Strategies for an Effective Toastmasters Club Website
This article accompanies material presented in an Education Session at the District 21 Toastmasters fall conference held in Langley, British Columbia on November 1, 2008.
Your Club Website Can be a Great Membership Building Tool
A Toastmasters club website can be an effective tool for attracting new members.
Unfortunately, most club websites fall short of their potential in bring potential members to meetings as guests. Why? There are many reasons, including:
- The website address is not publicized.
- Little or no traffic from search engines.
- Poor design turns visitors away
- Information relevant to visitors is hard to find amidst the information relevant to current members.
- Questions relevant to visitors are not answered
- The call to action is not clear
A Better Way to Manage your Club Website
There is a better way. We will step through the following elements:
- Analyze your market
- Attract guests to your website
- Capture their attention
- Sell the benefits
- Answer their questions
- Invite them to visit
Step 1 – Analyzing Your Market
Who are you trying to attract?
The simple answer to that question is “anyone who will pay their dues,” but you need to explore beyond that.
What demographics describe the person who would be an ideal fit for your club?
- Self-employed? Entrepreneurs?
- Retired? Student?
- Ambitious? Or laid back?
- Singles? (e.g. your club has many social events)
- Existing Toastmasters? (e.g. your club is advanced)
Who is your competition?
Everyone is busy.
It would be nice if everyone who can benefit from Toastmasters considered it a priority to join a club. It would be nice if every experienced member would join 2, 3, or 4 clubs. It would be nice, but that isn’t reality.
It is important to realize you are competing for discretionary time and money.
- Other Toastmasters clubs (of course, this should be cooperative)
- Other communication and leadership training
e.g. college or extension classes, Dale Carnegie workshops
- Other social clubs or activities
- Books, videos, Internet
What are your club strengths?
Given the ideal person you are looking for, and given your competition, what are the strengths of your club? Try to think about how your club gives you an advantage over your competition.
- Compared to other Toastmasters clubs:
- Does your meeting day/time fill an empty niche?
- Do you have more experienced members?
- Does your club have a specialization?
- Is your venue superior?
- Compared to other communication and leadership training:
- Are you less expensive?
- Do you provide more hands-on practice?
- Are you more accessible?
- Compared to other social clubs or activities:
- Does your club provide more career benefits?
- Compared to books, videos, or Internet resources:
- Your club has a more personal quality
Step 2 – Attract guests to your website
Before your website can begin convincing people to visit your club, it needs to be seen. This is often overlooked, as many people assume that “If someone wants to find us, they’ll find our site.”
There are two primary ways that someone surfing the Internet will land on your website:
- Method A: They will arrive via a direct referral
- Method B: They will arrive via a search engine (e.g. Google)
Method A – Via Direct Referrals
Your goal is to have your website address listed as many places as possible, both online (where people will click on it) and offline (so people will type it in directly).
To increase your online referrals:
- Ensure your club information is correctly listed both on Toastmasters International and on the District 21 website. Many potential new members will use one of these two websites to find a club, and it is essential that you can be found via these sites.
- Place links to your club website as many places as possible
e.g. your personal website, your email signature, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn profile, free community classifieds (e.g. craigslist.org)
- Consider advertising your website
To increase your offline referrals:
- Include your website address on your club brochure, posters, or business cards
- Get it listed in community publications. Many community newspapers or activity guides will allow you to list your club, usually for free.
Method B – Via Search Engines (e.g. Google)
First, make your club website is added to the two most popular search engines — Google and Yahoo.
Next, realize that it isn’t enough for Google (or others) to know about you. They also need to rank pages of your website high for the search terms that people will type in.
Suppose Mary hears about Toastmasters from a friend, and decides to check out a few clubs with Google’s help.
- Mary types “vancouver toastmasters” into Google
- 61,800 matching pages come up.
- Mary clicks on the first three links, and then decides to visit clubs 2 and 3.
- Unfortunately, your club was listed 34th.
Your website ranking is very important. It will directly impact the number of visitors your website receives via search engines.
On the negative side, there’s no magic bullet (aside from paying to advertise) to guarantee a high search ranking. There is an entire industry built around this task (search engine optimization, or SEO).
On the positive side, there are several simple guidelines you can follow which will generally improve the ranking of your pages.
- Determine what words people are most likely to use when searching for a club like yours. A few possibilities are listed here:
- “Toastmasters” is an obvious term, as are “public speaking”, “presentation skills”, and others.
- The name of your city is another sure-fire search term
e.g. “Vancouver”, “Langley”, “Nanaimo”
- Consider nearby communities as well. For example, if your club is in New Westminster, then “Burnaby” is also relevant.
- Consider nearby neighbourhoods, educational institutions, or landmarks
e.g. Kerrisdale, UBC, “downtown Vancouver”, “Walnut Grove”
- The day or time of day might be relevant
e.g. “Wednesdays”, “Saturdays”, “mornings”, “lunch hour”
- Use these terms (and combinations of terms) throughout your website, particularly in these key places:
- The page title (this is the single most important place!)
- Page headings (H1, H2, H3 tags if you know HTML)
- Text which is bolded or italicized
- Text surrounding images, or the ALT text for images
- All other page text
- Follow this advice with restraint.
Some people mistakenly think that it helps them to include “Vancouver Toastmasters downtown club mornings” 500 times on a page, but that is a bad idea. Not only will Google possibly penalize your ranking, your pages will also look stupid to anyone who visits them.
- Depending on your club name, it may be irrelevant when it comes to search engines (no matter how much you like it) if it doesn’t include any terms such as those above. Should you change your club name? That might be extreme, but…
Step 3 — Capture their attention
People surfing the web tend to have extremely short attention spans. If their first impression of your website is negative, they will leave in just a few seconds.
Here are the basics in making sure they stick around longer:
- Make it Visitor-Focused
- The focus of your website, especially the front page, should be on visitors.
- Use interesting titles which draw the visitor in.
e.g. “Build your confidence today” or “Boost your career with presentation skills”
- Elements of the site should be clearly organized into “For Guests” and “For Members”. The “For Guests” items should take primary focus on the front page and in the navigational links.
- Attractive design
- You don’t need to hire a designer, but your site should be clean and easy-to-read.
- Use navigational links along the top or in the left or right sidebars so that people can easily move between pages.
- Avoid “shocking” color combinations.
- Utilize photographs and videos of your club members. This helps establish a personal connection. Just be sure the photographs/videos are of high quality. A tiny thumbnail image of someone who is not identifiable is not sufficient.
- Make it Unique
- This is just my opinion, but I think you should avoid template sites like freetoasthost.org if your primary competition is other Toastmasters clubs (e.g. you live in an urban area with many clubs). That service makes putting up a website easy; easy doesn’t necessarily translate to effective. Template sites tend to lack personal appeal, and visitors are less likely to stick around.
Step 4 — Sell the benefits, not the features
“Sell the benefits, not the features” is a salesperson mantra which tells you not to focus on product features, but rather o the benefits to be enjoyed by the consumer of the product.
- Feature: This energy bar has 34g of carbohydrates.
Benefit: You’ll be able to run farther and train harder with a boost of energy.
- Feature: These shoes have high-tech resiliency layers in the soles.
Benefit: Your feet and ankles will not get sore when you run.
So, while features are important, you definitely want to make it personal by translating them into benefits for the potential guest.
- Feature: Our club is located at Richmond City Hall.
Benefit: Our club is centrally located on a bus route and across the street from great shopping.
- Feature: Our club has been President’s Distinguished three years in a row.
Benefit: Our club has a successful track record of supporting members to achieve their personal goals.
- Feature: Our club meets Wednesday mornings @ 7:00 a.m.
Benefit: A fun-filled, educational meeting first thing in the morning energizes you for the whole day, and reduces conflicts with work.
When thinking of features and benefits for your club, consider:
- Benefits of the Toastmasters in general, such as
- Greater confidence
- More articulate in interviews
- Improved career possibilities
- Improved relationships
- Benefits of your club compared to other clubs, such as
- Great facility, location, or parking
- Innovative format or club theme
- Experience level of members
- All of the other results from your market analysis
Step 5 — Answer their questions
Even if your visitor likes the idea of joining Toastmasters or the idea of visiting your club, they may still be apprehensive. It’s important for you to anticipate their questions or concerns, and address them on the website.
Put yourself in their position (hey, you once were in their position!), and anticipate the questions they might have. Just a few examples include:
- Can anyone join?
- What is Toastmasters International?
- When do you meet? How often?
- Do I need to deliver a speech every week if I join?
- Where do you meet?
- How much does it cost?
Step 6 — Invite them to visit
If all of the previous steps have gone well, your visitor is now convinced that your club may be a good match. But, they still might not understand that they can visit your club as a guest or how to go about doing so.
Your goal should be to get them from your website to your club meeting both effortlessly and without risk.
First, make it effortless for them:
- Put the “come visit our club” information in a prominent place on the front page of your site. Even better, put it on every page. I recommend the top-right corner.
- It is easy to embed a map showing your location right on your website. Do that!
- Give directions, even if it is simple. Be sure to explain any non-obvious items (e.g. take the north elevator, not the south elevator)
- Explain parking and/or transit options, if relevant.
- What time should they arrive? A few minutes early gives them time to mingle, but make sure someone is there to greet them!
Second, reduce any perceived risk they may feel:
- Can I “drop in”? Or do I have to call ahead?
- Can I come any week? (Do you meet every week?) Can I come during a “contest”? (What’s a contest?)
- Do I have to speak if I come as a guest?
- Will I be pressured to join after the meeting?
I hope that these tips and techniques help you improve the effectiveness of your club website. Please contact me if you have any comments or questions.