If your church has a website, that means you’re ahead of the game, right? Not necessarily.
Chances are that your site probably needs to be updated and here are five places that need the most attention.
Church websites tend to be organized based on what the senior pastor and pastoral team ask for. But the pastoral team shouldn’t necessarily be making executive decisions about website navigation; while they cast vision and steward the congregation, they are not typically the online customer usability expert. Plus, online content curation is dramatically different than a weekend message or print piece.
Your site should tell visitors the story of your church and who you are. We get so busy telling people what we think they should know that we aren’t answering the questions they have. Central Church in Las Vegas does a great job of introducing visitors to who they are and what they’re all about, right off the bat.
Consider these questions as you create and implement your digital strategy that doesn’t stop at posting content online, but actually thinks about how to move visitors through the site:
- Is everything arranged around our church calendar?
- Are we answering questions site visitors haven’t even gotten to yet?
- Are we expecting newcomers to get to know us through our events?
- Can visitors easily learn what we care about?
- What life stages or topics are people searching for?
Church sites that are designed like community theatre marquees (“What’s showing this week?”) are pretty much just online brochures that advertise the same message about us in a different way. Instead, create a clutter-free, cutting-edge site with a strategic process that points your visitors to their next steps.
Does your site reflect industry standards for web design? It’s important to take an objective look at this; it’s not about updating design “for the younger generation,” it’s for all online users in the culture we live in. There’s a certain standard that communicates whether you have their best interest in minds–or yours. How do you know?
Our team follows these industry leaders in usability, and you should, too:
To create a usable site that people will come back to, model it after the top-used sites or apps that extend beyond age or demographic barriers. Think about the sites you use most (Amazon, Google, etc.) and how easy they are to use. Think about how simple or complicated their design is. What works and what doesn’t? Following these best practices will yield the biggest return on your investment.
When you consider elements for your new design, remember that less is more. A noisy, cluttered design calls your visitors’ attention to too many different elements–making it hard for them to know what to focus on. Keep it simple.
If your site design hasn’t been touched in two or more years, it’s time for an upgrade (and ideally, we recommend revisiting it every six months). These days, the most popular, up-to-date sites online are clean, minimalist, action-oriented (versus copy-heavy) and mobile-ready. Which brings us to…
Open your church’s website on your smartphone or tablet. Do you find yourself squinting at a miniature version of your desktop browser? If so, it’s time to upgrade to a responsive design–one that works on all devices and screen sizes.
50% of people visit web web on a mobile device, and that number is constantly growing. Most people’s phones are an extension of themselves, connecting them both to their social circles and the outside world. With the mix of progressively shorter attention spans in our society, plus the huge influence tech giants like YouTube and Facebook have over our lives, users have come to expect easy, quick access to information. If your site isn’t mobile-ready, you’re automatically outdated–and users will just go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.
Not every church website is the same, but we find that when we design with the phone in mind, the real estate of the screen is a lot different (take a look at Rooted for a great example of a mobile-responsive site). User engagement goes up when we build sites this way.
Your site should be super easy for visitors to view and navigate, no matter what device they’re using. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, and others have created a culture where mobile responsiveness is now expected. But when users try to visit a website on their phone that doesn’t give them the same experience, they get frustrated–and they might exit before they learn anything about your church.
If your search feature is out-of-date, so is your entire website. People aren’t searching for the same things at the same times. Users need to be able to find out who you are and what you’re about–not the latest sermon in this month’s series or the church organizational chart.
Check out the Granger Community Church website for a good example of a robust, up-to-date search feature.
The bottom line? Your site search needs to be prominent and powerful. Visitors need to be able to connect the content they’re seeking as quickly as possible. If there is one thing you do to your site this year, make sure it has a working search function.
Is your leadership team using a church management system like MinistryPlatform, Rock RMS, or Fellowship One? It can be integrated into your website. At first, the idea of integration might seem daunting, and you might want to just place a hyperlink to your church management system on your site instead.
With your site integrated, visitors will be able to do more than learn about your church and upcoming events. They can also use your site to keep giving records, get life stage recommendations, register for trips or events, join small groups, and keep track of their spiritual journey steps.
Integrating your site and your church management system will lead to a better website experience for both visitors and members. Plus, it will save your team time and money. For two strong examples of this type of integration, check out Rocky Mountain Christian Church and Mariners Church.
Do you know who your users are? Analytics tools help you track who they are and what they do on your website and social platforms (like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc.). When you know who is visiting your site and what they’re doing, you’ll start making better decisions about the website as a whole. And your users will feel like the website is catering specifically to them.
If your website isn’t gathering analytics data, you don’t really know if it’s working. You can’t gauge success on personal preference or subjective analysis. Make sure you’re using a simple analytics dashboard for your site to start collecting this essential information and get a true picture of what you’re audience is using and what they’re not.
*Originally posted here.