The American Planning Association (APA) and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to creating communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
APA was facing declining membership. Fewer students from planning programs were entering the workforce. New graduates tended to drop out after the first year of complementary membership. And though chapters and divisions have become more integrated with the national APA, there were more opportunities for collaboration to strengthen the overall association brand and member value.
Also, surveys of staff and members indicate that while the former APA website—last upgraded in 2009—provided broad and diverse content, it presented too many layers to navigate. Pages were cluttered, the search function weak, and interactivity limited. All these findings confirmed the need for significant change.
APA’s goal was to encourage wider engagement through a redesigned, reorganized website. It envisioned a large-scale website strategy and redesign project that would combine a number of data repositories into one, modern, custom-built platform, introduce a new graphic design, and revamp the system of organization and content throughout the site.
Specific key priorities were:
- Attracting and retaining members through online educational resources and services
- Supporting members’ professional and career development through continuing education and certification, resources and research to help solve work problems, and a robust job board
- Delivering on the content and networking needs of those considering or entering the profession
- Providing information for stakeholders—such as planning boards, elected officials—regarding the value of professional planners, planning processes, policies and outcomes
In April 2015, APA engaged .orgSource for website and content strategy development guidance, a variety of writing services, and project management. Specifically, .orgSource led or assisted with:
- Establishing project roles and oversight for content strategy, design and user experience
- Deploying project management resources to ensure the successful development, migration and transformation of content, and application of taxonomies
- Manage work needed to implement plans as well as troubleshoot issues with APA staff and design partner Sandstorm Design, which began their work in July 2015
- Facilitating workshops to determine the overall focus for the website in alignment with organizational goals, as well as a strategic and governance framework for policy guidelines, target audiences, content design, functionality, operational processes
- Conducting research including the review of APA strategic documents, past studies and web metrics, leadership interviews, staff survey to gauge staff perceptions of current website and strategic direction, and a card sort exercise
- Ensuring responsive (mobile) design, personalization and interactivity
- Determining member-only content and permission levels for other users for accessing content
- Prioritizing key audiences, creating initial segments and evolving to data-driven personas
- Undertaking a content audit and developing knowledge resources targeted at priority segments
- Developing a multi-faceted taxonomy so users may easily retrieve information and also allow the APA to push relevant content based on prior patterns
- Creating the information architecture/navigation system
- Designing a filtered search capability based on the new taxonomy
- Training on writing for the web and direction on content tone
- Rewriting of copy for existing pages or creating copy for new pages
APA expects the new website to become an indispensable tool for planning professionals and the public alike. It plans to measure success by: monitoring unique site visits, page views, number of users and sessions, time spent on the site, volume of customer service questions, and level of engagement, such as downloads, sharing on social networks, ratings, and comments.
On March 22, 2016, nearly one year after “Project Nimble” commenced, APA unveiled its new website. It supports APA’s goals of making a stronger case for engagement with the association and to demonstrate value. Among the new features of planning.org:
- Enhanced navigation. A clear menu system ensures an easy route to information users need, when they need it. It’s now more intuitive to find and retrieve continuing education, career services, best practices, and ways to get involved with APA.
Improved search functionality. Pages and resources have been tagged against APA’s comprehensive taxonomy to generate relevant search results—fast.
- Improved content. Whether it’s a calendar of educational events, news and blog feeds, or resources for elected officials and motivated citizens, website users can access and share a variety of authoritative material about the planning profession from one place.
- Expanded networking opportunities. Through MyAPA, users can create a personalized profile and set preferences for better communication with colleagues and mentors.
- Accessible design. The new site is responsive in mobile environments, so it looks and works well on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It also is designed in a way to boost SEO.