How to write web content that your congregation and search engines love
Many churches are aware that they need a website, but few actually give any thought as to the content (text, audio and visuals) and how it can be maintained when it goes live. But, the truth is that a website with fresh content is likely to have a higher engagement rate and return visitors than a static website.
In addition, the most important factor in getting a high ranking on Google is quality content - preferably fresh.
What has Google and search engine rankings got to do with my church website, I hear you ask?
A lot, as it happens. Your church website is your online ‘shop window’ and, by default, your opportunity to showcase what you have to offer the world. If your shop window is dull, it goes without saying that no one will buy what you are selling.
But, how do you create a website that attracts seekers as well as engages your current congregation? Our quick guide will show you how.
Define your website’s audience
Who is your website for? Most churches have a vague idea of their website’s target audience: ‘seekers and the current congregation’. However, it needs to be more specific. For example, if your church has a particular ministry for families or businesses, then they would be your church’s website target audience.
Remember, your website is for your audience, not for you
The best church websites are outward-looking. It is a sad-but-true fact that we live in a what-in-it-for-me world. If your website is too focussed on your church and what it’s doing (‘we are…’, ‘we did’, as opposed to ‘you will find a warm welcome’, ‘your pastor is…’), it will seem too inward-looking and find it harder to attract visitors.
Your content should reflect the needs of your audience
If you know who you’re writing for, then you will know the best way to communicate with them. Beware of Christianese. ‘The glory of God’ makes perfect sense to your congregation but it sounds like mumbo-jumbo to the seeker who’s landed on your website via Google. Write to inform, engage and inspire.
Draw up a content plan to manage what goes on your website
Managing your website’s content can seem like an onerous task. But, with a simple content plan, you can schedule the articles and audio content to put up on the site. ChurchInsight’s Content Management System (CMS) has a great scheduling tool to help you do this.
Writing for the web is different from writing for print
When you’re writing your church website content, bear in mind that people do not read web content – they scan it. So, keep your content lean. Use subheadings to break up your articles and if your article is too long, serialise.
Optimise your website for search
A well-optimised website makes it easy for people who are already searching for churches in your local area to find you online. It also helps your search engine rankings in Google. The higher up the search engine ranking your church website is, the more visible it is and, potentially more visitor traffic will be directed towards your website.
Check your grammar and spelling
Badly written content gives the impression that your church is untrustworthy. It also reflects badly on Whom you serve. So, check your spelling.
Over to you, how do you keep your church’s website content fresh and the visitors coming?
Abidemi Sanusi is the founder of www.thereadywriter.co.uk, a content writing and training agency. She is also the editor of www.readywritermag.com, an online magazine for Christians who write.
If you have any questions or would like more information about this blog post, or ChurchInsight, please get in touch via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.
Abidemi Sanusi, 13/05/2013
The Dr Dolittle guide to church communications
I think I only went to the nearby Stratford-upon-Avon Picture House once as a child – it was to see the 1967 film, Dr Dolittle, with Rex Harrison. Far from not doing very much, the doctor busily inhabits Puddleby-on-the-Marsh* along with a variety of eccentric animal friends.
While not a production of Shakespearean quality, the film is unique in featuring a Pushmi-Pullyu, a fantastical creature with a head at each end of its body. (Watchers of the Eddie Murphy remake of the film may have missed seeing this if they blinked, as it's only shown briefly in a background shot.) However, the problem with the Pushmi-Pullyu, is that when it wants to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions.
And that's just like your church. Or at least it should be.
Now, I'm not referring to your church's leadership and its sense of direction (although, if the cap fits...), but to your church website.
That means you have a Big Problem.
That’s because all churches, charities and businesses face a huge communications challenge: You need to talk two ways at once.
Why? Because you have two different audiences who need to hear very different messages: We’ve spoken before about how it’s critical to communicate certain key pieces of information prominently to Visitors to your website.
However, the second group are your existing members – they know all that basic stuff – they’re interested in all the detail of what’s going on in your community – the stuff of church life.
So...here’s the Big Question...
Who do you aim your website home page at?
Focus on church members – with all the information they want to see, and new people will easily get confused and not see the key facts you want them to. But aim at new people and the critical info they need, and existing members will feel the web site isn’t for them – after all, they know where and when you meet etc.
The same is true if you’re a charity – communicating with existing supporters and those finding out about you for the first time, or if you’re a business with current customers vs potential purchasers. You need to talk in two directions at once. So what’s to do?
The good news is ChurchInsight solves that problem
I’d been with Endis about three months when someone first explained this to me and my jaw literally dropped open: I’d never come across a system which really solved this Pushmi-Pullyu communication challenge.
I thought it worth highlighting here as in talking to ChurchInsight users in training or via advanced support queries I find very few people know about this – it's probably one of the most powerful but under-used features of the ChurchInsight system: Basically, you can control any content component on any Layout in the system (not just the Home page) to be viewable by one of three audiences: Logged-in members, Visitors or Everyone (both groups).
Say, you have a Welcome document in an Article Component on your Home page. Create a second document and second Article Component one just above the other at the same position on the Home page Layout – set one to be viewable by visitors, and the other by members (this is done in each Component's settings). Then, edit the articles appropriately for each audience – only one article will display at any time; the one relevant to that audience. Tip: When logged in to edit your website and view it as a member, open another browser to view the site as a visitor.
You could insert a Map Component showing where you meet, Alpha Course graphic adverts, or other visitor-focussed information and set these to only display to visitors. This reduces clutter on your page layouts and means more information gets above the all important 'fold' – the stuff which people see without needing to scroll down on their screen.
NB When working on a Layout, you can see just which Components are going to be displayed to each of your audiences via the Show dropdown menu – and can then view what this particular audience will be seeing via the Preview button.
More advanced uses
Some sophisticated results are possible as this advanced example shows (click on the image to see a larger version) where the whole page changes for logged-in members. Visitors see a video-centric page with links specifically focused on them, while logged-in members see a page with all of the 'stuff' of church life, which a visitor might find confusing.
Individual users can see content specific to them here as well – the 'my zone' panel on the left column displays a different article dependent on which area congregation the user is a member of. Also, the 'sgl notes' panel on the right only displays if the user is a member of the Leaders group, otherwise the content simply closes up.
Further customisation is possible too – why clutter up the Events feed component and tell the whole church about the musician's practice or the 7-11s childrens' work team meeting? Simply set these events to only display to members of those groups.
I find people tend to think wrongly about the ability to display members-only content and create a "Member's only" area. (NB the above is not an example of that, they've simply called the logged-in members Home page this). It's often more flexible and powerful to think in terms of different content around the site – specific Components, Events, Articles – or even whole Groups being displayed to different audiences.
Start simple and build up your use of the Audiences feature and you'll find your church is able to solve that great Pushmi-Pullyu communication challenge – talking two ways at once.
Further reading – support articles
Setting the visibility of content.
Displaying a different homepage layout for members and visitors.
Original Llama image © acceleratorhams Fotolia.com
* This post now holds the Endis record for the most hyphenated place names in one paragraph.
Alistair Birch, 01/08/2012
5 Things stopping visitors coming to your church this Sunday
© Lloyd Fudge - Fotolia.com
At the Church of Christ the King in Brighton which I attend, there used to be a time when it was extremely rare for someone to walk in cold to church on a Sunday morning. Usually, visitors came because a church member invited them and brought them. However, for the last few years we've been finding that increasing numbers of visitors are coming, not because they know someone in the church already, but simply because they saw our website.
Let's think for a moment about what potential visitors are looking for: I believe they want the answers to at least five key questions – and right now people could be looking at your website and deciding whether to come along (or not) based on whether you have answers to these – and that's a sobering thought.
I look at a lot of church websites and you’d be surprised how many don’t answer these key questions – why not rate your church’s site while you read.
1. “Where do you meet?
This might seem obvious, but while planning a trip to a wedding at a church in Bournemouth, I found it almost impossible to discover the location of the building on the church’s website. It took me nearly 10 minutes of searching on their site to find it.
Attending church shouldn't involve a treasure hunt (not for the location anyway), so make sure your meeting location is really obvious – ideally with a map – or a link to one – really prominently on your website home page.
2. “When do you meet?”
Again, this should be very clear – and if there's more than one service, make it clear what the difference is between them, if any: A couple of years ago my wife and I took my mother to a lively evangelical Anglican church near her home. We’d been before to their main morning service and found it warm, informal, modern, relaxed and packed with several hundred happy people.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the 6.30pm service to find the congregation was the three of us plus half a dozen others, was rather formal, and consisted of a 1662 Prayer Book service – not what we were expecting and we felt very uncomfortable. Thankfully, my mother enjoyed it, but I’m not sure she had an opportunity to hear the good news in the way we’d hoped.
3. “What happens to my kids?”
This is a big one which so many churches miss: Will my children stay in for the whole service or go out from the start, or leave after 10/20/40 mins? What children's activities are available for which age groups? What happens in each of these? Even though you have age-based classes, can a visiting older sibling accompany a younger brother or sister into a class to help them settle and stay with them if necessary?
Why is this so important for visitors? Well, if I can tell my children what's going to happen and what shape the morning's going to take in advance of visiting, they're more much likely to be happy and settle. If they're happy, I will be as a parent and better able to concentrate on what's being said in the main meeting. And that might be life-changing.
4. “Are you weird?”
People don’t actually ask this out loud, but it’s an underlying question which many unchurched (and Christian) visitors have when they’re checking you out before coming along for the first time. Unfortunately, lots of churches aren’t aware how they come across to those outside.
Here are a couple of the things you can do to reassure people about your low rating on the weirdness index. Make sure you have web pages which talk about your vision and values – but avoid jargon at all costs. Have a page which shows good photos of your leadership team and staff. Include biographical information which covers more than churchy stuff – talk about interests outside going to church and studying the Bible – we want to read about real people. Remember, becoming part of a church is not just about turning up regularly at a meeting, but forming a relationship of trust with church leaders and connections with a community.
5. “What are you really like?”
This is related to the last question but is more vague and difficult to define. It encompasses notions of community, love, support – the ambiance of the church – and questions of whether the visitor will really feel at home with you.
This kind of thing can be answered somewhat by what’s on vision & values pages – both content and tone – but it’s much more than this. Good photos can tell so much and go a long way to communicating the kind of relational vibe the church has. See this blog post about the kind of photos to avoid and a couple of examples of churches who've done a great job using compelling, quality images to convey what it's like to be part of their church.
In addition, including as many quotes as possible from real people in the congregation – including photos – get them to talk about what it's really like to be part of the church. This could be the most powerful and convincing thing you put on your website, because it comes from genuine individuals, not some holy spin doctor!
Make sure you score highly on the above and you'll help more people over that first-visit barrier.
Alistair Birch, 19/06/2012