hopes of expanding the association’s reach, or to move up the ranks on Google’s search results page for keywords related to the association or its products or activities—the byproduct of Google recognizing that the association’s website content aligns with the search terms entered by a user.

“You can post content on your website or on a blog, but unless that content aligns with keywords you want to rank for, it’s not likely to do much for you,” said Black.

Black advises associations that are incorporating a more serious content marketing strategy into their plans to consider working with a topic cluster model, in which a range of content is developed around a core topic and then internal pages of the site are linked to each other. Keywords inform the strategy, but because the strategy is topic-centered, the keywords become a supporting feature. “By focusing on topic clusters, it keeps a content strategy focused, and we’ve seen better results, sooner,” said Black.

For AH Client Partner, the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC), the strategy was applied behind the scenes, with topics selected based on existing keyword rankings and content areas CCMC wanted to focus on. While the website had a healthy amount of traffic, questions remained about whether CCMC was being returned as a result in relevant searches, and whether it was reaching its target audience. Less than one year after implementing the content strategy, the organization saw an increase in Google search rankings and a dramatically low bounce rate.

“While 91.7% of traffic to CCMC’s blog comes from organic search, our bounce rate is only 2.2%,” said Pamela Cummings, AH’s Director of MarCom and CCMC’s marketing manager. “We are super specific in our content and the topics that we cover. More than 7,200 people visit the blog each quarter, and when they get there, they stay there.”

That performance helps ensure that CCMC reaches relevant users and has an opportunity to be discovered by new prospects.

For some organizations, a topic cluster model might not be in the cards just yet, but a keyword-informed strategy is the next-best option. AH Client Partner, the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) had a robust volunteer-led blog but didn’t see the strategic performance they had hoped for.

“There’s always cause for putting that member-generated content out there—this is the community, these are the faces and voices of the people of the association,” said Black. “So while there’s tremendous value in that, the one thing it might lack is SEO value.” AH’s content team partnered with NOVA to supplement its volunteer blogging activity to ensure that the blog has content incorporating SEO best practices, and aligning with keywords and topics that are strategic priorities for the association.

Those strategic blogs perform as intended, according to Samantha Kresz, NOVA’s marketing manager. “They’re more engaged with than other content and perform better in member communications,” said Kresz, evidence that the keyword- and data-informed content resonates with the NOVA audience.

Back to Membership
The expectations surrounding association membership have shifted from one of belonging and exclusivity to that of access. Being responsive to these expectations by not only making select high-quality content available for non-member access but by creating interesting content that addresses areas of interest in their industry helps associations demonstrate the value of membership. In addition, that content can help associations ensure that they are being found online and returned in searches related to their organization.

“Attitudes are really changing around what prospects expect from an association before they’re expected to pay,” said Black. “From that initial Google search to a preliminary look at journal content, a member magazine, an exclusive webinar, whatever it may be, a strategic approach to producing and sharing content is proving vital for today’s associations.”

Learn more about the content trends driving association membership.