Don’t miss this opportunity to get your message across


Baby goats can provide many lessons for getting your message across.

What??? Baby goats?! What do baby goats have to do with getting your message across? Not much (though they sure are cute). But your eye was drawn to the photo and the caption, wasn’t it?

Captions are often overlooked in web articles, but they’re a great opportunity to get your message across. People may not read the entire article, but they will likely look at the photo. And if they look at the photo, chances are they’ll read the caption too.

The caption is a chance to get your message across to people who may not read the article, and it’s also a chance to entice them to read more.


To do:

Look at your top 10 most visited articles. Do you use captions in your photos? If so, are they descriptive of the photo, or do they tell a mini story?

For example, let’s say you have a photo receiving an award for their project. A caption in a print publication might say something like, “Girl Scout Troop #857 from Oklahoma City receive the Mayor’s Award for outstanding service to the community.” The web isn’t print, so you don’t have to play by those rules.

Try something like, “These girl scouts devoted their summer break to rebuilding the run-down park and are now being recognized by the mayor for their service.” Doesn’t that sound a little more inviting? Then, if visitors want to know more, they can find details in the story. If they click away from your site without reading the full story, at least they might be aware of the work the girl scouts did.

Take a look at the captions in your 10 most visited articles and think about how you can use them to connect the photo with a key point in your content. The more useful captions you can write, the better.

Bonus tip: These updated captions could make great social media posts!

Why your website needs headings


Like a menu at a restaurant, headings help your website visitors find what they’re looking for.

When you sit down at a new restaurant and open the menu, what do you look for? Maybe you want some appetizers to share, a list of local beers, or vegetarian entrees. Chances are you’ll use the headings to find what you want.

Your website visitors use headings on your page as well to skim the information and find what they’re looking for. Another reason to use headings is because they make your site more SEO-friendly. Here are some best practices for using headings:

  • The H1 heading should be the title of your page. Don’t use the H1 heading anywhere else.
  • Use your headings as-is. Don’t change the size or add styling like bold or italics. If you don’t like the style of your headings, work with your web designer to change them.
  • Only use your headings for their intended purpose …as headings. Don’t use them to style text in the middle of a paragraph.


To do:

Take a look at your top 10 most visited articles. How do you separate ideas on your page? Do you use headings, or styling like bold or italics? Or is your page one long article?

If you already use headings, keep up the good work!

If you don’t already use headings, take a look at your content and identify how you could break it up into sections:

  • If your page is organized in steps or uses bold or italics to break up the content, you already have natural places to use headings.
  • If it’s one long article, look for changes in ideas where you could add subheadings.
  • There may be some articles where you don’t add any subheadings at all, but always take the time to consider using them in your content.

From one to many: How social proof can help your cause


Whether in stores or on your website, people go where others are.

When I have a day out running errands, sometimes it feels like people are following me. Not in the creepy sense. But I’ll go into a store that’s almost empty, and a few minutes later it’s full of people. This happens again and again.

It turns out, I’m not imagining things.

There is actual science behind this. A study at the University of Leeds found that 95% of people followed others when asked to walk around randomly in a hall. Other studies have shown that people follow the crowd in where they’re gazing, stores they visit, products they buy, and even when voting for candidates.

This kind of behavior has helped humans survive – if one person has already checked out a new location or tried a new food, it must be safe. In the digital age, you can use this kind of “herd behavior” to your advantage on your website to get people to take action.


To do:

Find places on your website where you can show “social proof.” Here are some examples:

  • Testimonials
  • Ratings for your products/services
  • Photos of people using your products/services or volunteering
  • Number of people signed up for your e-newsletter, donated, volunteered, or signed up for an event
  • Display the numbers of shares in social share buttons

Note: If you are just starting out, showing how many people have joined your cause may backfire. People may mistakenly assume that since not many people have backed your cause, something must be wrong.

Think about it: If you saw something that said “4 people have already signed up for this webinar” you might think, “Wow, they must give terrible webinars if only four people are signed up…” In reality, the reason there are so few people signed up could be that the webinar registration just opened. In this case, wait until more people have signed up until you use social proof to encourage more people to join.

Bite-sized is best: the importance of smaller paragraphs


Sweets and website content are best served in bite-sized portions.

Cake pops. Brownie bites. M&M minis. These small sweets are both cute and bite-sized, which makes them fun and easy to eat. Hungry yet?

Your content should be in bite-sized portions as well. Breaking up paragraphs makes it easier to read and will help increase your retention rates.

The rule that a paragraph must contain at least three sentences doesn’t apply in web writing. Smaller paragraphs will help you get straight to the point, making it easier for your audience to understand your message.


To do:

Look at your analytics and find your 10 most visited articles. Do you have large blocks of text, or short paragraphs with a lot of white space?

If you chose the first answer, you have some room for improvement. Fortunately, you won’t have to change any of the words to make it easier to read. Go into the edit mode and experiment with breaking up the long paragraphs. Try doubling the number of paragraphs and see how it turns out.

Of course, the paragraph breaks still need to make sense – you shouldn’t break up ideas or thoughts in the middle of an explanation. Hopefully you’ll find that you can use them to your advantage to emphasize certain points you’re trying to make.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on breaking up paragraphs, implement this tactic in your other sections of the website if you have time. At the very least, remember this tip and commit to breaking up your future content into bite-sized pieces.

(Note: If you’re nervous to try this out on your most visited articles, you can try it first with your least visited pages. The purpose of editing your most visited content is because you want people to see your best work.)

How to improve the necessary evil of forms


Don’t turn away potential subscribers, donors, or volunteers with long forms.

Have you ever adopted a pet? Or attempted to? You might be really excited to adopt a pet, but once you start filling out all the forms you may question why you decided to go this route instead of just going to a pet store.

You don’t want this to happen to your website visitors. If they are about to sign up for an event, download a resource, or donate, the last thing you want is for them to second guess why they’re about to take action and leave your page before they’re done filling out the form.


To do:

  • Reduce the number of fields to the absolute minimum. For email sign-up forms, don’t include more than three fields. The more fields you have, the less likely people will fill them out. Make sure you actually use all the information you collect. If you don’t use it, get rid of the field.
  • Keep the number of optional fields to a minimum, and eliminate them altogether if you can. It doesn’t always register that there are optional fields – people see a long form and dread having to fill it out, even if half of it is optional.
  • If some fields are required and others are optional, make sure the required fields are clearly marked.
  • Consider asking for additional information after someone signs up. For example, if you’d like to segment your e-newsletter by interest, ask about their interests in an automatic email after they’ve subscribed.
  • Embed forms within your articles and announcements if possible. For example, if you’re announcing an event, embed the registration form at the end of the page. This reduces the number of steps to taking action.

PDFs are killing your reputation


If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

Almost one third of PDF reports produced by the World Bank have never been downloaded. Another 40% have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

This Washington Post article suggests that “the solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.”

And don’t think for a second that you’re the exception.

PDFs are not very web-friendly. Their purpose is to retain formatting (mainly for printing), and they can be a useful tool to bridge the offline and online worlds. However, their usefulness has serious limitations, especially as more people access the web through their mobile devices.

PDFs make it hard for visitors to search for information and aren’t very SEO-friendly. People using mobile devices or tablets will have to download the PDF before they can view the information – a task that many are unwilling to do even  on their desktop.

That means that the resources spent researching, organizing, writing, and formatting information for PDF documents are largely going to waste. If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

When you write a report you may have a vision that the information will help people solve problems. The truth is, the information is hidden away like the change in your couch cushions. Information in a report that you think will make an impact and be shared widely among your networks will likely go unnoticed.

If your organization uses PDFs, you also need to use other ways to share the information.


To do:

Think: Why do you use PDFs on your site?

If the main purpose of using PDFs is so people can print information and tools (such as activities, agendas, worksheets, etc.), PDFs can still be a good option because you’re using them for the purpose they were designed for. However, you need to make sure that you have a good description of the document so your visitors understand what kind of resource they’re downloading. For large files, it also helps to include a few highlights from the document on the download page.

Another option is to eliminate the PDF and have your information only available as articles on your site. Work with your web developer to help format your pages for printing so you can remove things like the sidebar or the navigation for a clean print version.

If you decide to continue using PDfs, you need to have a way for people to preview the documents so they know what they’re downloading. I recommend using Scribd to upload your PDFs and then embed the documents into your website.

For reports, you should get a little creative about presenting the information so that it’s easily digestible and shareable. You can still have the PDF available to download in case people want to print the information or access the full report, but you’ll get much more traction if you format the information in a different way. Here are some ideas for other ways you can share information from your reports:

Your forms deserve better than “submit”


When your audience is ready to take action, give them a gentle reminder of what’s at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t you hate it when you’re looking for something in your house and the moment you walk into another room, you forget what you were looking for?

This can happen when you’re signing up for something online as well. Filling out forms can feel a little invasive, and by the end you may be thinking, “Why am I giving away my email address, zip code, and place of employment again?”

Of course, you don’t want this to happen when someone is signing up for one of your events or filling out a donation form. One way to get people to finish filling out your forms is to have a strong call to action, even in this final step.


To do:

Of course, you need good website copy and a visible privacy policy. But what’s often overlooked is the “submit” button. Instead of saying “sign up,” “submit,” or “download,” tell them what they’re downloading or signing up for. Try something like “send me resources,” “download the report,” “be a mentor,” “join the community,” or “donate supplies.”

These buttons naturally stand out from the rest of the text, so don’t waste this opportunity to tell your visitors why they should give you their information.

Making it easy for your audience to take action


Without the gate, my bunnies would be running around the house. What barriers are keeping your audience from taking action?

I have two bunnies that roam around the house all day while I’m working. I don’t want them to go into my bedroom because they have chewed through more cell phone chargers than I care to count. So I put up a doggy gate to keep them in the living room area. They could jump the gate if they wanted to, and once in a while they do. But for the most part, it’s too much effort and they’re content enough in the living room. However, if I removed the gate, the bunnies would be running around all over the house in no time!

I think a lot of us are like that – we’re generally content where we are, but if a few barriers were removed we’d gladly take the opportunity to do something else.

On your website, there are a lot of potential barriers preventing people from completing various tasks. Small changes can have a big impact on retention and form completion rates.


To do:

Take a look at your website and imagine that you are visiting it for the first time. If you have a hard time pretending you aren’t familiar with the site, have someone else help you out with this task. As you explore the site, think about potential barriers visitors may encounter to:

  • Find out information about your programs
  • Share pages via social media, email, and print
  • Register for events
  • Donate
  • Sign up for the e-mail list
  • Contact your staff with specific questions
  • Access important documents and information
  • Search for something they need

In your analytics, look at your top exit pages. If your donation and/or registration pages are on the top of the list, you definitely need to make some changes now.

Write down the potential barriers people might encounter such as long sign-up forms, lack of detailed information, or buried content.

Choose two or three barriers to address now and make a plan for tackling the rest.

Here are some ideas:

  • Be clear about how much time it will take to complete a task. Be honest, because if you say something will take 5 minutes and it actually takes 10, people will not be happy that it took more time than they had planned for.
  • Reduce the number of fields you use in your forms. Even if most of the information isn’t required, a long form will turn people away.
  • Make information in PDF documents easily accessible.
  • Include a short introductory video to explain what your organization does and how to use tools on your website.
  • Have multiple ways for people to contact you, and make contact information easy to find.
  • Make sure your layout is printer-friendly (you may need to work with your web designer to make adjustments).
  • Add “share” buttons (try tools like AddThis or Sumome).

8 free tools to test if your site is ready for mobile

Mobile is here to stay. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile you’re not only losing out on visitors, but also potential subscribers, volunteers, and donors.

There are many mobile-testing sites out there and these are my favorites. These free tools can help you identify and prioritize ways to optimize your site for mobile.

While these tools can give you an idea of how your website might look on different devices, there’s no substitute for actually trying out your site on real phones and tablets. I’ve found that some elements look the same on these test sites as they do on my phone, and some are quite different. Use these tools as a resource while you’re building a site, but be sure to test the final product on a few mobile devices.

Three of these eight tools are by Google. If you’re trying to improve your SEO, you care the most about how your site ranks in Google so it makes sense to use their tools.

1. Google Developers Mobile-Friendly Test

This is a quick and easy test to verify if your website is mobile-friendly. Just plug in your web address and wait a few seconds for the results!

Google Developers mobile test

Google Developers Mobile-Friendly Test


2. Google Chrome

You don’t need to go to a separate website to check how your website will look on mobile devices. When you’re using the Google Chrome browser, press Ctrl + Shift + C (or Cmd + Shift + C on a Mac). Click on the mobile device icon and select the device you want to test from the drop-down list.

This is a quick and easy test that’s useful when you’re building a site or when you want to show someone how your mobile site looks on a moment’s notice. The only downside is that you can’t see how the site looks when you rotate a mobile device.

Google Chrome mobile test

Google Chrome mobile test



This is a simple, user-friendly tool to see how your site looks on various devices. Use the “My favourites” feature to bookmark the top mobile devices people use to access your site. site for testing mobile websites mobile test options


4. Screenfly

Test how your site looks on desktop, tablet, mobile, and TV. You can generate a link to easily share the results. They also have tools to help you build sitemaps and wireframes.

Screenfly mobile test

Screenfly mobile test


5. mobiReady

Use mobiReady to test multiple sizes of mobile devices at once. Compare your site to the top 1000 Alexa sites to see how “mobile ready” it is. MobiReady also gives very specific recommendations so you can see what needs improvement.

mobiReady mobile test

mobiReady’s recommendations for improvement


6. Dyanatrace

Use this tool to compare your response time to other countries and industries. See what percentage images, JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and text take up on your mobile and desktop sites. Also see the breakdown of the response time for how your page loads so you know exactly what is slowing your site down.  You do have to exchange your contact information to get their report and they offer a free consultation to help you identify ways to improve.

Dynatrace mobile test

Dynatrace moblie test


7. W3C mobileOK Checker

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that works with organizations and the public to develop web standards. They have a handy mobile checker that will give you specific recommendations on how to make your site more mobile-friendly and let you know which changes are a top priority.

W3C mobileOK Checker

W3C mobileOK Checker


8. Google Developers PageSpeed Insights

Use Google’s tools to test the speed of your website for both mobile and desktop. Also get specific recommendations to help you increase your speed.

Google Developers PageSpeed Insights

Google Developers PageSpeed Insights

Your homepage is old news. Here’s what you can do about it.

Entering through the front door of a house is similar to entering through the homepage on a website. Nowadays, more visitors likely come to your site through other pages so you need to plan for it.

Entering through the front door of a house is similar to entering through the homepage on a website. Nowadays, more visitors likely come to your site through other pages so you need to plan for it.

Imagine if you threw a party at your house and your guests came in through windows, the basement, the porch door, and the garage door as well as through the front door. It would probably catch you off-guard, but the guests may also be a little disoriented and not know where to go.

This may be what’s happening with your website visitors. Nowadays, a lot of people may be following links on social media or other websites to get to your site. Many of those links point to a specific article or resource instead of your homepage. It’s more important than ever that your visitors know how to find information on your site, no matter which page they visit first.


To do:

Review your analytics and see which pages are your top “landing pages.” These are the pages on your website that your visitors see first. Your homepage will likely be at the top of the list, but you may also have a few others that are popular landing pages as well. Take a look at the top five, not including the homepage. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will visitors understand the context of the content? For example, if it’s a “step 8” in a series of 10 steps, will they know that they should also check out previous steps before working on number 8?
  • Will visitors be able to easily find information about your organization from that page?
  • Is there a clear call to action?


Here are some suggestions to improve your landing pages:

  • Add an introduction to the page that gives context.
  • Use breadcrumbs to help visitors understand where they are on the website.
  • Link to related content. For example, if there are 10 steps, have clear links to the previous and next steps. Or, point them to more resources or articles in that category.
  • Use the “related content” feature in AddThis to automatically suggest another article.
  • Add information about your organization in the footer so visitors can understand what your organization is about no matter which page they are on.
  • Make sure the call to action is clear and not tucked away in a sidebar or on another page.