10 August 2012
10 Commandments for Church Websites
Now more than ever, it is essential to have a well designed and engaging church website. Here are my top ten commandments for getting the most value out of your church website.
1. Focus on Newcomers
Your church website's primary value is as an introduction to newcomers and then secondarily as news, resources, and information for members. Of course, there is overlap between the two. The difference is that members know where to find what they need. First time visitors don’t.
The home page and prominent menu items should focus on newcomers, providing the most crucial information on the first pages they see. Of course, you also want news and information for current members. You can place links/portals with this internal communication, especially administrative information, to the bottom or side of the page (and let people know where to find them.)
Help newcomers find your website on Google search using this technique.
Some churches treat social media and websites like online dating. They portray themselves one way, but they are nothing like that in person. You want people's experience on the site to match what they experience on Sunday morning. Don't just put pictures from Easter morning. Share the ongoing life of the congregation through sermons, pictures, video, and stories. You may want include a page on what to expect on Sunday morning, like we did at Redeemer.
3. Be Social
You want to connect with people that visit your site, not just provide them information. Be sure to incorporate your social media presence into your site. Always have social media icons pointing to your social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, or blog(s). Provide social media links for each staff person. Enable people to sign up for your email list. Allow comments on the website on appropriate pages. Enable people to share your content by putting social sharing buttons, especially the Facebook like button, on your pages.
4. Design Matters
Design is subjective. Choose a design that suits your congregation's personality, that communicates the feeling you want to convey. Create an environment where people will want to spend some time. Do it for others. Do it for yourself. You are going to spend a lot of time developing this site. You need to love it. In the end, when choosing a design, I always follow my gut feeling.
5. Keep the Look Clean and Simple
More is not better. People have too much information and too little time. Little counters, extra links, clip art - none of it adds value to the site. In fact, it diminishes value because it distracts people from the content you really want them to see. People want to find what they need quickly. If its not obvious, they'll go somewhere else. Keep it simple so you can keep the focus on what you really want people to see.
6. Go Mobile
More and more people are accessing the web from their mobile devices. Make sure your website software has a mobile version built in.
7. More Pictures and Video, Less Text, and Less Churchy Language
Churches are too wordy and Lutherans are notorious for it. What can I say? Protestants are people of the printing press. We value the power of language, but we often feel compelled to throw in lots of church speak to prove we are theologically sound. Keep it short and use real language. If something needs a lengthy explanation, give people a link to follow if they want to dig deeper. When you write your text or share content, think it as a form of storytelling rather than an information dump.
8. Keep it Current
This almost goes without saying, except there are many church sites with old material. Rather than trash all your old stuff, repurpose old pages and material under "past events" or in a retrospective such as "2011 Scrapbook." Never ever post a page "under construction." Wait until its ready, then publish it.
9. Pay Attention to Statistics
The number of hits on your site is not important. The important thing is to understand how people use the site and what content is important to them. What pages are they frequenting? Are those pages easily accessible? How are they finding you? The results might surprise you. Google Analytics is a great, free way to get all that information.
10. Use Open Source Supported Software
Choose a web design software that is actively updated supported by the developers. Supported software, like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal provide security updates, technical support, and website extensions created by third party developers. The software itself is free, as are many add-ons. Themes are usually reasonably priced. (I love YooTheme.) These programs are installed on a server and not a single computer, so many people can edit. In general, I recommend Wordpress. Try it out by creating a Wordpress.com site for free and experiment. To take full advantage of the software, create a self-hosted Wordpress.org site.
If you want to see these commandments in action, check out these websites I've created. What commandments would you add?