Stage 1 of the new site is live. There’s still a bit of work to be done on it – but on the whole the functionality and workability of WordPress makes this significantly more satisfying than the old site.
Stage 2 for us is mostly content related – there are a few kinks still to be ironed out, but there’ll be more stories, more videos… less text.
Anyway. Maybe you’re wondering about using WordPress for a website for your church (or small business) but don’t know where to begin.
I can’t recommend WordPress highly enough for church websites – not only for people who know what they’re doing – but it’s better than the other options out there by far, the specialist church web hosts included… If you’re worried about not being a tech person – there are plenty of people out there who’ll design and support your WordPress site for you. It’s a no brainer. It’s the biggest Content Management System (CMS) in the world. It’s not just for blogging – though it makes having a blog attached to your website easy and natural.
The first step is knowing the difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. You want wordpress.org. It’s the software that you use to self host. That’s what you’re doing. It is a little complicated and if you’re a one man band, and the technology is beyond you – then I’d be looking for help at this point. Send me an email. Add me on Facebook. We’ll talk. Or… here’s a better option.
If it is you, we’re a couple of days away from launching a new website at Creek Road – this has been a labour of love for a few of us for a month or so – including a pretty handy web developer who can do just about anything, a writer or two, and some talented graphics types, and we’re now so caught up in it that it’s very hard to be objective. If you want to check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments here – that’d be great. I’ll update this post with a link to the actual site when it goes live too… I’m hopeful it does what we wanted it to do, and I’m also hopeful that with a little bit more work we’ll be able to turn what we’ve done into something that can be used as a WordPress theme by other churches without too much trouble.
Our big aim is for the website to be something that’s aimed at people who aren’t from a church background, so we want the gospel to be the focus, and to be pretty clear. If you find any unhelpfully complex jargon I’d love to know that too.
There are a couple of things that aren’t exactly what I want them to be – when you hit the link for more posts the alignment goes funny – but that’s the nature of pinboard type sites. I’m hoping to replace some of the wordiness with videos, but words do better things with search engines…
This takes two separate but related bits of thinking: A content strategy and a content schedule. It’s quite possible that the thinking you put into your web based content strategy and content schedule will actually double as your communication strategy and your communication plan which will cover how you communicate offline as well. This is a good, and mostly necessary, step. But I’m jumping right into the latter, because that’s what I’m working on right now, and knowing that in our case, the teaching plan for the year at church is well and truly bedded down. If you’re just starting with a web content strategy, that’s fine, but it might feel like cart before horse stuff.
Your content strategy (and a bit about information architecture)
There are a few ways to approach the question of what content you’re going to put on your site, and a few style type decisions you’re going to have to make in the process. The first is choosing whether you’re building a static site (where the content is fixed, and a schedule might involve a periodic update – this is the easiest option), a dynamic site (a site where new content is generated in a steady stream, where a schedule is really important, or the stream will stagnate – this option is the most work), or a site with a mix of static and dynamic elements.
You could, I reckon, mount an argument by analogy from the nature of God’s interactions with creation that the last is the best. If you’re familiar with deism – the idea that God set up the world and then walked away – the static site is the deistic option. Set it up. Forget it. It’ll point to the existence of your church, but won’t really help people know it beyond whatever content they can observe from a very small amount of evidence. The purely dynamic site is more like open theism – this is a simplification of open theism – but there’s nothing concrete. Everything changes. According to the whims of the webmaster. There’s not really much consistency and nobody really knows what to expect. The mixed site – which I like the best – involves a well thought out creation, that is good and purposeful, with fixed rules and structures, but a long term commitment to engaging with the world. The analogy breaks down in all sorts of ways, and isn’t really that useful… except that static sites aren’t all that great, and purely dynamic sites are dangerous).
While I’m a big fan of the static/dynamic mix – there are actually good reasons to choose a static site, if your resources are limited. If this is the case, don’t start a blog on your website and leave it with the “hello world” post that WordPress gives you as a default… That undermines the credibility your website is attempting to give your church as it proclaims an important message. It says “I’m lazy” or worse “I’m uninspired”… A static site, at the very least, should give a visitor an idea of what your church is on about, where it is, and how to contact you.
The voice you’ve developed comes into play when you’re writing the static part of your site – but so to does the content strategy. Are you going to be take a minimal approach to content, or try to give as much information as possible. Is your information architecture going to be simple – with as few pages and clicks as possible, or complex with complicated menus and trees and a huge dependance on your site’s search capabilities?
So we’re going with a mix of static pages that tell our visitors who we are and what we’re on about as a church (the gospel of Jesus), that use a mix of multimedia and carefully structured text, erring on the side of saying too much rather than not enough, and a blog where we demonstrate who we are and try to provide valuable content for visitors to our site that serves our mission as a church.
A content strategy for static pages
It’s counter-intuitive – but I think with some careful writing and layout you’re actually better off doing a relatively flat, minimal click, site structure, with a fair bit of content per page.
There are good search engine optimisation reasons for writing pages that use lots of relevant keywords together, and I think there’s huge value in producing a site that actually answers the questions people might be bringing to a search for a church in a transparent and open way. I’m also pretty convinced that long valuable content is a better long term strategy than minimal content – though it is really important to be aware that not everybody reads the web in the same way.
This means each page should have a nice clear lead paragraph that explains what you’re on about in the rest of the page – recognising that a fair percentage of your audience will stop reading and click away there – and making the opening paragraph link heavy, so you can control where people are clicking to next, I’m a big fan of anchor links that take people to specific sections of the same page too, they can be a really useful heuristic tool.
Basically my approach to content writing is based on the good old inverted pyramid that journalists use.
The inverted pyramid is useful for a couple of reasons – it recognises that some people want all the background stuff, but others only want the news at a glance, and it means if you’ve got limited space people don’t lose out on the real substance of what you want to communicate if they ignore the bottom two thirds.
You are more than a headline. Your website, hopefully, is occupying something more significant than the role a headline plays in a news story. There are good reasons for an exceptionally minimal approach to marketing a product – especially if the product is well known, or if you want to create some sort of buzz, or vibe. But if you’re after a user-friendly website, that will make an interaction with your church in the real world less painful for somebody who is not familiar with who you are, because they’re more informed, then just having your particular buzzword like “PRUNE” in really big text isn’t actually telling anybody about who you are or what they can expect.
And you also can’t rely on videos and multimedia to carry the can (and they certainly won’t help with how you come up on a search engine). While videos won’t play nice with search engines, the use of testimonials from real people is, I think, a really nice way to not be blowing your own trumpet, and to be authentic. That’s why people use written testimonials, but videos help carry a bit of pathos and ethos along with the written world. They’re moments of oratory captured for ongoing use.
Which means you need text. And I think more is more. Or rather, enough is enough. But you need to structure it with a mind to how people read websites – they scan, they look for links, they click away, and structure your content accordingly. So that a visitor to your site can both find what they’re looking for, and get a sense of what you’re trying to tell them about, with minimal fuss.
A content strategy for a church blog
So once you decide you want a dynamic aspect to your site, and you’ve allocated resources to the site for a certain amount of time (you can always reassess and downgrade to a static site if you can’t maintain a schedule), you need to decide what sort of stuff you’re going to post, and there’s a few factors to weigh up when you’re answering this question.
Who are you? Part of this is knowing what your voice will be, but a bigger deal is figuring out if you’re existing online as a particular individual within your church (the minister), as the church speaking corporately, or as individuals from your but before that you need to figure out what your “brand” is – what is your ethos that you want driving your communication? How do you want to present yourself to outsiders so that they get a feel for who you are.
Who is your audience? How wide are you casting your net? If your site is for newcomers are you just blogging for non-Christians? Do you also want to be providing resources for other Christians?
Why are you posting? What’s the purpose of having a dynamic page – just for google links, to provide resources, etc?
How does your blog content relate to the real world that people will experience when they visit your church? How does it match up to your philosophy of ministry?
Who will write your content? Will it be a team of individuals as individuals, or a corporate mothership with multiple contributors adhering to the same style guide?
What are you going to write about? Are you going to generate content? Are you going to link to other resources?
How often will you post, and how substantial will your posts be?
Here’s a case study for how we’re thinking about our blog at church, which will then inform the schedule/plan we put together for our blog.
I’m thinking that it’s not too weird to have our static pages (to use a nice WordPress distinction) speaking in a “corporate voice” – so using a royal “we” and hopefully saying things that every member of our church family would be happy to have said on their behalf, with a personality that’s a bit representative of how we do things on a Sunday, and think about ourselves, and then to have our posts, on our blog, using particular voices – from particular individuals within our church family. So there’ll be a little less consistency in style, but we’ll also be giving people a picture of who they might meet on a Sunday, and who in our team and congregation is interested in different areas.
We’re pretty keen for our website to primarily be about the newcomer – but we also want to give the newcomer an accurate picture of what we’re on about without them having to sign up to be part of The City, our online community – so we want to be providing content for people who are part of our church to share with their non-Christian friends, content that reflects on what it means to be a Christian, and we’re also committed to using our resources, as a bigger church, to serve other churches who are, like us, trying to reach people in our world with the gospel.
We’ve got a philosophy of ministry that is pretty helpful for shaping our editorial policy – how we decide what goes up, and what doesn’t. We use a pathway for how we think about how individuals move from being a visitor to a mature, servant hearted Christian – and we use the words: Connect, Grow, and Serve. These will become the categories that we use for our blog. We also teach through books and topics in groups of ten – in line with the school term, which gives us a nice period of time to produce material related to the big idea of a Sunday service.
Connect will feature bits and pieces that help newcomers connect with the gospel, resources for people thinking about Christianity and joining us to process whatever issues the current series is raising, links to the podcast, some bits and pieces about church life, and maybe some interactions with pop-culture and current events. Grow will feature book reviews, interesting and useful articles, resources for living as a Christian, some more in-depth reactive stuff when it comes to pop-culture and current events. Serve will feature resources that we’re producing for other people, outside of Creek Road, to use for ministry – kids church material, some articles from our staff on different aspects of what we’re doing as a church, etc – and both the Grow stuff and the Serve stuff will be produced mindful that it’s being published to an audience of everyone.
The content will be produced by a number of different contributors, centralised, checked for consistency and moderated and posted by one or two people. It’ll include a mix of videos, text, links, and pictures. And the content will either support or duplicate what is happening at Church on a Sunday, so that there’s consistency in our messaging across our different distribution platforms. This means a lot of our content is generated by what we’re already doing, but appropriated for the web, and some of it will be generated to support what we’re doing, and to articulate how we’re doing it, which is a pretty useful process and hopefully won’t bog our staff and content producers down.
Your Content Schedule
This is a pretty tricky area with millions of different opinions. Here are a couple of maxims I live by:
Blogging regularly is important for keeping on going.
A blog that isn’t updated regularly dies, and stinks up the place (where the place is your website).
The problem with these maxims is that it’s impossible to know what regularly is. 6 times a day is too regular, and you should probably see a doctor. Once a week is probably at the other extreme.
The most important thing here is to have a plan, and try to stick to a minimum. The thing I like about our content strategy is that there’s a mix of proactive stuff – where we’re running the agenda, and putting out material that supports our ongoing ministry, and reactive stuff, where we’re joining existing conversations that are happening in the public and using those conversations as opportunities to express our key message – the gospel. Having that freedom is really nice, it makes sure we’re not missing anything essential, but that we have the freedom to take opportunities as they arise, without being inconsistent or piecemeal in our online presentation.
My plan, partly design driven, is to be preparing posts in triplets – one for each category – and featuring them in dedicated boxes on our home page by relying on certain WordPress processes, rather than needing to do things manually. That means getting a pool of content generated for release ahead of time, and keeping ahead – it helps that we’re planning our sermon series a long time in advance, and having most of the content sorted months in advance too. The lead time in the teaching team’s thinking means there’s time to generate supporting content before the last minute.
This also means we need to plan a slot for reactive stuff. And planning to be reactive is hard, and counter-intuitive. But there are certain events we know are going to happen ahead of time (like a Federal election), and there are pop-culture type events like movie releases, or music releases, that other things might trump, and that aren’t as time critical. Plus, there’s always something to react to.
I’m wanting to sketch out a schedule in line with the teaching plan, and have a more concrete schedule for a term, with posts produced at that point (before the term, if possible), and then a slightly more flexible weekly or fortnightly schedule for some reactive things. Steve Fogg has this cool template for church communications planning that’s worth using at this point. I’ll be putting together something like this with three different columns dedicated to blog categories.
A little while back I was posting through the process of putting together a church website (post 1, post 2). While I’ve been posting about other things, the process of actually putting together and writing content for the new website is picking up steam.
One of my big jobs before we launch the site is coming up with a content strategy and a content schedule – defining the scope of our website and thinking about what sort of things we’ll post, and putting together a calendar for posts that matches up with our church calendar, and keeps things coming along with regularity. I can’t emphasise how important these two things are if you’re going to do something other than a static website.
Content is king.
New content is, like in the history books of any exciting monarchy – more interesting than a royal who sits around and gets bloated or doesn’t really do anything different.
But before one gets to content, one needs to think about how this content is presented. It’s not that style triumphs over substance. It’s a question of one of the biggest bits of getting any sort of traction or recognition for a brand.
Your church is a brand.
Brands aren’t creepy corporate entities like they used to be – they’re something that describes the association people develop with entities. Including your church.
Your brand is not your logo.
Your brand is your story, it’s your character, it’s what people think when someone says the name of your church… your website helps create your brand because it’s where people experience your story, and your character. It’s where they hear your voice (or read it).
So the first step – assuming you’ve got a pretty realistic notion of what your brand is (hint, don’t pretend to be Apple if you’re Dodo, Dodo, the internet that flies…), is to figure out the sort of voice and tone that is going to carry your brand messages (stuff you want to say about you) to other people. The people reading your site.
This needs to match up with what people are going to experience if they move from your virtual front door to your real world front door on a Sunday. Nothing will turn people off quicker than something that isn’t authentic.
So how do you figure out what your voice sounds like.
I sat down with a few people the other day to think about how we want to sound as we write – across the board. We don’t want to be really prescriptive – there’s no blacklist when it comes to what words we will and won’t use – it’s more a descriptive thing.
And one of the things that helps is to play a little brand association game. There are plenty of big money brands out there who spend a lot of time thinking about their target market (pretty much our target market – in just about every case), and tailor their messages accordingly.
So we thought about some popular brands – Australian brands – who resonate with the kind of people who we might find in our neighbourhood. And we thought about our “product” – what a church service feels like, what the personalities of our preachers are like, and our service leaders… what the vibe is on a Sunday, and what we’d like it to be.
This will be different for every church because there are heaps of variables – but I’m not a huge fan of all churches sounding the same on their websites. I’m not a fan of churchy jargon. I’m not a fan of overly technical language. So it helps me, as I write, to write in character – what would this type of person say… maybe you should think of your church as a famous character or actor… as long as its authentic.
Hopefully if everybody jumps on board with this style it’ll drive consistency across our communications, so that the job of moderating, rewriting, and posting stuff to multiple platforms doesn’t fall to just one person. It’ll also hopefully stop anyone hitting post on anything reactive where the tone of our reaction is damaging.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the document – I hope it’s helpful.
Bear in mind – this is a draft, it isn’t anything official – it hasn’t been approved. It’s not our church policy. We’re not inauthentic Billy Connolly rip-offs, just with less swearing…
This is just something I’m doing as part of the process of launching a new website, and it’s something I think is important to that process.
This is a corporate style suggestion for guiding the approach to speaking, presenting, writing, graphic design, and recording as our church across different platforms including:
Online – Our website, our blogs, social media
Written resources – Printed material, the ministry papers, and e-books
Marketing Material – Announcements, Slides, handouts, advertising, and fliers
Videos and multimedia
It is not a prescriptive or restrictive guideline for individual personalities within the staff team, or congregation – that would be odd and decidedly inauthentic, but, instead, describes an aspirational corporate approach to communication conducted on behalf of the church community to represent our church to the community at large.
Ultimately, we don’t want our individual or corporate personality or brand getting in the way of people hearing about Jesus clearly.
Our brand personality – the “voice” we choose to speak with – can be described up through a list of the qualities we aspire to, but in summary we aim, through how we communicate, to:
faithfully present the good news of Jesus,
be persuasive to our audience – be it those we aim to reach, those connected with us, or those we serve,
encourage people to connect with Jesus, and with our church.
We aim to be winsome, generous, interesting, and wise in our contribution to any conversation – taking our core business (the gospel), and convictions (our philosophy of ministry), seriously, but not taking ourselves too seriously in the process.
We want stories the gospel itself, and stories about the work of the gospel in the lives of real people to drive our message – not our own corporate spin or in house jargon.
We want testimonials not advertorials.
We want authenticity, so real people with real stories will carry the communication load wherever possible – rather than simple assertions like this one.
This means we aim to present our message, and ourselves, with:
good humour, including a dash of laconic “Aussie” self-deprecation.
These are essentially the traits we hope to display every time we put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard – whether we are presenting our own position on issues, or responding to criticism.
We are, ultimately, in all areas, beggars telling other beggars where to find food.
Some “golden” brands to plunder…
Ultimately we hope that our communication will be shaped by the Lord Jesus, and the cross, and that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit, and the example of the apostles and those who have gone before us – but there is also much we can learn about communication and branding from the world around us.
Augustine says we should see truth wherever we can, and “plunder the Gold of the Egyptians” to serve the communication of the gospel.
Here are some secular brands that capture something of the communications ethos behind the Creek Road “brand personality.”
The best brands to look at are those with lots of money to spend on advertising and branding – banks and beer companies…
If we were a bank, we’d be something like ING – both focusing on, and presenting ourselves as focused on, our core business with minimal distractions (for them – banking, for us – the gospel). We pursue excellence in our product rather than spending time and money talking about how good we are. Our communication is personality driven, and simple, without expensive bells and whistles (or walking ATMs). When we speak with a little self-awareness, and self-deprecating humour. The joke is never at the expense of others, but ourselves.
Like ING, we recognise that people in our audience have negative experiences or impressions of our product (Church), and industry (religion), but expect, and speak as though, our product (both the Gospel, and our church) can exceed overturn those impressions and past negative experiences.
If we were a beer – we’d be XXXX, the beer for the everyman, sold through human stories and relationships that people can relate to (think the group of guys on a camping trip), with an emphasis on our humanity and our fallibility (like the guys making bad mistakes on their camping trip), and on our desire and intention to achieve our others-centered goals (like the guys cooking dinner in a new and exciting way). We’ve got an old product – one of the oldest brands going still in existence (Jesus), but like XXXX, we’ll try new ways to make it appeal to new audiences because we believe in the product.
This is a voice I think we can pull off without having to moderate our personalities too much across our team. It’s not a perfect fit for anyone – but it’s a comfortable fit for everyone. It seems real. It seems manageable.
So what do you think?
Does this whole process seem a little artificial?
Is it really all that necessary (it’s possible we’re overthinking this)?
How important is consistency?
How would you describe the voice of your church? How would you describe the voice of other churches using a famous pop-culture character?
We’re rethinking our website at church. It’s exciting. We’re looking at changing everything from the Content Management System (CMS), to the content itself – how we distribute it, where we pull content from, and the type of content we’re aiming to produce.
Did I mention it’s exciting.
I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what a church website should do – and looking at a bunch of other churches, and then we had a great meeting this afternoon. And I’m excited.
As is the case in any communication, or marketing, the first step is thinking about who you are communicating to, and in this case – who our website is for. We’ve decided that it’s largely for the newcomer. And when it’s not for the newcomer directly, it’s for helping people who are already part of our church family connect their friends with Jesus, and Creek Road.
We can cut loose a bunch of traditional (and slightly boring) church website information. You won’t find pitches for money, or mentions of our “diaconate,” or the inner workings of our Committee of Management, Session, or Presbytery.
We’ve invested in The City, which is a combined intranet/social network/church database solution/communication tool for people who are part of our church family, and while the website will still be useful for our members – we’re really keen for it to be a useful tool where we can be confident that someone who hasn’t come through the doors of our church, or any church, will get a good feel for who we are, what we believe, and what a Sunday might feel like.
We consider it part of our “Connect” ministry (Creek Road uses a Connect, Grow, Serve ministry pathway which helps us figure out what we do and don’t do, and provides a bit of clarity for people in terms of where we expect people to head when they plug-in, or connect, with our church). This means we ditch a lot of the in house stuff (or move it to The City), we’re going to avoid buzzwords and jargon wherever possible (so always), and we’re not going to talk about giving, or have notices, announcements, or other boring stuff (we will have two blogs that will occasionally cover some of this stuff, more on that later…).
We’re also keen for our kids and youth programs to have their own sites, or sub-sites, which serve much the same purpose for kids, youth, and their parents.
Finally, we’re pretty keen to use the human resources we have to produce resources for churches that don’t have the same number of people working together to produce all sorts of things – from Bible Study books, to kids material, to videos, to song selection for congregational singing – we want to be making our stuff easily accessible for other churches…
Add these things up and we’re starting to make for a pretty complicated landing page, which is potentially so jumbled it’ll make your eyes bleed.
And we don’t want that. Visual clutter and bad information architecture is the enemy of the newcomer.
Having our audience in mind means we’ve got a bit of clarity in terms of what we’ll be including.
I’ve been trying to narrow down a list of the minimum number of elements I think our site should have on the homepage, and I’m pretty committed to the usability theory I read once that suggested if a page is buried more than three clicks into your page design then it’s unlikely people are going to bother.
Here are my thoughts, there’s a gallery of other websites I’ve been looking at in producing this at the bottom of this post.
Though the Internet is an ever-evolving visual feast, I also like thinking of web pages, effective web pages, as Newspaper front pages – the Newspaper has evolved based on how people read things, and what draws the eye – it seems silly to waste all that time and investment just because we can.
So I think the basic structure of a home page should be something like:
Masthead – Logo, Name, Address
Banner Menu – Key pages, the stuff that helps people decide if they want to buy your paper or not.
Lead/Featured Story – Headline, Big photo.
Smaller stories – still important, but at this point you’ve hopefully grabbed the attention of your readers.
We also want something that can be dumbed down for mobile browsing relatively easily. So the less content on the front page the better.
When it comes to the internal pages, we’re wanting a split between video and images and text – and we want the page to be driven by people’s stories, not us blowing our own trumpet.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that one of the things we’re thinking through is where we’re pulling information and content from, where we’re creating it, and where we’re sending it… here’s a quick snapshot of what that’s about before we get to what I’m thinking page design wise (this isn’t revolutionary stuff).
Video – We’re going to be posting videos to YouTube and Vimeo, which we’ll then embed on our site. Posting them elsewhere means our hosting overheads are lower, but it also puts the videos in a format and context people are more familiar with, and allows our visitors, and members, the freedom to share, or interact with the content on other social networks in a way they’re used to.
Images – Much the same way, we’re thinking about how we use Instagram, and older more boring sites like Flickr, the added benefit of hosting images, well tagged (ie with good metadata etc), off site, is that these platforms usually rank better with search engines than your site (this is something a Digital Consulting team told me once – Google may have changed their approach since then). There are other sound reasons for hosting things on other platforms – multiplying your presence across the web on platforms people already use is a good thing.
Blogs – we’re committing time and energy to a blog content strategy, and we’ll be producing and scheduling the material well in advance. There’s nothing worse than a corporate, or church, website with a stagnant blog, but we’ve got some ready made content with weekly podcast/sermon bits and pieces, book reviews, video material, and other things that we’re already creating, to keep a steady stream of up to date content hitting the interwebs. The plan is to have two blogs – one for our visitors, to get a good sense of what happens at church in byte sized chunks (see what I did there…), and one for people we’re hoping to benefit with our resources, which will outline some philosophy of ministry type stuff for the extra-curious church shopper.
The idea is that the content we’re producing is both:
modular enough and valuable enough to be shared by itself – by our members to their social networks to invite their friends along to church or give them a good understanding of the church they’re part of;
and integrated enough (using links between posts, thematic and series type links, etc) that when you land at one post you’ll be pulled through to others and get a feel for what we’re on about.
These channels, at this point, include Facebook, Twitter, the City, and email. The first three are relatively straightforward posting of links with appropriate commentary to those channels. The email stuff includes offering email subscriptions to the blogs, and the functionality for people to send anything they want from our page to their friends, via email, and specially made email invitations for each sermon series.
Above the Fold
This is the part of the page that people see without scrolling – in newspaper terms the fold was literal, and this was the stuff people saw when they glanced at a pile of newspapers at the newsagent.
This isn’t set in stone – not simply because code is much more flexible than the old school chisel, or even, to keep the metaphor running – the press room – but because this is a work in progress, and we’ll keep working on the website so that it delivers the results we’re looking for – people coming through our doors saying it was helpful. Foot traffic – rather than web traffic.
The other good newspaper principle to apply is the old “inverted news pyramid” – putting the important gear first, and answering the: “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” “How?” questions for people as quickly as possible, and as early as possible.
Because the website is a connect tool – or a marketing tool – we also want to answer the big marketing question – the “what’s in it for me” or “where do I fit” question.
This will have our logo, which, for us, incorporates our name, and I’d suggest it’ll have our address and service times as some sort of subheading – this is the information people will be searching for on their smartphone, in their car, as they’re running late for the first time they come to church, so it’s nice to frontend it.
Each of the pages this banner links to needs to carry the story about our church through stories told by people who are part of our church. People like reading about, and thanks to the power of the YouTubes, watching, stories about real, relatable, people. We want our website to feel real and relatable, and to really relate to what goes on on a Sunday (or during the week at our other programs).
1. What we believe – A page about the good news of Jesus, and a little introductory blurb to Creek Road’s application of the gospel – we’re committed to the Bible, we teach it clearly, we want to connect, some basic info about the pathway, and our kids and youth programs etc. This will probably feature our reach the city, reach the world, video.
2. New here? – An invitation to join us at church, and to meet us in the Connect Lounge after the service, a contact form if they have questions or want us to look out for them, and some information about how the website might be useful for them as they investigate Jesus and us. This will probably include a bit of a video tour of a Sunday at Creek Road, with quick sound bites from across the demographics of our church family.
3. Where and When – A page dedicated to service times, and our location (which will also be below the fold on the front page).
4. Kids – a link to our Kids Ministry Page.
5. Youth – a link to our Youth Ministry Page.
6. Podcast/Vodcast – a link to the page which will collect our sermons and the linked Bible study books that go with them in both video and audio format.
7. Contact Us – contact details – including a phone number, links to our presence elsewhere, an enquiry form.
Every hip church on the internet has a slider that features four or five stories. There are good reasons for this. It lets you put a few pictures into one space, and promote a few different things. Pictures are pretty powerful communicators. I’m really keen for this spot to be taken up by pictures of people doing things – things that are obviously related to life at church. A lot of churches put their current teaching series in this slot. I’m not sold on that being obviously important to the new person who may not be a Christian yet – though we know it’s important for them (and hopefully all our sermons are, in some way, related to the good news about Jesus). I’m not sure a gripping ten week teaching series is necessarily what is going to get the majority of non-church, or de-churched, Australians through our doors on a Sunday. And because we’re seeing this as a part of our attempts to connect with people, that is going to be a big factor in what gets featured.
Personally, I can’t understand why you’d use what’s essentially something like a mix between a billboard promoting your church, and the eye-grabbing image on the front page of a newspaper, to do anything other than try to make both the gospel of Jesus and your church appealing to non-Christians.
So many of the churches I looked at (some are below) treated their front page like a noticeboard for members, even a well designed noticeboard, and there’d have to be a pretty convincing ecclesiological rationale for doing that before I’d even start to consider that being the purpose of a public site.
In this section, I’m thinking three columns, but that may change, and probably two rows (check out Mars Hill and Hillsong (though it’s further down the bottom of their page), for what I’m picturing…
In the first row I’m thinking:
1. A 100 word (or less) summary/description of Creek Road’s understanding of the gospel, approach to church, and our understanding of how we relate to Brisbane. This needs to be search engine keyword heavy, because it’s one of the only parts of the front page that features text – and each keyword, or key phrase, should be linked to the page that it relates to – so when we summarise the gospel, that part of the description should be linked to the “what we believe” page, etc.
2. An embedded Google Map, with our church, and a photo of the building so people know what it looks like.
3. A link to invite people to church, with an e-card featuring some info on our current sermon series and links to our presence on social media places.
In the second row I’m thinking:
1. The most recent post from our “consumer” blog.
2. The most recent post from our “resources” blog.
3. A spare spot for things like current releases from our video team, or promotions for carols, our Community Connect school holiday program, our iPhone app if we develop one, etc.
I’m pretty excited about this whole process. It’s a lot of fun bringing my communications hat and my ministry hat together into some sort of twin peaked legionnaire’s cap…
Some of these ideas have been pinched from seeing what I think works on these pages, pages which were selected on the basis that either I thought they have something going for them, or the people who go there/work there have something going for them.
So. Over to you – what are the things you look for in a church page, or think should be included? What do you think visitors are looking for?
Have I missed any essentials?
Can you prove to me that your church web page should be some sort of Community Message Board?
Perhaps most importantly – what can we cut that is just cluttering up the place without damaging the function of the site?