How To Breathe New Life Into Credit Union Websites

Credit union websites suck.

OK, it's a broad statement and I may not be talking to you, but I see a lot of credit union websites that suck. They are outdated with poor design and awkward usability. Credit unions are the new darlings among consumers partially due to their membership-driven policies, personal service and local community ties. Potential members inevitably start with research on the web.

Progressive credit unions must capture the attention of members and potential members with a compelling online story via a modern corporate website. Does your website match up?

Great design. This one should be obvious but you wouldn't believe how many credit unions still have outdated websites. This hurts your credibility. When prospective members are making decisions about where to put their money, they need to feel trust. If your credit union website doesn't make a good first impression on members, they are gone. A strong design is necessary to communicate brand integrity and reliability. Sites with a clear header, ease of navigation and beautiful visual design all stand out in a positive way with trust and appeal going hand-in-hand. Busy sites with scattered testimonials, buttons that don't fit in with the navigational structure or content that is disguised as ads, were all generally frowned upon and received negative feedback according to usability studies. Credit unions should focus on a clean, crisp design that stays very content-driven.

Usability. Credit union websites shouldn't stray away from common usability norms. Navigation should be in logical places, navigational items should use common naming conventions, and sectional or sub-navigation should be well-structured. Additionally, usability studies say that the "About Us" and "Contact Us" are the two most popular navigational items that website visitors click on. Don't deviate from these common conventions.

Professional content. On the web, content must be clear, concise, and logical. Follow the keep-it-simple rule. Make sure your content is written by a professional to ensure that website visitors feel a sense of trust and credibility as they research your credit union. Professional content writers also know how to weave terms into your content that can generate organic search traffic to your site.

Social media. Today's consumers are on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Smart credit unions will take advantage of this new media by creating special promotions for fans and followers which in essence help them build a list of permission-based constituents. These buttons should be on your website, but in a non-pushy place. Participants in a recent study by Usabilla, website user experience experts, had an "overwhelmingly negative response" to the Facebook "Like" button. Participants stated they "really hate the pushy appearance of a company asking for an endorsement" or "begging" a user to "Like" their company or brand without any benefit to the user. So pay attention to where you place these buttons. As well, you should link content that you place on your social media sites back to your website for maximum effect.

Relevant blog. Every credit union website should have a blog. A blog is the perfect venue for the kind of education and information that comes from a credit union. It helps build authority and places your credit union in a position of "trusted advisor" to its members which opens the door to up-selling additional products. Blogging also boosts search engine rankings. If you start a blog, just know that consistency and relevancy are the two keys. There's nothing worse than going to a blog that hasn't had any postings for months, except going to a blog that doesn't understand its audience and therefore has irrelevant and uninteresting posts.

Up-to-date rates. When consumers get to your credit union's website, make sure it easy for them to find interest rates. Your rates may not be the best in town, but if you post your rates clearly and your competition keeps it a secret, you will create more trust in prospective members because you are giving them an easy path to information, which increases their comfort level.

Online registration for seminars/webinars. Being very member-focused, credit unions are in a great position to offer educational seminars to their members. Make it is easy for people to sign up for these on-site events on your website. Also consider conducting webinars to allow your members and prospective members to learn valuable financial information by participating from home.

In the past credit unions could get away with having bad websites because they were the poor stepsister that was trying to keep it lean and mean. But now the spotlight is on. Don't use money as an excuse if your website is not up-to-date. You can't afford not to have a modern website.

Ginny Cain is a 360-degree marketing specialist with more than 20 years of experience and has held senior level marketing positions with several financial services-related companies. She can be reached at ginny@ginnycain.com.