Don't Squander Your Money: 10 Essentials for All Websites

This Halloween I might dress as the economy. I can't think of any scarier. You're right to be scared too, especially if you're a nonprofit and beholden to funders, because you've got to make the case why you need a good website.

Hold on. Reality check: you aren't thinking of cutting funding for your own website, are you? That would be a grave mistake. Websites are not only the public face of your organization, but the best tool you have to information and create a community on a budget.

Now that we've got that straight, let's look at the top 10 things your website should have so that it gives you a good return on your investment. And just hanging in there won't cut it. People will stop visiting your site - and thinking about your organization - if they don't see some worthwhile action happening online. This is one of those times you need to invest.

In no particular order (because they're all important), here are 10 things your website simply must have and that will wind up saving you money.

1.Contact form. You can always post your e-mail address on your website, but be prepared to be overrun with spam. Avoid this by putting a contact form on your site to make it easy for your website visitors to reach you and to avoid spammers at the same time. You might also think of adding a Captcha to your form.

2.A place for feedback. This could be a contact form, but better yet, let your website visitors leave comments. This might be on your blog, on news postings or on articles. You can also allow ratings, which lets people cast their vote.

3.Consistent navigation. Make sure people know where to go on your site by putting your navigation in the same place everywhere.

4.Regularly updated information. Freshness keeps people coming back. At the very least, make sure you're cycling through new content on the homepage on a weekly basis. Blogs and Twitter accounts make this an even easier way to create an online community through content.

5.Analytics. Try a tool such as GetClicky.com or Google Analytics to find out when people are coming to your site, where they're from and a whole load of other stuff. Analytics tools are way more powerful than a counter.

6.Donate now button. If you're a nonprofit that accepts donations from a constituency, make it clear and easy.

7.Address front and center. A street address. With a phone number. Do it.

8.Search tool - for your site, not someone else's. A search box will help your visitors find exactly what they need. But don't make the mistake of putting a Google search box or a search tool from another site on yours. You just make it easier for people to leave.

9.Really good URLs. This starts with your web address (I know nonprofits are swimming in alphabet soup, but don't make everyone else guess your acronym). Then make sure you have Clean URLs installed throughout.

10.A CMS. A content management system will make these things a bajillion times easier to do if you have a publishing system in place. Here's how we do it.

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