Web Design for Industry Associations

Meeting the unique needs of industry associations

We’ve had the pleasure of working on many industry association websites. Though every industry association is unique, there are many common threads that we’ve observed over the years.

Below, you’ll learn about what makes for a great industry association website design and what you can do to ensure that your industry association gets the website it needs and the website it deserves.

What’s in it for your users? And who are they?

Defining your audience will set the table for a great website experience

As an industry association, many of your website visitors are probably members of your association or upper management at another professional organization.

You can often break a target audience down into the following sub-categories:

  • Your primary target audience
  • Your secondary target audience
  • Your tertiary target audience
  • Everyone else

Undertaking the exercise of defining your primary audience serves an important purpose. Many industry associations face multiple sides. Your current and prospective industry members, government, and the public are all common examples of association website audiences (often in that order, too).

When you engage in website design for industry associations, you want to make sure that you’re focusing our efforts on the most impactful information and getting each of your audiences to that info as quickly as possible.

Getting audiences to self identify

One of our favourite tricks of association website design is to present website visitors with a navigation menu that first begins with them self-identifying. For instance, some of the top level items in your site’s navigation may literally be grouped by audience name.

Another option we’ve used with great success is having sections on the homepage that align with these audiences. With an automotive trade association client, based on their provided info and their goals, we immediately allowed people to select from options such as “I am a tradesperson”, “I am a student”, and “I am a parent”. These neat design elements on the homepage allowed the various audiences to quickly find sections of the site that had relevant links and info for them.

Organize your content based on your audiences

You’ve likely got all sorts of resources you need to deploy. These could be images, videos, PDFs or other files. It could be more feature-rich areas such as a member directory, upcoming events calendar, a job board, networking opportunities, or surveys.

When you’ve got a significant amount of content, properly organizing that content based on your audiences is key to a smooth project and great website experience.

If you aren’t engaging with a professional copywriter (content writer) or project manager, consider organizing your audiences, features, and pages using a simple Word doc and nested bullet points.

Determine the most valuable features for your association’s members

The best association websites will quickly guide website visitors to the features they will want to use the most.

Events calendars and event registration

Do you have a frequently updated events calendar? Make it a priority and easy to find from both the navigation menu and your homepage.

If you offer free events and want to allow registration online, many solutions now exist for event ticketing and registration. If you offer paid events, there are some great integrations to allow payment processing directly on your association website.

Member registration and fees

Many association websites now want the ability to have members register and renew online. This often includes taking membership dues or fees right on the site.

Fortunately, this is easily achievable with today’s software, and many options exist to allow member registrations, membership renewals, and fee collection right on your association website.

Member directories

A member directory is also a common ask for industry association websites. An association website using a web-based membership database and member list should be given a lot of thought. A professional web design agency can help you determine which features you need in a member directory.

For example:

  • Will members be able to sign up and maintain their own profiles?
  • Do you want them to pay their annual membership dues via the website?
  • Should all site visitors be able to see the member directory or just registered members?

Private member portals

Often, there are materials or resources that you want to disseminate strictly to members via your association website. A members-only portal provides a great opportunity for private industry documents and resource sharing.

With a bit of extra work, it’s also possible to release communications, quotas, certificates, and other documents to individual members. This can be done privately so that members can only see the documents and resources assigned to them.

You may also want to establish a private messaging system or forum that allows members to communicate with each other.

Custom website developers can create login-based member portals for your industry association website.

Job postings

Having a job board for members is becoming more common. In addition to major job boards (both locally and nationally), having a dedicated space for job postings in your industry can be a great way for potential employees to match up with potential employers.

Many association websites these days feature job boards and functionality can vary depending on your exact needs:

  • Will staff in your association post jobs or will members?
  • Does it cost money to post a job and should that be payable via the website?
  • Should applications be directed to one or more people within a member organization?

Courting potential members

Maybe it’s not complex functionality, but conveying to potential members how valuable their membership in your industry association will be.

Association websites that focus on what’s in it for the members will find themselves adding more industry partners and new members.

Always consider search engine optimization

Any association website with a mandate to grow and gain new members and industry partners should keep in mind the importance of search engine optimization (SEO).

Having strong written content and a mobile friendly website is a big part of SEO. If visibility on search engines is important, you may want to consider hiring a professional copywriter to develop a content strategy. Equally, if someone within the organization is a strong writer, work with them to develop your own content strategy.

Your own website is one of your most important marketing tools as long as people can find it. Industry resources, news articles, and frequent (informative) blog posts can go a long way to demonstrating the competency of your organization.

Association web design tips

Association websites ultimately don’t differ from other websites when it comes to best practices in web design. A great association website should focus on:

  • A clean, professional, modern look that matches the industry aesthetic
  • A homepage hero image (banner image) that features one or more high resolution images relevant to your industry
  • An intuitive navigation menu that quickly guides visitors to the right resources
  • A web design that looks great on mobile devices
  • Web accessibility considerations for anyone who may have limitations or use assistive technology to browse the web

The best association websites don’t break the mould – they embrace it. You can gently nudge at the edges of the mould if you want, but remember: current best practices are considered best practices for a reason. Get your audiences to the most important functionality and information as quickly as you can and you’ll have a happy member base.

A beautiful website is only as great as it is user friendly.

Are you a local or national association?

Have a digital marketing plan that aligns with who you are

Where is your industry association now? Where do you and your stakeholders want it to be in two years? Five?

Answering these questions can help a web design or digital marketing agency figure out how to implement a strategy for attracting and retaining members.

Spend money to support the results you want to achieve

If part of your mandate is to advertise and advocate on behalf of your membership, then make sure that your website is well structured to support landing pages for any ad campaign work you do.

It’s important for any web design professional to know what your future plans are with respect to digital marketing so that they can provide you with guidance on how to create the best association website you can.


Professional association websites should cater to their most important audiences. Any professional organization considering joining your association should have easy access to what they need in order to build awareness and gain trust.

Organize your content based on your most important audiences. Remember that your website is only as good as the user experience. So focus on making it beautiful and user friendly.

Determine the most important features and spend time making those features awesome. It’s not 1989 anymore – if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Give them a great reason to pick your baseball field.

Design your website to current best practices. Web design doesn’t need to be rocket science. A skilled web design agency should be able to help you understand what’s realistic given any budget and time constraints.

At Red Ear Media, we’ve worked with countless industry associations to create association websites that leave members feeling like their dues are being put to good use. If you’d like to talk about what goes into an association website and to get a quote of your own, please contact us anytime.

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