1. Do think about who your aiming the site at
I’m sure the new church website isn’t the only thing going on in your life (surely not?!!), taking time to plan out what you want to say and to whom is probably not very far up on your list. But would suggest the planning stage is the most important. If this stage is skipped you will, more than likely, end up with a half usable site which eventually gets left by the wayside.
Ask the questions that will inform the design structure. Who are you aiming this site at? What kind of people will be using it? It would be easy to say everyone, but that just simply isn’t true. You want to engage with your local audience first and fore-mostly. Who are they? Are you aiming at members or people who know nothing of the christian faith. You can the start thinking about what they would find useful, what questions they are asking, what kind of information they are trying to find. Spending time earlier on thinking these things through will pay dividends in the long run.
2. Do consider what your members would and wouldn’t use (functionality overkill)
There is nothing worse then a website that isn’t used. Sparse areas where once thriving information stood, old deprecated functionality that has gone untouched since Spurgeon gave his last sermon, these are all signs that the site has become unfocused and unmanageable. A lot of the time this is down to the planning stage. Mapping out what your users will and won’t use as well as what the website admin will and won’t do is key to a engaging and updated church website.
The times I have sat down with a client and asked what they want to be able to achieve with a website and they come back with the kitchen sink! Everything from member profiles to SMS push messages. These things of course are good and achievable, but I have become quite good at guessing whether a church will use something or not as I get to to know them. Want an event feed? Great, will you updated continually? A Twitter feed? Fantastic, how often will you be interacting on social media? Be realistic about what you will or won’t use. Keep it manageable and you (as well as others) will be more inclined to keep on top of it. Sit down at the beginning of the project and work out what you would use and what the church as a whole would use frequently.
3. Do the basics (where, when, what’s it like, contact)
It may sound strange but cover the basic information, especially on the homepage. The amount of new shiny websites that miss out basic information. Oh yes you’re very pretty with your big header image and cool animations, but wheres your service times? What do you mean I have to click through twice to find your address?!!
A lot of users will be people needing the basic information in preparation for attending, sometimes (like when I’m on holiday) it will be as they are getting ready to go for the service! Times, places, contacts – make it accessible and make it obvious.
4. Do update your site with content
Nothing encourages people to not return to your site then a lack of updates. You are a church, you must be doing something! Users are evaluating the church all the time, especially when on the website. What do you offer? What do you do? How do you do it? You need a way of pushing content onto the site to give users an understanding of what you’re about. A window into the life of the church.
This doesn’t mean putting the years members meetings notes online but churches more than other organisation run events, meet regularly and have plenty to say. Consider having a way to add events, run a blog or at the very least be active on a social media platform and link it through to your site. Even better is if each ministry page were able to add events to their own page so users could see events just for their area of interest.
I appreciate this costs time (and possibly money) but old and stale content will quickly turn users away with very little reason for them to return.
It doesn’t have to be a lot, but do be consistent. Have a set time in your calendar for adding a blog piece and plan it so its manageable. One blog a week or a month is better than nothing. Find people who would be willing to help with content and content ideas, this should help keep the content diverse and fresh.
5. Do update your site for security
Statistics released some time ago suggested that 73% of open source CMS’ (wordpress, joomla drupal etc…) were due to out of date versions. Keeping your sites core code up-to-date is critical for the safety of your website.
Often, the church website is finished, the owner will find some cheap hosting, send it live and forget about it. Do not be that person! Firstly, be selective over your web hosting – normally you pay for what you get. If you buy cheap hosting, expect a server that is less than secure causing plenty of site performance issues. Find a decent web host, get your site live, then update your site every month. Annoying? Yes, but unfortunately some people take great pleasure in turning your beautiful new website into something very spammy.
If you do not have the time, find someone who does. Alternatively make site maintenance part of your costing with web hosting (for instance I will charge an annual fee for hosting and site maintenance, I then make all updates throughout the year)
6. Do have a responsive website
For those of us in the web development game, this is a no-brainer. Your site should be responsive. That is, it should respond to the size of the screen. Whether your visitor is looking on a mobile, tablet or widescreen the site should adapt to its environment and present the information that works for that screen. No scrollbars, no having to zoom in, no clicking on tiny links. A good user experience means the user will more than likely be back. For church web design this should be a standard not a luxury.
Google places a great deal of emphasis on web design best practice, their algorithms for search placements include ranking a site based on how well its coded and if a site responsive or not. However, just to be clear, the days of having a separate mobile site are over. Yes some big companies still have a mobile specific site and they shouldn’t. The different with a responsive is that you use the same html code but it adapts to the screen size. This way the same information is being served to both desktop and handheld users.
7. Do make your site a window into church life
This list as well as the 7 Don’ts of a church website design should give you a steer in the right direction for starting and maintaining your church website. It is however, worth highlighting the main function of your site – a window into your world.
All that has been outlined is to help you better present the church. As a church web designer my biggest job is to convince pastors/committees/the tea lady that a lot of users are just curious, they are trying to work you out as an organisation and are seeking to get to know you. This means should they ever walk into the church, they aren’t going in blind, they have some idea who you are, who they might meet and feel more at ease.
Focus your website on showing what life is like in and around the church. What the stories of the people are. And don’t think that a small church has less to say then a big church, I have known huge churches never update their site and there is no engagement, I have seen small churches who use their site well with updates, blogs and photos. This isn’t about how full your programme is but showing the life of the church to your users so they can imagine themselves as part of it.