Updated: Mar 5
I feel like it's important for me to start off with a disclaimer. I design websites as a hobby and have not trained in web design or engineering. I highly recommend that you consult with an expert before deciding to restructure your website, as a lot of backend programming needs to be considered.
One of my many obsessions in life (other than animals) is technology, specifically software design and UX. I got into it when I started working in the shelter world, trying to find an efficient way to streamline processes, and it has grown since then. Hence the birth of Stray Houston. I literally research different types of software in any little bit of spare time that I may have. Animal management systems, customer management systems, donor management systems, and volunteer management systems. You name it; I've researched it.
But there is one area of technology that I'm also obsessed with: website design.
In my career, I have had to visit thousands of websites belonging to animal shelters and animal rescues across the country. An organization or agency's website gives donors, volunteers, adopters, and potential partner organizations the first impression of how much time and effort is given to a customer and partner experience.
Here are the essentials I believe every animal agency or organization website needs.
Appealing Design and Layout
First and foremost, your organization's website should have an appealing, well-planned design and layout. Believe it or not, you don't need to make your website flashy or super techy for it to have an amazing design.
Take a look at the website for the Houston SPCA.
In my opinion, the Houston SPCA website is gorgeous in its simplicity. Their designer didn't use any flashy animations or videos to capture visitors' attention. They draw people in using a clean, clear-cut design with no frills or complexity.
However, there are times when achieving a design like this can tak
e more skill than your team may have if you don't have a web designer on your team, even if the design seems simple enough. I highly recommend investing in a website designer to achieve the look and feel that you may want for your website. It may seem unnecessary, but remember that your website is the face of your organization. Before a person steps foot in your facility or contemplates sending in a donation, they will probably spend a good amount of time looking at your website first.
Take a look at this blog post by Wix about different types of layouts. If you want to doodle with a prototype, Canva has website templates you can customize and play around with. It's a great way to get an idea of what you want.
An Informative Footer
What's a footer, you ask? That's a great question!
A website footer is a section at the very bottom of a webpage. A footer is usually the same on every page of your website and typically contains:
a Copywrite notice
a sitemap or quick links
social media links
It probably doesn't make any sense to you when you first think about it. I think the footer is probably the most overlooked aspect of a page's layout. However, the footer displays essential information pertaining to your organization. When I am looking for a way to contact a shelter or s rescue, the first place I am going to look is the footer. That's because most well-designed websites have the information I'm looking for right at the bottom.
There are few things more satisfying than knowing you don't have to hunt for something.
A Page Displaying Available Animals
I know, I know. But hear me out.
It may seem like it's a given that any organization or agency that wants the public to adopt from them will have an easy-to-find adoptable animals page, but it's actually more common than you may think for that essential piece to be missing from their website.
Having your organization's available animals up front and center is one of the ingredients to get more adopters and fosters walking into your facility or your inbox. Embedding your pet list is usually easier than you think. Most web-based animal management systems give directions on how to easily use your system's API to integrate your website with your pet listing. Usually, with no web development knowledge needed.
However, not all animal management systems are that website-friendly.
Ahem. I'm talking about you, Chameleon.
Even if you have an old-school system like Chameleon Beach, you can still post your pet listings. Even systems like Chameleon have the ability to connect with third-party pet listing sites like Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, and RescueGroups.org. All of these sites have the option to embed your organization's listing onto your website easily.
The keyword for all this is "easy." You want to make it easy for those viewing your site to find your available animals, and this can be accomplished easily with the correct software.
Pages for Core Programs and Resources
A shelter and rescue's heartbeat are its programs. Operations are non-existent without these programs, the volunteers that fuel them, and the donors that support them. Information for these programs should be easily found by those looking for them.
It's key for positive community engagement for your website to present all that your organization has to offer. Many organizations present their program pages directly within their website's menu. In my opinion, this is the best way to provide navigation to your core programs. Nothing can irk your online audience more than having to hunt for information.
Be sure to provide information that will positively describe each of your programs. Include step-by-step instructions on how viewers can contribute to your programs, and don't forget to include links to signup pages. The goal of having an online presence is for viewers to have eyes on all that your group is trying to do and to have ways for them to engage!
This should also encompass your resource page. Allowing viewers to access community resources easily is always a plus in the eyes of the public. It generates more traffic to your site when the page is shared with others, and more traffic means more volunteers, adopters, and donors.
Other Pages You Can Include
Think of your website as a one-stop shop for everything a viewer could possibly need to know about your shelter or organization. The points we went over in this post are some of the essential pieces that your website should encompass, but that's not all that you should include! Some other pages include:
A contact page
A statistics page
A financial page
A way for users to signup for your newsletter
Information on local laws and ordinances
Tips for new adopters or fosters
and whatever you believe is important for your viewers!
In this day and age, a web presence is vital to the ongoing success of any animal welfare organization or facility. It's a part of your community engagement that can't be ignored or neglected. If you have any doubts about your website, ask your viewers! Send out a survey to get their feedback on how you can make improvements. You can also consult with a website expert. Many experts out there can give you a consultation on your website's layout and its functionality, as well as advanced feedback on more advanced web design elements like API integrations and your site's SEO.
Don't overlook your website because the work may be tough. Your website is the gateway for your organization's lifesaving impact!