The Web is a wonderful thing - easy to learn, flexible, portable, global, immediate and seemingly limitless. Everyone can become an author and publish their thoughts and views with little expense or effort. With this comes a new freedom and openness enabling sharing and collaboration between people all around the world. A notable result of this mentality is a proliferation of filler content - content that exists solely to fill space or simply increase their post count.
To have an impact, for your web site to be effective, you need to be ruthless when posting content and only post killer content. Well, OK - an occasional filler piece is acceptable.
What works for print, works for the web
Since there are no boundaries, publish everything
We have several generations where traditional print media has dominated our thoughts for communicating thoughts and ideas. Even this article uses many of the elements of printed media - typed words, a familiar structure of sentences and paragraphs. So it is understandable that many still view the web as just another form of printed publication.
Sources of Information
Many churches still operate with a print-dominated mentality - service bulletins, announcements and newsletters are produced on a regular basis and come from a variety of sources. Some of the articles are handwritten notes and nothing more. Others are complete documents, provided electronically, complete with formatting and inline images. Still others come as email messages, destined for major editing and rewriting before publishing.
The challenge of the church webmaster is to consolidate these sources and produce an effective web site. Should they take the raw notes and information and create content for the web site? Or, should they allow the print processes to tidy things up and use the final printed version as the source for the web? With limited resources, the tendency is to reuse what is easiest to implement - the print materials. Here's something to think about - what if the little slips of paper, the various document formats and emails were to become a single source type? The life of the staff assigned to creating the print materials would be greatly simplified! And if the single source was the web, a byproduct of this effort would greatly simplify the update and maintenance of the web site, too.
Resources to Publish
For many churches, the staff are already quite occupied preparing the weekly bulletins and announcements, worship notes and generally have established routines to deal with these efficiently. Adding another publication outlet does not fit well within these routines. Very few will confess they are bored, have nothing to do and please can you give them more work!
Unless you have invested the time to adjust your workflows to allow for publishing on multiple media, you probably will be challenged to do both well. The tendency is to work on the 'old way' first, because it is more familiar, then start on the new way. The path of least resistance is taken and, at first, the document is saved and made available for download on the web. A slightly better approach is to copy and paste the printed materials into the web - formatting and all. Efficient, but still not effective. The key is to prioritize your publishing, both for print and for the web. Make time each week to publish online - you do for your print materials. Then decide who will do it and dedicate time for it.
Resources to Maintain
So, you've been diligent and have kept your web site current, publishing 5 - 10 articles a week. Over the course of a year, you will have added 250 - 500 articles or pages to your web site. After 2 years, 500 - 1000 articles. Now you are tasked with monitoring and updating those articles. Let's say you have 500 articles to review and each one will take 30 minutes to read, gather the correct information and update. That's 15,000 minutes (250 hours)! Spread out over a year, that's 5 hours a week to review content, in addition to preparing and publishing new content. Are you going to add that to the workload, or remove something else and replace it with this?
A Workable Approach
This may seem trivial or ridiculous, but the best thing you can do to improve your publications (both print and online) is to read what you are publishing. Really. Don't just look for spelling or grammatical errors or conduct fact-checking, but determine if it is Filler, or Killer.
Your content will have an element of timeliness - events come and go on specific dates and times, staffing is relatively stable and your location and directions are the least likely to change often. Staying organized and being able to quickly locate the different types of time-sensitive materials is an important component of having great content online. Killer content has a timeless quality and people are driven to bookmark it. Online bookmarking is much different than offline bookmarking. When I place a bookmark in a book, it is only so I can come back to the page to begin reading again. Once I read further, the old bookmark is gone and forgotten. Online bookmarking is for things I want to read again, not read past.
Consider the appeal of the article - does it have a narrow focus or require special knowledge to understand? Articles with narrow appeal are filler. Killer information is something everyone wants and looks for. Fully understand who reads your site and what they read. Here is where your site statistics come into play - what are the most visited or read pages and articles? What are the top search terms that bring visitors to your site and, if you have an internal search function, what searches are conduced on your site? Focus your content to answer those questions.
Resist the temptation to base your online activities solely on your currently available resources. 10 hours a week doesn't need to be just one person, or a dedicated staff person. It can be distributed among several people, or replace other activities. You can definitely reach a point where you will be ready for a full-time staff person dedicated to web development and maintenance. If you are called to this, find a way for it to happen. There are a lot of related offline activities that spawn from an active online presence and can grow into an entire ministry for your church. If you find a need for resources beyond your current situation, look to fill that gap. You may have resources unknown to you waiting for the opportunity to serve.
To effectively use the web, some changes in thinking are necessary. The concept of Filler or Killer can apply to all your publications, but is essential for online effectiveness.