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As you evaluate options for hosting your website, you may want to consider using the ACS Network as an interim or permanent host. Several members have asked us for information about what a website on the ACS Network might look like. In this post, we're sharing a test site we created for the Virginia Local Section. Thanks to Ann Sullivan for agreeing to let us feature the ACS Network-based demo website we created for her local section to consider.

 

Website elements

Based on conversations with Ann, we focused on including the content her team identified as critical content for her section's members. We then looked at the presentation options that the ACS Network supports and drafted the layout for the test site.

 

VA-test.png

 

The site's content includes a Welcome from the Chair and a view to how content is categorized on the left-side column. The center column focuses on announcements, which are managed as a series of blog posts. These are the posts for the Mentor Matching Program and the Great Pumpkin Periodic Table Event. The right-hand column includes navigation to the site's primary (most visited) content, and sections devoted to contributions from local section members, monthly newsletters, and Upcoming Events.

 

Next steps

If you want to investigate using the ACS Network to host your group's website, please read the posts we have created about the ACS Network capabilities and the blog posts about assessing your current website and defining your goals for the site. Contact us at webhosting@acs.org with the outline of your site's critical content and any questions about the ACS Network. We'll respond with suggestions detailing how we can help you set up a Network-based site, as well as a shortcut URL that will take visitors directly to your content.

As you begin to plan your website, you may be wondering about the content you should provide and best practices for making those decisions. We recommend that you start with 5 critical pages: Home, About Us, Contact Us, Officers, and Activities.

 

Home page

Once you've decided on the purpose of your website, think of your home page as a billboard or your 3-minute elevator speech to broadcast that message. What is the key information you want to convey? Perhaps it's a welcome message from your Chair. It's critical to provide clarity around who you are, what you do, and what you offer. Encourage your audience to interact with you through calls to action (e.g., "find out more..." and "Join us..."). Adding an engaging image helps users identify with you, and clear and consistent navigation makes it easy for visitors to focus on what they're looking for.  If you think most visitors to your site are already familiar with your group, you may want to add details on what’s new or upcoming, or recent activities and calls for participation.

 

About Us page

This page can give more details about your local section, technical division, or group, providing more insights about your group and its members. It can tell a story about your activities, values, goals, and successes. You might want to include history or a map, or perhaps a video that highlights some of your ongoing or outreach activities.

 

If you'd like to include information about the ACS, here's some language and links you can include:

 

About the American Chemical Society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is the world’s largest scientific society and one of the world’s leading sources of authoritative scientific information. A not-for-profit organization chartered by Congress, ACS is at the forefront of the evolving worldwide chemical enterprise and serves as the premier professional home for chemists, chemical engineers and related professions around the globe.

 

Common Links to ACS

Meetings

https://www.acs.org/meetings

ACS Network

https://communities.acs.org

Regional Meetings

https://www.acs.org/regionalmeetings

Careers

https://www.acs.org/careers

Find a Job

https://chemistryjobs.acs.org/searchjobs/

Get Involved, Stay Involved

https://www.acs.org/getinvolved

ACS Matters Newsletter Archive (member-only content; requires login with ACS ID)

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/membership/acs-matters.html

ACS Branding Guidelines

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/branding.html

 

Officers Page

This is the page where you provide information about how you've organized the leadership of your group. Many groups include head shots to make their volunteer leaders more recognizable, details around their particular roles and what they entail, and their areas of interest and past activities with the group.

 

If you choose to include contact information such as email addresses for your officers, you may want to consider generic email addresses (or email addresses already publicly available such as on a university site) for public-facing pages using your group's domain (e.g., chair@acsXYZsection.org). You should take care in posting personal information such as emails and phone numbers.

 

Contact Us page

Make if easy for people to get specific information they need, want, or can't find on your website. Depending on your resources and traffic, you may want to provide a physical address, a general email address, or perhaps a chat feature. Be sure to indicate the expected turnaround time for a response.

 

Another option is a contact form, which you can set up with structured and/or required content areas. Submitted questions are forwarded to an individual or group for response. Vendors such as Wufoo and Formsite have available products (including free starter versions), and your website host may also offer a contact form. If you choose to use one, be sure to consider how you will manage responses (e.g., who will do it), what your expectations for turnaround time are, and whether you have created a body of standard questions and responses you're likely to receive.

 

Activities page

This page might contain details for events that your group sponsors or coordinates, including meetings, awards, ongoing education offerings, and outreach. A calendar of events can give members and potential members an idea of the breadth of activities you're planning--either in person or online. Including relevant details like registration, directions, and opportunities to volunteer at an event can expand the number of participants. Including videos, transcripts, and photo albums from past events can also be a way to spread the word about the variety of opportunities available,

Hopefully you have taken time to inventory your web content and to understand the strategy for your website as you move forward with creating a new site or migrating your current one. You should  have an understanding of the type of content, frequency, sources, etc.  and the resources available for creating and maintaining the site (See previous posts to this blog).  This prework will help you choose a web hosting solution.

 

Web platforms vary in both functionality and price. Usually the more complex the functionality, the more you may have to pay.  The rest of this post will cover different things to think about when selecting a web hosting service.

 

Staffing Needs 

Will the website be set up and managed by volunteers or will you be able to hire someone to manage it? If you are using volunteers, what is their level of expertise in creating a website? Will you be able to maintain that level of expertise as volunteers turnover? Does their expertise match that needed by the webhosting platform? What is the learning curve of the platform?

 

Functionality

Editing

How is the content edited? Does it have an easy to use editor or does someone have to know more about coding (or something in between)?  In many cases, a WSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor is sufficent and preferred as it minimizes the learning curve and is accessible to everyone.

 

Content

  • Does it support special content?  Videos, events/calendars?  Is there functionality in the platform or does this content need to be embedded from another source?
    •     How does it handle images and image galleries? PDFs, Word or Excel documents?
    •     Can you insert HTML (to embed things like polls, etc.)
    •     Does it offer any special widgets?
  • Can content be entered but published at a later date?
  • How is the content organized? Does it support folders and subfolders, especially if you have a medium to larger site?
  • How is the site navigation set up?

 

Design

  • Are you able to easily customize the visual design? Does it use one or multiple templates?
    •     Can an ACS logo for your unit be inserted?
    •     Can text and colors be customized?
  • Is the site responsive, i.e., mobile friendly?  This is particularly important as people expect to access your information on a variety of devices, not just a desktop or laptop. Do you need to create a separate mobile template or is that something done automatically?
  • Do the design and site content support accessibility guidelines (the U.S. Access Board's Section 508 Standards or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 ?

 

Other

  • Ability to generate web analytics to help you know how many users are visiting your site and what they are looking and interacting with. Do they include analytics tracking as a part of the product offering or do you need to get a Google analytics account and add code into your site?
  • Site Search - as your site become larger, having a site search will help your users find content

 

More advance functionality may include:

  • e-Commerce - usually this requires an extra service
  • Event registration - do you want to register users for events
  • Forms -  Do you want users to be able complete a form to contact you?
  • Protected content, i.e. content available only to your members - You will probably need Integration with the ACS ID. This usually requires some custom development work.

All of these advance functionality will require https:// and probably a security certificate .

 

WordPress

Many users choose WordPress, an open-source platform, for creating a website. Some hosting companies offer WordPress as an option.

Keep in mind:

  • Using WordPress usually requires someone with coding and configuration expertise. Being open source, there is a information available online, but it requires some time.
  • Be sure that your site is being maintained, i.e. patched on a regular basis. Security patches are regularly released and are necessary to prevent your site from being hacked. (You do not want your website to become a site which sells some herbal supplement). Ask a potential web hosting company how they manage WordPress patching. Automatic patching is something to look for.
  • WordPress has a lots of different plugins available. Some are free; others require payment. Again, it again may take some expertise to implement and maintain plug-ins as they are upgraded.

 

Other Service Providers

There are some providers which include additional services ranging from design to integrating your web communications with emails and other marketing channels. These services can be quite costly but may provide the level of promotion and interaction that your group desires to have with its members.

 

Finally, remember your website should not really be an archive of everything your group has done.  Having outdated information will make it more difficult for users to find the current, up to date details that you want to share and will negatively impact  search functionality and findability.  We hope to give you some ideas on archiving in a later blog post.

Now that you have an idea of how your website has been structured in the past and what you would like to accomplish, we would like to help you think about resources.

 

Resources are key to maintaining an effective website. You may want to consider creating a website budget, identifying people who will author content, the frequency of your content, and those who will post material on your site. You goal should be to have a website process that your group can maintain over time.

 

Frequency: If you have already thought about what your website is going to do and the target audience, you might want to look at what you think you will be able to post and what sort of schedule to you expect to run. For example, if you are running regular meetings and outreach events, you can develop a calendar which can help determine the frequency you will post new content.

 

Source of Content:  In addition, you might start thinking about where the content will come from. For example, will a single person be writing up all information or are write-ups submitted by various people who have in depth knowledge of an event? Where will images and graphics come from?

 

People: Once you understand the frequency and source of content, you can start thinking about people resources.

  • How big a team do you need? Perhaps a single webmaster will work. Or you may want to engage a group of people who will be able to help manage your digital communications. The frequency and source of content may help you determine this.
  • How will you ensure continuity in managing the site?  If you have a web team of one, how do you maintain continuity if for some reason they 'disappear' or are unable to serve for an extended period of time?  How will you get access to your site? Will you have a back up who's been trained? Is up-to-date documentation available?
  • What about accountability? How do you ensure items get posted? Will there be a review process?

 

Budget: As you think about your web budget, remember that a large number of website hosting services are available in the marketplace. Costs start around $10/month and go up from there. These services usually include basic hosting and functionality that enable you to create and edit content. Prices go up as you begin to add other special services like forms and e-commerce. You may also want to consider if you will need custom graphics and photography. You can engage individuals, companies, or agencies to provide these materials, And there are some high-end services which provide web hosting and include people to help you design and manage your digital communications. For very small/simple sites, you may want to consider platforms such as the ACS Network .

Last week, we suggested you create a content inventory of your current website. This week, we will think more about the future state of your website. You may want to discuss these questions with your executive team or other engaged members of your local section, technical division, etc.

 

A website can be a way to announce happening or it can be a provide resources that are useful to your members. It is key for you to prioritize what you want your website to do.

 

Who is your primary audience?

  • Is your website primarily for members?
  • Do reach a significant number of  non-member, students, teachers?
  • Or is your website a place to let visitors know that you exist and how to get involved?

 

What information do you want to communicate with the audiences? It helps to know if you can rate what are the most important things you want the site to communicate

 

  • What about your group do you need to communicate (e.g., Executive team, goals, etc.)?
  • Is this a way to let groups know about in-person events (e.g., meetings, outreach, etc)?
    • How often do you have these?
    • Is there any input (e.g., RSVP, registration, or payment) required?

 

  •   Does your website provide other information?
    • Does it promote other activities -- things like
      • grant and award opportunities
      • activities, events, and other opportunities provided by other organizations that might be of interest to your members
    • Does it provide curated content of interest to your members?
      • Should this content be available only to Members?
      • What format is this information
        • Links? videos? webinars? Papers or documents?
  • Will your website work in conjunction with other digital media (social media and/or email)
    • Will content be coordinated with or leverage social media?
    • Will content be coordinated with or leverage email and/or newsletters?

 

Effective websites contain current content and materials that are of interest to their audiences. A site full of old content may negatively impact how search engines like Google and Bing find and display your site on search results pages. We will be talking more about archiving (effectively managing old content you need for historic and organizational purposes) and search engine optimization (SEO, which means getting traffic from the free, natural search results on search engines) in a later post.

 

We realize that each of you represent a unique group and likely have different needs and audiences. Hopefully, these questions can help you start the process to define the types of information that you want to provide on your website.

(Updated 2/19/19)

Now that you know you must move or redo your website, where do you begin?

 

We recommend first doing an assessment of your current website.

 

  • What information do you have on it?
  • What types of files are there?
  • How current is the material?
  • Are all of the files visible? Or do you have hidden files?
  • Do you have any data which indicates how frequently the content is being accessed?
  • Should any content be retired and archived?

 

For many sites, it would helpful to actually inventory the files with a spreadsheet which includes the filenames, the type of file (PDF, jpg, html, etc.), some annotation about the information the file includes, and a rating of both currency and importance. If your site has hidden files, you might want to indicate visibility. Finally, you might want to indicate who is the primary audience of this content.

 

Understanding what files you have and how many will be key in moving your website.

 

To help you take an inventory, we have attached a blank and a sample spreadsheet with which to do an audit.