Keywords: strategy, content, planning, execution, discipline, websites 101
Summary: Introduced in Church Websites 101: Easy. Not Simple
, we're now going to dig deeper into the strategies you can employ to build and maintain a more effective website for your church or ministry.
The easy fixes are things you have, or should have, direct control over - the content is yours. This is all about what you post online. Examine your topics, your schedule for posting and updating, the language you use and your presentation. Do it now and keep doing it - establish a discipline (be a disciple) for your ministry.
It's embarassing, but as simple as these things are, they often get overlooked. Maybe it is because we think the web is much more complex than it is. Whatever the reason, here are some quick and easy fixes for your website.
Place location and contact info on every page - top and bottom
People like to know where they are, and the web is no exception. Your identity and location provide context for your content - who is behind this information? Contact information provides them with a next step - a chance to connect with a person.
Why top and bottom? Readers will come to your pages either through a link from another site or from a search engine (Google, Bing). This could bring them to a point on your page where the location or contact information isn't visible. If your information is only at the top or the bottom of the page, you'll have a lot of visitors lacking the contextual clues from your site information.
Remove or archive outdated content
Announcements about your upcoming church picnic, held last summer, will have people wondering if you're still around. If the content is just as relevant today as it was when it was posted, leave it. If there is time-sensitive information, be sure it is archived or isn't the primary content after the event has taken place. If that is the only content you have, see the next point.
Add current content
Seems like a no-brainer, but often the church website is the last thing to get updated - worship schedules, weekly bulletins and announcements often get top billing. Coupled with the last point, readers want to know you're still active. If some content has gotten stale, then something new should be ready to take its place. Right? You don't need to report on every bit of minutiae, nor should you. Pick out the big rocks and give them some space and time online.
Do not use jargon
Have you read your announcements or newsletter as someone who knows nothing about you, your church, your theology or your culture? A fun way to get an idea of the words you use and how often you use them is by visiting wordle.net. Jesus spoke in parables to make complex things understandable. We don't need to complicate matters with big words. Unless you're trying to reach theologians, seminarians or doctoral candidates, use the simplest words possible - speak plainly, not in tongues.
Use pictures appropriately
Pictures are worth 1,000 words, but shouldn't take their place. Words should be text, not images. This includes the banner at the top of the page, too. Your page needs to balance text, images, and white space to be enjoyable and readable. Too often I see images posing as words or titles where text is always more appropriate.
Related to this is the use of text formatting in your posts. Use 2 or 3 fonts, at most - 1 for headlines and 1 for general text is really all you need. Font decorations should be minimal - bold and italic for emphasis, and no colors, other than your primary text color. Yellow, pink and green may be playful colors, but they are difficult to read and more of a distraction than a help.
Do not use clipart
Just as bad as using an image for text is using clipart instead of a real photo or a high-end graphic. The use of graphics is fine, just use elements that reflect a somewhat current style. Have someone (a designer) review the graphics you are using or intend to use. They'll be able to give you an honest opinion and perhaps even help with finding appropriate graphics to use.
No 'Under Construction' or 'Coming Soon' pages
Let's face it - pages announcing they're coming soon and are under construction are rarely actually being built and often never materialize. Those pages serve no purpose, except to point out a lack of planning and commitment. When search engines come across those pages, they get recorded as pages without any real value. When you do finally get something posted there, it may be quite a while before the search bots return to discover you've updated the content.
This is Easy - and Simple
All of these are corrective measures - easily remedied and also easily preventable. Have some deliberate discussions with the people updating and publishing your web content. Those discussions need to include your leadership and clergy and any other staffers that contribute, collate, curate or construct your website.
Next in the series: Not Always Easy, But Should Be