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It's Your Web Site, Not Your Newsletter

There are some differences in creating content for the web compared to preparing content for print distribution - your web site will work if you can successfully translate your offline publishing activities to online equivalents and making them work in a web environment.
  1. Do: Write for the web
  2. Don't: Repurpose print publications
  3. Do: Have web-only content
  4. Don't: Publish everything

After you have created your site, identified and recruited people to maintain and update content and put together the processes to keep things moving, you need to focus on getting your message across. Since you already are publishing your message and information in various forms, it makes some sense to be consistent and it can save you a lot of time to use as much of your material you have on your web site.

You should already understand enough about the web to know it is not the same as print formats and the experience is quite different. Print media are much more tactile and linear and the page presentation is consistent. If I hand you an 8.5 x 11" piece of white paper printed in color, it is still an 8.5 x 11" piece of white paper printed in color and all the information on the page is in the same location it was when I created it. More photos don't make a piece of printed material heavier or make turning the page take longer. You also can (and usually do) read a printed piece from beginning to end - that is not something easily done on the web (it may not even be possible, in most cases)

Here are some specific dos and don'ts to help you fill your web site with content that works for the web.

Do: Write for the web

People read differently on the web and you need to learn how to write for the web. This is not a Herculean task, it just requires some effort. Earlier, I mentioned the linearity of print - cover-to-cover is a term applied to print materials, but not to the web. In general, you need to get to the point much sooner online than you do in print. An online reader has much more material to choose from than someone holding a printed piece and the effort is much less to find a new page to read online than it is for someone to find a new book or article offline.

Tip: Get to the point sooner

Also, for the same reason as above, you need to highlight key words and phrases. Rather than reading the entire page, online readers skim, only stopping when you catch their attention.

  • Bold text
  • Bullet points
  • A table of contents
  • Section headers and
  • Images

all work to draw their attention to specific areas. Use them wisely and judiciously.

Another thing to remember - the people who view your web site may not be the same people who pick up your newsletter, they may not even be in the same country as the people who read your newsletter. Carefully read your items in your newsletter and announcements with the perspective of someone who has never been to your church - what assumptions were you making when you printed that document? Be sure all abbreviations are spelled out, all acronyms are explained and the language is easily understood. In short - no jargon!

Don't: Repurpose print publications

An all-too-common approach is to pick up your newsletter, your bulletin, your announcements and your calendar and start to copy the information to your web site. While you can certainly use the information from those sources, you have to remember they were designed to look good on a printed page and that doesn't always (read: almost never) translate to acceptable online viewing.

You may use a specific font that is available on your computer - when you print, that font is used to create the pages and it doesn't matter what font my computer has available, or even if I have a computer. When you publish online, fonts matter. As part of your design, you should be selecting 'safe' fonts, that view the same (or almost the same) on all computers and in all browsers. Some fonts are specifically designed for optimum viewing on screen and improve readability of your site.

Something that happens quite frequently is print publications are saved as .PDF (Portable Document Format) or .DOC (Word Document) files and then placed on the site for downloading. This does provide the user the documents in the same layout as the original, but it is an extra step for them, the print layout still doesn't match the screen dimensions, people are likely to have a program installed on their computer that will open the PDF or DOC file, but it is not guaranteed, and since they won't know what the content is until after they download it, the search engines will not know either.

Do: Have web-only content

If I am a member of the congregation and I attend services regularly - why should I visit the church's web site? Is there something on your web site that will keep me coming back every day? If I am not a member of your congregation, but I am looking for a new church home in your area, what will I learn about your church that I will not get by driving past your location, reading your directory listing, or calling your office?

The web gives you a unique vehicle to deliver content - make the most of it and leverage its power and reach. This may be your biggest challenge because you may not have any point of reference for creating online content. For this, you will need to spend some time looking at other sites to get an idea of what is currently online. Combining video, audio, discussion forums and extending your message beyond Sunday morning are all ways to leverage the power of the web.

Don't: Publish everything

The web can be an endless sea of information - use discretion when adding more information to your site. The reality is - computers have moved us no closer to being a paperless society. There is a lot of redundancy online, don't add to it. Don't make me say it again! If your members are getting announcements handed to them every week, why do they need to see them again online? True, there may be people that are traveling, or unable to attend a particular week, but how many items in your announcements appear for more than a week? I know I see a lot of repetition in the printed announcements and bulletins I receive.

As I stated above, each item you post online needs to be written for an online audience - do you really have time to rewrite each of your articles for readability online? I've said it before - all web sites have 1 thing in common - connecting with their viewers and leading them to a closer relationship with you. The web is both informational and experiential. If you just dump everything out to the web, what chance do you have to connect with people? It is OK for people to have questions, as long as they have a way to ask those questions. Your goal is to engage and connect, not inundate.

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