Why should our association display member links?

Associations that have converted their member information from a plain text listing into a searchable database can rightly claim that they have provided their members with a new, sophisticated member benefit. Ironically, in doing so, they may have also removed an important old member benefit.

How can this be so? After all, moving the association information to a searchable database makes the data easier to use and update.

The reason that the move away from a plain text page can hurt association members is because some search engines rank web sites partially on where they can find relevant links pointing to those sites.

For example, if you sell fire fighting equipment, search engines may score your web site based on how many fire equipment-related sites your web site URL appears on; and how important those sites are in terms of relevancy and traffic. Your association’s web site is likely very relevant in the subject of fire fighting equipment, and it probably generates a good bit of traffic and clickthroughs on the search engines for people looking for fire fighting related information. As a result, if the search engine can see your link on that relevant, popular site, your ranking will go up. This is clearly a benefit for members versus non-members.

The problem with association databases replacing text-based association member listings is that search engines cannot usually see the data behind a database driven directory. Therefore, while the association has added the benefit of greater ease of use and accuracy, it has simultaneously hurt the search engine ranking for members.

The solution to this problem is relatively simple. The association should create a page that has a listing of all association member web sites. This need not be a manual, hand-generated effort. Instead, the association can create a page that is generated on the fly based on the association data each time the page is called. This would result in a page that is accurate, automatically updated – and readable by search engines. The result is that your association members’ rankings may improve in one or more search engines.

Does your association only list member web addresses via a database driven directory? Or does the association also maintain a text-type page with the web addresses?

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