First impressions matter a great deal. First impressions last. And your ministry’s website is increasingly the place where your church makes its first impression on a visitor.
A visit to your website is often the first opportunity you have to tell someone about your church and help them to decide whether it’s a good fit. If it makes a good impression and helps to draw them into your church family, the website will help them stay connected.
Your church’s website is more important now than ever. It’s Information Central for visitors, attenders, and members alike.
People now expect to have instant access to the information they want. And they want their church information to be just as accessible as the details about their favorite restaurant or sports team. So it’s worth the effort to create and maintain a great website for your ministry.
The qualities of a great church website
Two things matter most: how good your website looks and how well it works. Great content is important, but if your website is unattractive and frustrating to use, visitors won’t stick around long enough to hear what you have to say.
Your website should contain:
• Information especially for visitors, such as your location, directions, service times
• Media—worship services, sermons, video testimonies and announcements
• Contact information
• A basic statement (at minimum) that describes your ministry
Appearance—how good does your website look?
Your website is your church’s virtual front door. Does it have “curb appeal”? Is it inviting, or does it put visitors off with harsh colors or cluttered pages? With the professionally designed templates now available, it’s easier than ever to create an attractive website.
The effectiveness and visual appeal of your site can be enhanced by the use of video, slideshows, even and even static images. Keep the focus on people and activities, not buildings. Just be sure to use real church members, not stock photos. Visitors to your website want to see images that actually represent your church.
Function—how well does your website work?
Do visitors have to navigate a virtual obstacle course to find the information they’re looking for? If your church website is cluttered or disorganized, visitors will quickly move on. Easy navigation around the site should be a priority when designing a website for your ministry.
Can you update your site yourself? Your software should include a CMS (Content Management System) so that you can quickly and easily update your site’s content.
Does your website load quickly—in less than five seconds? That’s about how long the average person will wait before deciding to move on from a slow-loading page. If your site loads slowly, it’s worth having an IT professional evaluate it to see what’s causing the problem.
Know the “shelf life” of your website design
Your ministry’s website needs a combination of the fresh and the familiar—fresh content for everyone, and a familiar look for regular users. An attractive and smoothly functioning site will attract more and more regular users over time. Not only will users learn what to expect when they visit, but increased traffic will help your site rise in search engine rankings.
You want to consistently add fresh content, but the overall design should be more stable. Big design changes should be relatively infrequent—two to three years for a redesign. Small changes should be made gradually without disturbing the familiar look that regular users have grown accustomed to.
Give Google what it’s looking for
When they’re doing an Internet search, most users don’t look past the first page of search results. So it’s important to help your site rank as high as possible in the results. Since Google is the most popular search engine, make sure your site contains what Google looks for as it ranks web pages.
Google Analytics can help you to determine how visitors interact with your site, including whether people are navigating any deeper than your home page.
There are over 200 SEO (Search Engine Optimization) factors that Google looks for, but rankings are based primarily on these elements:
- Keywords and keyword phrases. For example, if your church ministers to the disabled, putting keywords such as disability and special needs will cause your site to appear in the results when someone searches one of those terms. But to rank higher, consider using keyword phrases—such as ministry to the disabled or help for disabled adults.
- Density—how often your keyword or keyword phrase is used. Don’t stuff a page with keywords or overuse keyword phrases. Try to stick with one subject/keyword phrase per page, so Google doesn’t think you are trying to trick it into raising your ranking position. Google screens out pages that are jammed with keywords.It’s important to speak naturally rather than force numerous keywords onto the pages. Strive for clear writing.
- Local search optimization. Ensure that the community can find you on their smartphones and mobile devices. Search engines are placing more and more value on this approach, and services are invaluable for navigating this aspect making the most of searches done by “near users”. Remember, you’re not trying to touch the other side of the nation, but you’re trying to reach those in your ”backyard”.
- Hyperlink names—Use links with actual terms links, like the one link in the previous bullet point, as opposed to “click here and here.” (And check to make sure your hyperlinks actually work!)
- Named pages with relevant metadata. To go back to our disability ministry example, an effective name for the page that describes it might be “First Community Church Special Needs Ministry”.
- Search-friendly graphics. Avoid Flash; it causes problems with some operating systems.
Frequently-updated content. This should be easy to dokeep up with, since the details of your weekly church events change constantly.
Elexio has solutions to help you create a beautiful website with features like calendars, blogs, audio and video, online donations, and event registration. Website CMS is Elexio’s church website content management system (CMS). Design offers creative website design options. Both are part of Elexio’s Deluxe suite of church management software solutions.
As a church leader, you want each person who walks through your church’s doors to find a welcoming environment. An inviting church website – your virtual front door – can be the first place to help them feel that friendly welcome.