5 Smart Ways to Make Your HOA Website a Success

5 Smart Ways to Make Your HOA Website a Success

Before you set up a website for your homeowners association, verify that you have all the relevant assets ready to use before you need them. If you wait until you’re ready to go before you collect materials to add or upload, you’ll quickly discover that your site-building experience slows down dramatically while you finish gathering documents, contacts, and other materials. Make sure you prioritize these steps in your website development plans.

What’s in a (Domain) Name?

The ultimate in HOA website customization goes beyond what you say and show about your community. It’s the address at which your community finds your website, otherwise known as your domain name or URL. Your homeowners association website software provider may offer you the option of a free vanity address based on the domain of their own website—something like “ourwebsiteprovider.com/ourcommunity” or “ourcommunity.ourwebsiteprovider.com”—but for a modest annual registration-renewal cost, you can secure a memorable domain name of your very own. Make a list of possibilities, starting with the name of your community—minus any spaces—and include other options based on that name, so you have a fallback position in case someone else already has registered your first choice.

The easy way to find out whether the domain name you want remains available is to load the website of a domain registrar into your browser, find their registration data lookup tool or “who is” page, and type in the domain name you want. If someone else has grabbed it, try your other alternatives until you find one you can register. If you’re set up as a non-profit organization, remember to try the .org top-level domain instead of .com.

Get the “Write” Start

You can create the best-looking HOA website ever seen, but if you don’t have the right content to put on your pages, you’re stuck with placeholder copy or “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,” the classic “pig Latin” that designers have used for decades when they have no idea what a page should say but know it has to say something. Obviously, you need that placeholder so you can see how your pages will look, but you don’t want to wait till you’ve signed up with a homeowners association website software provider to begin writing your content.

“But we’re migrating from our old site to a new one with a different host,” you say, “and we already have content.” Yes, but how long has it been since you wrote that—let alone reread it? Does it still represent you and your community accurately and attractively? If the answer is more “Yes, but” than “Yes, indeed,” you’ll need to budget the time to write new material—before you really need it.

And by the way, resist the temptation to add your entire board and all your website administrators to the content review process. If you have to run your material past that many eyeballs, what comes out the other end of the process may wind up revised to death. Bland, over-edited copy may enumerate the features of your community, but it probably won’t tell your story as well as something with more flavor left in it.

Remember Your Members

To set up the back end of your website, chances are very good that you will need some basic information about your members. Instead of entering member data one person at a time, you may be able to fill in a spreadsheet file and upload all your data in one pass. Regardless of how you get the data online, you need the data first.

Like your website content, your membership information isn’t something to leave till the last minute. If you already have it, set it up in a spreadsheet file and make sure that you separate first and last names into separate columns, enter an email address for every member, and formulate all the elements of physical addresses exactly the same way for every entry. In other words, avoid abbreviating “Avenue” as “Ave” on some entries and spelling out the word on others. When it comes to data entry, consistency is a huge benefit.

Check with your homeowners association website software provider to find out if they have a template file into which you can paste your member data for upload into your new website. When you open the template file in your spreadsheet program, along with the file that contains your member data, the template may organize the information in a different order than your document does, so you may not be able simply to copy and paste all your data from every column all at once. Instead, you may need to paste one column at a time.

Eas(ier) Money

Does your homeowners association website provider offer you the option of accepting online payments from your members? Don’t underestimate how much easier your life can be with this option on your side. Instead of e-mailed reminders, phone calls, and the kinds of follow-up messaging that leave you feeling as if you have to nag people to respond to your invoices, the built-in ability to accept online payments makes it as easy for members to pay as it does for you to collect.

Better still, if your website provider enables you to collect both credit and debit card payments as well as ACH debits, you can give your members all the payment options they need – and remove virtually all their excuses for failing to pay in a timely manner.

Document Yourself

If you’re still maintaining a document repository in a file cabinet, surely you’ve grown tired of the inconveniences of the manual method. For that matter, e-mailing PDFs—and verifying receipt, resending, reminding people to look in their spam folders, etc., etc.—isn’t fun, either. A user-friendly homeowners association website will offer you the option to set up an online document repository, one to which you can upload files once and make them available permanently to anyone who needs to download them.

But to take advantage of these types of convenient features, you need to have your documents ready to upload. Your best choices of file formats include the aforementioned PDFs, along with word processing files and spreadsheets for data resources. The biggest advantage of PDFs, of course, is that they’re easy to create out of virtually any type of file—and much more difficult to modify than other types, which provides additional protection for the authenticity of your data.

Take the time to gather these files in advance, and verify that the file names don’t contain any unusual characters—commas and other punctuation, for example—that could interfere with your ability to upload the documents or other people’s ability to download them. For the ultimate in online friendliness, consider replacing the spaces in your names with dashes or underscores.

Ready to get started? At HOAStart, we offer all these and many more features to help your homeowners association build the website you deserve. Sign up for our 15-day free trial, experiment with our full feature set, and see why we believe we offer you the ideal balance of convenience and flexibility.