Church Websites Have Come a Long Way in a Very Short Time
It’s easier than ever to put up an attractive, welcoming website even if you aren’t a designer.
But if your church is like many others, chances are once the website is up; you don’t spend a lot of time on it.
That may be a mistake. Websites get stale, things break, or sites crash. If you don’t have regular website upkeep built into your weekly routine, those problems can go unattended to the detriment of your visitors’ experience, or perhaps even your reputation.
I recently visited a ministry website that had been infested with malware. Sitting at the top of the home page was a very inappropriate message for all to see. Definitely not a great first impression!
Your website sets the first impression for an increasing number of potential new visitors to your church.
Why wouldn’t you want to maintain it with the same care you put into your worship service and building upkeep?
Here’s a quick, but by no means exhaustive list of things that should be looked at on a regular basis:
1. Mobile Friendly: This aspect of church web design has rapidly become one of the most important considerations for any website.
Even if you aren’t a techie, chances are a significant cohort of your congregation and potential website visitors are.
Since Google has recently announced it will reward mobile friendly sites with higher rankings in mobile search, it makes sense to ensure your church or ministry website is up to date.
Here’s a handy tool you can use to determine if your site is mobile friendly.
2. Location, Service Dates and Times: This is a huge one for churches! A 2012 survey by Grey Matter Research discovered that “checking location and service times” was by far the number one reason people visited a church website.
At the very least you should have the service times displayed in the footer of every page on your website. Consider adding it to the header as well.
And since it’s relatively easy to embed a Google map on your website, there’s no reason not to have a page that displays a map to your location.
3. Most Visited Pages: Since we’re talking about frequently visited pages, here are some more results from the study quoted above…
Reasons people go to a church’s website:
- Check to see the times of services: 43%
- Check what activities are offered: 29%
- Look for a map or directions to the church’s location: 28%
- Watch streaming video: 26%
- Listen to streaming audio: 26%
- Check to see what the church’s religious beliefs are: 22%
- Request prayer: 18%
- Downloading a podcast: 15%
- Checking what denomination or group the church belongs to: 15%
- Send a message to the pastor or leader: 12%
- Post on a bulletin board or forum: 5%
Check any of the pages above that are also on your website. Better yet, set up Google analytics on your site to get firsthand information about your website visitors’ habits.
Use those insights to create a better user experience.
4. Forms working properly: This one hits home!
Our website recently experienced a loss of functionality on our contact forms. I had set up a very robust system that allowed messages to pass to specific individuals instead of all being routed through the church office.
Unfortunately, one of the forms began to malfunction, which meant some messages weren’t getting through.
I was able to create a workaround until I get the functionality restored, but the thought that even one person’s message didn’t get through is unnerving, to say the least.
5. Page speed: Along with mobile friendliness, this is a heavily weighted factor in the search engines. And user experience is greatly diminished if your pages are slow to load.
The good news is there are some fairly easy fixes, like installing caching functionality (if you have a WordPress site, it’s even easier), optimizing image file size, and using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like CloudFlare to help up your site’s load speed.
Here is a free tool you can use to check and diagnose your website’s load time.
6. Most Important Content Above the Fold: Those of you that still remember newspapers know that “above the fold” refers to the part of the paper visible when it’s folded in half widthwise. Newspapers typically put their most attention grabbing images, headlines, and stories above the fold.
The takeaway for your website is that whatever is taking up space on your viewer’s screen when your site first loads should grab the visitor’s attention. Many churches, including my home church have a sliding carousel or “slider” as the first element the viewer sees.
Some recent web usability studies indicate that sliders aren’t always the best way to promote your most important messaging, especially if you want them to take a specific action, like clicking a link. Consider replacing the slider with a static image and see if you get an increase in engagement.
7. Easy to Read Events Calendar: Many events calendars I see on church websites are cluttered, confusing, and overly complicated.
Google Calendar is a great tool, but it’s not the most elegant looking thing.
Consider using a grid or poster board layout for your calendar and then solicit feedback to see if your members like it better.
8. Timely Calendar Updates: Just as bad as a confusing calendar is one that isn’t updated in a timely fashion. Ideally updates should happen as soon as an event date is set.
At the very least you should update your calendar and events listings by midweek. That way, any announcements that refer to upcoming events can be acted upon when necessary.
It’s also a good idea to have more than one person capable of updating the events or calendars or have an automatic update capacity, so you’re not dependent on a single person.
Really, human redundancy or cross-training on website tasks is always a good idea, as long as everyone remains in the loop about who’s doing what.
9. On page SEO: SEO may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be when it comes to a church context. SEO is a skill and expert SEOs are very much in demand, but there are a host of things you can do within your website to help you stand out in local search.
We mentioned image optimization above in the context of improving site speed, but there are also ways to optimize images for search, such as including appropriate alt tags.
You should also think about your page titles and urls, as well as your tags. If you don’t know what that means, there are plenty of resources you can find by googling “on-page seo.” Moz.com is one of my favorite sites to learn seo.
And if you have a WordPress site, I HIGHLY recommend getting the Yoast SEO plugin (formerly WordPress SEO). There’s a paid version, but the free version is quite robust and you can really improve your site SEO in a matter of minutes just by following the instructions in the plugin settings menu.
Well, that was quite a bit of material for our first blog post!
In the coming weeks I’ll be providing regular posts on church and ministry marketing. If you have a question you’d like answered, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org