5 Goals You Can Set For Your Church Website In The New Year

5 Goals You Can Set For Your Church Website In The New Year

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:2-3

When establishing a vision, church leaders are often inspired by the prophet Habakkuk to “write their vision and make it plain.” Writing the vision is just the first step, however. In order to actually make the vision come to pass, it takes time, energy, and plenty of patience. Setting goals is instrumental in making your vision come to life.

Without goals, the dreams and vision you have for your church will be hard-pressed to become a reality. Use the following as inspiration when setting goals for your church website.

Continue reading “5 Goals You Can Set For Your Church Website In The New Year”

5 SEO Mistakes You Should Avoid With Your Church Website

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So last time I talked about 5 tips that you shouldn’t miss out on that would help your church website SEO. I’ve been spending a little time working on SEO audits lately, and I wanted to address a few common mistakes that I found. The thing is that these mistakes, while common, were actually gaping holes in SEO.

Here we go:

5. Duplicate and Low content pages

It’s easy to fall into a pattern where we just create a page for every little thing. Google actually doesn’t like that. In fact, a bunch of low content pages will actually serve to frustrate and confuse the Google crawler, especially now that it’s focused on context and content.

To avoid this pitfall, look for opportunities to better organize your content into categories, then build related items into the same page. Of course you should show Google some sections in that page by using H2-H6 tags, but more related content means better recognition of your information.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want mile-long pages. Look for things like contact information, location, service times and directions. All of those things can work well together on a page, and will work better than 4 short, disparate pages.

Also, avoid pages that repeat the same information. It can be a strong temptation to just copy and paste some content that you’ve written for another page, but I guarantee that Google will see it and you can and will be penalized. Better to just slightly rewrite the content and use it with slightly different keywords.

4. Duplicate meta descriptions and titles

This is a surprisingly common mistake. It can be excruciatingly BORING to write page titles and descriptions for each page on your site. It becomes less boring when you understand how they work and why you need them to be unique for every page.

Duplicate titles are bad. Google really doesn’t like them. Beyond the page URI information, the page title is one of the first things that Google sees that tells the crawler what to expect on the page. When every page has the same title…well…the Google gets annoyed with you and rewards you with a nice fat duplicate title penalty.

Duplicate descriptions are almost as bad. Back in the day (like 3 years ago) Google still looked at the description for keyword content. It doesn’t anymore. That means that if you have a description that reads something like, “First Church of Anytown, USA is the bestest bestest church in Anytown USA with childrens programs, great music, and sermons and messages that are the bestest.”

You get the idea.

If all of those pages are completely loaded with keywords and have no contextual value, you will be penalized – even more if they are all the same. You see, the purpose of the meta description is to get someone to actually want to read your page content when it comes up in Google SERP.

Therefore, a good description for a page about service information (limited to 156 characters) might be, “Get the information you need about church service times and directions for Our Church in Anytown, USA.” Here’s why: when someone uses keywords like “service times” and “Our Church” in Google, your site should be the first result. If you’ve used “Service Times” and “Our Church” in both the page title AND description Google will actually BOLD those keywords when it displays your page information in SERP to make it very obvious to the searcher that you are likely to be the best answer.

3. Broken Links

Don’t let these happen. With a good church CMS, like Elexio Website, it’s easy to fix 404 issues and get people to the pages and information that they want. Using tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics on your site properly will give you more information about what pages are broken and might be sending people away.

There’s no excuse for the webmaster who allows someone to stumble onto a 404 error. Not with the free tools that are available. Those tools include:

  • Moz or SEMRush
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)

There are more, but those are where you can start to easily locate problems and get them fixed.

2. Answering on more than one domain

You may not know what this means, and that’s ok. If you’re able to type in “mywebsite.com” and “www.mywebsite.com” and the URL doesn’t change from one to the other then you might have this problem. A properly configured site should forward from “mywebsite.com” to “www.mywebsite.com” or vice versa.

Here’s why: Google REALLY doesn’t like duplicate content, and as far as their crawler is concerned, each domain is a separate website. However, when they see two sites with exactly the same information they penalize both. This was an old blackhat SEO trick for building a backlink profile and increasing search rank.

Your web provider should be able to help you with this – it’s a standard practice at Elexio.

1. Broken or missing robots.txt and sitemap.xml files

You’ve possibly never even heard of these files, which is a shame because these are the files that literally tell Google and every other search engine about every page on your site, if they should even look at them, and how it’s all organized. Make sure that you have them, and that they are working.

Once again, there are free tools to help you build these. A proper website CMS, like Elexio Website, generates these automatically as pages are added. Also, make sure they are saved in the proper format, and that the robots.txt file references the sitemap location properly.

Getting your church SEO done right

Fixing these simple mistakes can make a massive difference in where your church website appears in search. While all the other churches aren’t aware that they have these issues, your search results can be flying to the top.

Once again, using the right tools can make all of this stuff either automatic or easy to fix. Look at quality church website CMS systems, like Elexio’s website solution.

If you’ve got some more questions about how this works, feel free to contact Elexio. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of great SEO tips in our online help center.

5 Tips For Church Website SEO

Push your church website to the top of Google SERP

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I’ve not written for the Elexio blog before, but I’d like you to get to know me a little. Before starting at Elexio I spent the last few years working at advertising agencies, running design studios and managing digital strategies for many clients, some of whom likely have a few products parked in your homes. Elexio was a boon for a worship pastor like me, looking for a place to work while offering a faith family and a common mission in the growth of the global church.

With that background in website information architecture, SEO that includes a deep understanding of the mechanisms of the many Google search algorithms, and a passion for the church I am providing a few basic tips for church SEO.

1. Know what people are searching for in your area

This may sound like a pretty simple thing, but we all make assumptions about our audiences and the challenge here is the assumptions. We don’t always know what interests people in a church, though we might assume that we do.
Using tools like Google Webmaster Tools, Google Trends, Google Analytics and others both paid and free can give you the insight that you need based on your own web traffic, as well as traffic to other church sites.

2. Effectively plan your information architecture

Nothing makes a website, sacred or secular, work better in Google SERP than the context of the information. Google no longer cares about keywords the way it once did. Your information must be well organized and well written. Google now analyzes keywords, nested information, internally and externally linked sites and pages, as well as what is actually written in the page to determine how relevant that page is to the end user’s search query.

3. Local SEO is important, even vital

Yes, there is a difference. It’s extremely important if you are a multi-site church. We have a large, multi-site church in the central Pennsylvania region who does an excellent job of optimizing their campus websites. Ensuring that your homepage, or the pages for your various campuses include a broad keyword like “church in my town” in the following areas:

  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • H1

You should also include the address of your facility. If you have created a local business page in Google Maps and verified your church, you should ensure that the NAP (name, address, and phone) on the webpage matches your church information exactly. Even a small difference can cause Google to give you a negative mark, rather than a lift.

4. Don’t overlook Schema

Schema.org is a site that most search engines have partnered with to assist with the categorization of information that appears in search. Categories such as events, news, blog posts, etc… can help Google more quickly identify and categorize your content.

Schema even includes location tags, making it incredibly easy for Google to recognize your address, phone, and even hours of operation.

5. Consider your platform carefully

Yes, what your website runs on under the hood is actually important. Elexio has spent years developing a church website CMS that makes SEO relatively simple and managing content extremely easy.

WordPress is another great option, but you should walk into that world with your eyes open. Cost of ownership is higher than free with WordPress. A bevy of plugins are all but required right out of the gate with WordPress, just to make it more SEO friendly and secure. Then, someone must be willing to manage updates to the system, the plugins, and of course the content. And finally, don’t forget about an event calendar. Right now, a really solid, low-cost, easy-to-manage event calendar system does not exist for WordPress.

Finding the right SEO solutions & answers

In closing, there are many best practices and tips to consider for SEO, but these 5 represent some common problems where church websites frequently suffer. Optimizing by organizing your information, providing context, and ensuring that people within your local area can find you.

If you are looking for a new church website platform take a look at ELEXIO WEBSITE. And don’t forget to take a look through our help site as we have a great selection of SEO tips and tricks hosted within.

7 Tips For Using Forms On Your Church Website

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Many churches are ditching the sign-up boards and spreadsheets for easy-to-use online forms when they need people to register for events or join a small group. These online forms can be powerful and convenient when used effectively. Follow these seven tips to make the most of these tools for your church:

1. Collect all the key information

If you’re using an online form for VBS sign-up, make sure you collect the important details you’ll need—like parent contact information—when they register, rather than asking them for more information later.

2. Keep them short, simple, and sweet

While you should be careful to gather all the information you need, leave out the fields that aren’t necessary. HubSpot found that the completion percentages for online forms drastically decreases as the number of fields increases. Avoid long forms that require people to continue scrolling to complete or they might throw in the towel before hitting that submit button.

3. Make them mobile-friendly

People aren’t just accessing your church website from a desktop—they want to give and register for events from their smartphones. Make your online forms responsive so mobile sign-up and registration is easy.

4. Get creative

Don’t just use web forms for event registration—use them VBS sign-ups, ministry assessments, prayer requests, and mailing lists. Take advantage of this tool and all the ways you can put it to work for your church.

5. Allow people to skip account creation

Have you ever visited a website to make a quick purchase, but it required you to go through the inconvenient process of creating an account just to make a one-time purchase? To prevent people from abandoning event registration for the same reason, allow them to sign up without creating an account to keep the process quick and simple.

6. Accept event registration payment

Rather than having people sign up for an event online then bring payment later, allow them to pay as they register. Incorporate partial payments, timed pricing, and volume discounts, too.

7. Integrate them with your ChMS

Don’t go through the hassle of data entry if you can automatically have the information update in your church database. Integrated online forms will save your staff time and improve accuracy.

Check with your ChMS provider to learn what services integrate with your church management software—some even provide web form builders as a built-in feature.

How has your church effectively used online forms? 

How To Repurpose Content For Your Church

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Does your church recycle?

No, I’m not talking cashing in soda cans for nickels or going green—I mean recycling content.

Your church probably has limited resources to work with, so spending several hours each week developing completely new content isn’t practical. But you’ve still got blog posts to create and emails to crank out and social channels to fill. The good news is you already have plenty of great content lying around, waiting to be repurposed. You just need to get a little creative.

Sermons

Pastors invest hours studying, researching, and preparing for their sermons. Why not get some extra mileage out of all that work? Post audio or video of the service on your online media center, in your mobile app, and on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Pull some standout quotes from the message for a simple graphic on social media. Post slides of the major points. Create an infographic from any staggering statistics. Quickly assemble a blog post from further study notes, additional Scripture reading, or anything that couldn’t fit into that Sunday morning timeslot.

Sunday School & Small Group Discussions

Small group leaders and Sunday school teachers also share a wealth of information and foster discussion throughout the week. Typically only a handful of people get to benefit from these lessons, but a lot of the content could be beneficial to anyone in your church community. Ask small group leaders to write blog posts covering a recent topic that struck a nerve and highlight some of these details in the church newsletter to encourage people to join a small group.

Church Photos

You’ve probably collected thousands of images from events like Easter cantatas and community activities but have no idea how to make use of them. Rather than incorporating stiff stock photos, showcase these (free) genuine images on your website. Create albums on Facebook so your church community can share them with friends. And you’re not limited to photos that were just shot at last week’s BBQ. Use photos from the annual Trunk or Treat in 2010 to promote this year’s event. Dust off a staff photo from 1987 and post to Instagram with #tbt—people will enjoy seeing a fun, relatable side of your church and laughing at the pastor’s choice in acid wash jeans.

Stories

Whether it’s a testimony to God’s faithfulness or a report on your church’s sponsored missionaries, repurpose stories to engage your church community and connect with potential visitors. Ask a volunteer youth leader to post that story she shared with your staff about the ministry’s impact on her own life on the church’s blog. It might encourage other people to get involved within the church. Or use that same story to promote your youth ministry to the local community from a unique perspective. Include the message of gratitude from a local shelter in your next newsletter so the church community can see the results of their prayers and financial gifts.

Whether you’re scrambling for an idea to boost social media engagement or some copy to complete content marketing efforts, next time try recycling content when racking your brain for a fresh idea.

Check out these other resources for some helpful tips:

How to Blog When You Don’t Have Time

An Intro to Content Marketing and Social Media for Churches

Your Church’s Problem in Social Media

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Grow Your Church With Google’s Ad Grants Program

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Today’s post is by guest blogger Nicole Kohler.

Did you know that Google gives out $10,000 in no-strings-attached advertising credit each month to nonprofit organizations – including churches? Did you also know that you can use this credit to bring new members into your church? It’s true: Google’s Ad Grants program, administered through Google AdWords, gives nonprofit organizations (including churches) up to $329 per day to place ads on the top and side of search results, driving clicks to their website…for free.

If you’re not familiar with Google AdWords, or you’d like to find out how to take advantage of the Google Ad Grants program, this tutorial should help. Read on to learn how you can grow your membership through the power of free advertising!

Who Can Use Google Ad Grants?

Free advertising might sound too good to be true – but for churches, charities, and other nonprofit organizations, it’s not. As long as your organization has a current 501(c)(3) status and has a functional website, you should be eligible.

Here are a few other things you should know about using Google Ad Grants:

  • Government agencies, academic institutions, childcare centers, and medical organizations can’t use the program – so promoting your church-sponsored daycare is off the table
  • However, according to Google, you can use the program for philanthropic education programs, including church-sponsored preschool or other learning programs
  • You must have current 501(c)(3) status as assigned by the IRS and a valid EIN; copies of letters from the IRS are not sufficient proof of status (pending or otherwise)
  • Websites that use AdSense ads or affiliate advertising, or those that request donations outside of the traditional philanthropic scope (e.g. asking for property donations), are not eligible
  • To remain eligible, you must actively manage your account, which Google defines as “logging in monthly and making at least one change to your account every 90 days”

You’ll also need a current Google AdWords account to take advantage of the program. AdWords, which is Google’s advertising program, is where you’ll create and modify ads, increase and decrease your ad spend, and do all other activities related to your advertising campaigns.

If you’re already running a pay-per-click (PPC) program, you’re probably fairly familiar with AdWords. But if not, this next tutorial should help you learn the ropes.

Signing Up for Google AdWords

To sign up for AdWords, you’ll first need a Google account – like one you already use for Gmail, YouTube, Google+, or any other Google service. This account will be used to manage your advertising, so choose it carefully!

Once you have your account chosen, go to http://adwords.google.com and sign in. You will be asked to sign up on a very simple screen like this one:

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Choose your email address, country, time zone, and currency before clicking “Save and continue.” Once you have done this, you’ll be welcomed to an empty dashboard:

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Creating Campaigns and Ad Groups

At this point, if you are planning to use AdWords only for your grant-sponsored advertising, you don’t have to do anything else. However, I would suggest playing around with a test campaign to understand how the program works, just so you know what to do when the time comes!

Click “Create your first campaign” and you’ll be sent to a new screen to set up your first advertising campaign. This will look extremely overwhelming and confusing the first time, but don’t worry: Google has great help resources, and you typically don’t need to change most of the options you see on these setup screens, either.

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On this page, you’ll be prompted to create a campaign. A campaign consists of one or more ads that share one budget, and typically target one broad product or service. As a church, you will probably only ever have one or two campaigns, but ecommerce stores or manufacturers might have multiple – for example, a campaign for each group of products, or for each service they offer.

For your test campaign, you can focus on setting two parameters: location and budget. To start, scroll down until you see “Locations” and click the radio button that says “Let me choose…” This will allow you to start typing in the name of a city or area:

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You can do some really great things with location targeting, as you can see in the screenshot above. However, it’s best not to be too broad, because you run the risk of wasting your ad dollars on views by those who aren’t even near your church. So pick a local city or two before moving on.

Continue scrolling down the page until you reach the bottom, where you’ll see a small box to define your budget:

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Since the Grants program provides you with about $329 per day to use on your free advertising, let’s enter $329 in that box.

Below this, you’ll see a few other cool options, which allow you to add location information, links, or phone numbers to your ads. Whether you do these or not is entirely up to you. However, if you want to encourage people to call and/or visit your church, it’s not a bad idea to check the first and third options. The second option is mostly beneficial if you want to send those who see your ads to a “why join us” or other form of targeted landing page.

If you click any of these options, you’ll be prompted to fill in your location, phone number, or sitelink information. Click the “+ New” button at the bottom of each gray menu that appears to add new items, and a popup window will open to ask you for the details required.

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Once this is done, click “Save and Continue” and you’ll move on to your first Ad Group:

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This is where you’ll write a test ad. Google has some great examples of ads you can model yours off of, but don’t be afraid to get creative! Think about ways that you can capture the interest of potential churchgoers as they are scrolling through search results.

Finally, below this you’ll see an empty box asking you to enter keywords for your ad group. This is where you can enter the words and phrases that will help determine where your ad appears. These keywords should be pretty straightforward – for example, if you’re a church in Harrisburg, PA, you might target phrases like “church in Harrisburg,” “UCC Harrisburg PA,” “Harrisburg church,” and so on.

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At the bottom of this page, you’ll see an option to proceed with your campaign and ad group and set up billing, or “set up billing later.” Click the latter and you’ll be able to view your AdWords dashboard, and explore the campaign manager and Ad Group tools, without having to pay anything. (Don’t worry – your ads won’t be active, and you won’t be charged anything.)

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Spend some time exploring AdWords and getting to know the options you have available. This dashboard will be more interesting once you have actual data to look at, but it’s still a good idea to invest an hour or two in trying out different settings, adding and removing keywords, and reading up on basic PPC strategies, before you launch right into the Google Ad Grants program.

Applying for Google Ad Grants

Once your AdWords account is created, you will also need to create a Google for Nonprofits account. You can do that from this page.

After both accounts have been created, head over to this Google Support page to follow the step-by-step instructions to apply for Ad Grants.

After your application has been submitted, Google will review your eligibility and supporting documents, then contact you with their decision. If all goes well and your documentation is in order, you’ll be approved!

Once your application is approved, you’ll receive $10,000 in AdWords credit deposited into your account monthly. As mentioned, your spending limit on this credit is $329 per day (but you can spend less, or can spend all of it plus some of your own money if you want to place additional ads).

How Can We Use Ad Grants to Increase Our Membership?

So you’ve been awarded your free credit… now what do you do with it?

There are a variety of ways that you can grow your fellowship and increase interest in your church with these free ads. Here are a few ideas:

Location targeting: Perhaps the most obvious strategy, you can reach anyone who may be new to your area or searching for a new church with location-targeted ads. Target phrases like “church in (city)” or “(city) worship” to find these individuals.

Event promotion: Have a special event coming up? Whether it’s Vacation Bible School, a rummage sale, or just your annual Christmas service, you can use limited-time ads to promote it. Don’t be afraid to get broader with these keywords, or leave out the religious aspect: you’re more likely to reach people searching for “(city) rummage sale” or “Christmas services” than you are “(city) church yard sale” or “church choir.”

Donation drives: This may seem backwards, but you can absolutely run ads asking for donations. People who are searching for charities to donate their time, energy, and money to will see and appreciate your ads, provided they are for a good cause. Use your space to promote something like a church-sponsored soup kitchen or fundraiser vs your weekly collection, and you’re likely to see a higher response.

Volunteer recruitment: Need a few extra hands for an event you have coming up? Set aside some of your credit to run an ad or two asking for volunteers. If they’re looking for a place to worship, they might just stick around.

Content marketing: If you are using content marketing to reach potential worshippers, you can promote this content with your ads. Just make sure your destination URL points to the content itself, as opposed to your homepage or an un-targeted landing page – otherwise you’ll be wasting your clicks.

You can get a few more ideas on using your Ad Grants budget right here.

A Few Final Things to Keep In Mind

As already mentioned, once your ads are set up, you will need to log in once per month and make at least one change every 90 days to keep your account active. If this is not done, your grants will expire.

It’s not a good idea to “set it and forget it” when it comes to AdWords anyway, though. There’s certainly the temptation to look at Ad Grants as “free money,” but that doesn’t mean it should be wasted on ads that don’t convert or drive any interest. If an ad isn’t working – or an ad is working extremely well – you should adjust your campaigns accordingly.

Additionally, after your ads have been running for a while, you’ll find that there’s a wealth of information on your hands. You’ll be able to see which ads received the most clicks and when. Additionally, if you connect your AdWords account to Google Analytics, you’ll be able to dig deeper, learning the age and gender of those clickers, which ad landing pages have the highest engagement, and so on. This can present you with some very real, actionable information about those interested in your fellowship that can be used to your advantage in other marketing activities.

For example, let’s say you’re finding that a high number of 20-something females are clicking your location-based ads, reading your content, but leaving your site after a few minutes. If you know that females around this age respond well to email marketing, you could add a “subscribe to our email” pop-up on your content to capture their information and possibly bring them to your church, as opposed to losing their interest after a few minutes of reading.

Good Luck!

I hope this tutorial has helped you learn about AdWords and the Google Ad Grants program. If you decide to take advantage of Google’s generous advertising credits for nonprofits, I wish you the best of luck! AdWords may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little time and experience, it can be an enormous benefit to organizations of every size and shape, fellowships included.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicole Kohler is a Web Content Strategist for WebpageFX, where she spends her time writing blog posts, how-tos, and emails that help people better understand online marketing. In her free time, Nicole enjoys hanging out with her husband and pets, playing video games, and reading classic literature. Follow her on Twitter @nicoleckohler.

How To Navigate The Church Blogosphere

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With millions of blogs now online and hundreds of new ones popping up each day, many churches are jumping on the blog bandwagon. And this trend is here to stay—at least for a while. If you haven’t started blogging for your church already, should you? And how can you use a blog to effectively complement your ministry?

Should your church have a blog?

  • Consider your church community. Look at the demographics. Are they online and tech-savvy? Will they read your blog? If most of your members don’t even have internet access, a blog may not be the most effective tool for your church.
  • Do you have the time and resources to effectively manage a blog? If you’re going to tackle blogging, you should be able to post on a regular basis and closely monitor any comments it triggers.
  • Do you—or the person who will spearhead this project—possess the writing abilities and knowledge to manage a blog? Writing a conversational blog requires a style that is very different from a theological dissertation.

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then a blog is probably a great option for your church!

The benefits of a church blog

 

  • A church blog that produces relevant information will create community, engagement, and conversation. You’ll get people to think and interact with each other as they sort through the details. People across the country or globe might even discover your blog—people who would never enter your physical church but can still become a part of your online community.
  • Great content will reinforce the reputation and reliability of your church. Consistently writing about specific topics could eventually make you a ministry expert or at least build credibility.
  • A blog can drive traffic to your website and result in better Google search rankings. New content—especially when written with SEO in mind—can improve the visibility of your website to people looking for a church.
  • It is an affordable and relatively simple way of reaching people. Whether you use WordPress or a blogging tool within your CMS, the time investment of a blog is usually the greatest expense.

Blogging best practices         

 

  • Keep in mind that a church blog is not an online bulletin board or event calendar. Use it to delve deeper into the Sunday morning topic. Highlight the impact of a specific ministry orvolunteer. Share what God’s been teaching you through a Bible study. But don’t let your blog turn into a boring announcement page.
  • Come up with an attention-grabbing headline. You can ask a question, offer a how-to, or explore the 10 tips to XYZ—list posts and bullet points are easiest to read! Convince people that the post will be worth their time so they click. But don’t be clever at the expense of clarity. Tell them what the post will be about in an interesting—and keyword-friendly—way.
  • Write for the average person in your church. Don’t try to impress people with big words or overly deep theological concepts. Keep a conversational tone and loosely follow spelling and grammar rules—it’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition if it sounds natural! While you should consider SEO, don’t write keyword-heavy posts for robots. If you’re producing well-written, useful content, Google should be happy.
  • Dedicate adequate time to your blog. Monitor and respond to comments quickly—you don’t want your blog to look like a ghost town! Determine how often you will blog and stick to it. Consistency in posting is more important than frequency. You could start off with one post per month and gradually work your way to a weekly post.
  • Include a photo with a keyword-rich description in each post. Like an intriguing headline, an eye-catching image can increase the interest in your blog post and improve SEO. But be mindful of licensing issues when using images you find online. Consider taking your own photos—you don’t need to be a professional photographer—or purchasing them from a site like Lightstock to avoid any legal problems.
  • Make it simple for people to subscribe to your blog and share the posts via social media. While you should promote your own posts through these channels as well, you can only reach a limited number of people. But when others can easily share your content, your audience immediately grows.
  • Try out some of these ideas when your blog is stuck in a rut or just getting started:
    • Embed a video that relates to your topic within the post
    • Ask someone from within the church, another ministry leader, or an expert on a specific topic to guest post on your blog
    • End the post with a question to spark a conversation in the comments
    • Share links to other sites and further study materials

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much traffic on your blog right away. Be patient until it catches on—it can take up to a year or longer to establish your online community. Continue to regularly post good content, and the people will come.

Check out these other resources for some more insight on blogging for your church:

4 Reasons Your Church Should Blog

Should Your Church Have a Blog?

Why Your Church Desperately Needs a Good Blog

7 Reasons Every Pastor Should Have a Blog

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Why You Should Integrate Your Church Database And Website

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If you’re utilizing the right ChMS for your church, you already know what a huge time—and headache—saver you’ve got on your hands. A database that allows you to manage everything from contributions to people to events already cuts your work load in half. But did you know that integrating your church database with your website could save you even more time? And did I mention that it’s simple and will help get your church community involved?

Scratch a few items off your to-do list and let your church community do the following online:

1. Give

Online giving not only makes it quick and easy for your people to make their weekly contributions from home any day of the week, but it can also lead to an increase in giving for your church. Donors can save their payment information—whether it’s a credit card, debit card, or bank account—and set up recurring giving. Allowing them to set up an account online will likely result in more consistent giving for your church. They can even view their giving history online and print their own statements—saving your staff a significant amount of time come tax season!

2. Update personal information

No matter the size of your church, managing the details of each person in your database can be tedious and time-consuming. Remembering to change an address or update a phone number could easily slip your mind while working with so many people. But when your website is integrated with the church database, your people can log into a portal and make those changes on their own in minutes. As an administrator, set controls to monitor who sees these details, and your people can access this information to engage with others in the church family.

3. Find and connect with a small group

One of the best ways to ensure that people don’t just come to your church but they stay is to help them get connected. You can make it easy for your people to find the right small groupwhen it’s convenient for them. They can search for groups based on a variety of criteria and see where those groups meet on a map. Group leaders can share links to online study materials or meeting location details. They can also enter group attendance here rather than keeping a printed record to be entered into the database manually later.

4. Register and pay for events

When you announce an upcoming event on Sunday, you don’t want people to go home to check their calendars and then try to remember to sign up next Sunday for the retreat or conference. They’ll probably forget. You can make it easy for them to register online for an event as soon as they know their availability. They can even pay for those events that have a cost associated with them right away from any device.

Integrating your church database and website will allow your people to take care of these functions and more to lighten the load on the shoulders of your staff.

Sounds great, but how do I get my church to use it?

As with any new system, it may take some time for your church community to adjust. The younger generation will likely be quicker to adopt these changes, but below are some tips for getting your people on board:

  • PROMOTE

Advertise this new tool to your congregation in the bulletin or within a screen announcement and remind them to take advantage of it periodically.

  • SHARE

Share information and links to help your people get started through email and social media.

  • START FROM THE TOP

Are you the pastor? Well, practice what you preach. Log in and make a contribution or update your address. Show them that it’s really that easy.

  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOME GREAT RESOURCES

Already an Elexio client? We have plenty of resources to help you communicate these changes with your people.

How has your church benefited from integrating its ChMS and website?

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Which CMS Is Right For Your Church?

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Churches have several choices today when it comes to content management systems (CMS). They can choose a low cost CMS for putting together a basic website with a few simple pages. They can use a CMS with add-on features such as event management. Or they can use a robust CMS integrated with church management software, check-in solutions and mobile apps. Which CMS is right for your church?

Choosing the right CMS for your church website depends on several factors.

Your website is your most valuable online asset.   It speaks volumes about your church.  It might say, “We’re growing, we’re relevant, and we care about the impression we make.”  Or it can say, “We’re small but we still take the time to look professional.”  Hopefully it doesn’t say, “We didn’t give our website much thought, it is managed by volunteers with no experience, and it shows.”  Sadly, an astonishing number of churches fall into the last category.

Define Your Website’s Purpose

Before you decide which CMS is right for your church, clearly define the purpose of your website. There are four basic purposes:

1. Be found

2. Provide information

3. Generate interest

4. Create a virtual church experience

You need to have a clear purpose in mind for your website to understand which CMS is best suited to your needs.

Decide Who Will Manage Your Website

This is one of the most important decisions you can make.  Your website is a marketing tool. It should be managed by an experienced digital marketing professional.  Just because nearly anyone can put together a basic website using free templates available from hosting companies doesn’t mean they will put together a good website.

What experience does the person have with websites?  They might be excellent at writing content but have no real website administration experience. Conversely, they might be good with the technical aspects of putting together a website but have no experience with creating content that engages visitors and gets found by search engines.  Again, just because someone is capable of putting together a basic website, doesn’t mean it is a good website.

Choose a Content Management System

Let’s look at the two most popular choices for churches:  church website CMS and WordPress

A church website CMS is designed specifically to address the unique requirements of churches.  A good church website CMS should be fairly simple to use, include standard templates or allow for custom design, integrate with your church database, and include features such as a media center and an event management tool.

WordPress is an open source blogging and website CMS.  It is based on themes and a plug-in software architecture.  Numerous designers sell templates for WordPress sites; these templates vary greatly in terms of functionality and ease of use.

There are a lot of factors to consider when comparing a church website CMS to WordPress:

1. Hosting

Whereas most church website CMS providers host the website on their servers, organizations using the WordPress CMS need to select a hosting company for their website.  Important hosting features to compare include routine site backup, security, data storage, number of emails, number of domains and subdomains included, and support.  Prices vary from provider to provider so it is important to compare apples-to-apples and research the reputation of the hosting company.

2. Security

Websites are constantly under attack from groups that want to inject the site with malware, steal personal information, or both.  Sadly, too many people fail to take security seriously.  Besides the basics of having secure passwords, website administrators need to understand security vulnerabilities of their site and how to safeguard against them.  You need to protect your data AND your members’ data.  One of the reasons websites based on open source CMS such as WordPress are under constant attack is because users fail to implement proper security measures.  Of course, even experienced site administrators can become victims of aggressive hackers, but you need to think very carefully about who will set up your website and manage it.

3. Software Updates

Who is responsible for software updates?  Security threats often necessitate software updates.  New features or changes to existing ones also require software updates. A church website CMS provider is responsible for updates.  If you use an open source CMS, you have to track updates and decide whether or not to implement them.  Because many of the templates and plugins used for open source sites are free or low cost, you are depending on the programmer to update the template or plugin each time the CMS updates.   You have no way of knowing how a software update will affect the template or other plugins you are using. This is where reputation and experience really matter.  Sometimes an update is seamless.  Sometimes your site stops working until you figure out which software update caused the issue.  How experienced are you at managing software updates?

4. Content and Features

What do you want your website to include?  You need to look at this from two perspectives:  what your site visitors will see and what you will have access to in the CMS (in other words, what’s under the hood?).

Typical church website features for site visitors include an events calendar, media library, online giving, staff blogs, links to the church’s social media sites, and the ability for visitors to share content from the church’s website to their personal social networks.

The ease of setting all this up on the backend depends on the CMS, the template and plugins used if open-source CMS, and the experience of the website administrator.  A good church website CMS also allows for integration with church management software, mass communications, check-in solutions and mobile apps.

5. Training and Support

Training for setting up your church website comes in several forms:  personal training, documentation, and video libraries.  What type of initial and ongoing training do you and your staff require?  If personal training with Q&A sessions are required for your church, than make sure that option is available when purchasing a church website CMS.  An open source CMS such as WordPress does not include personal training.

What type of support is available for resolving issues? How quickly can you expect an answer?  Who is providing the support – the CMS provider, the hosting company, the template provider, or the plugin provider?  Who has ownership for resolving the issue?

Need help deciding which church website CMS is right for your church? Get a free trial.

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Keys To A Great Church Website: Form And Function

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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.