Website Priorities for Churches, Non-Profits and Others
Websites should be:
- Easy to maintain
- Up-to-date: revised monthly at least
- Minimal web rot
- Easy to navigate
- Rank highly in searches
- Have a wealth of information
- Truthfully reflect the community
- Accessible by the visually impaired
1) Easy to maintain
If your website is easy to maintain, there is no need to hire expensive Web designers like me to do routine updates and maintenance. Instead, volunteers can do this work. With software like Adobe's Contribute software for Mac or PC, anyone familiar with word processing can maintain a church website, leaving the initial design and complicated maintenance to professionals. Some free website maintenance software, like Nvu software, are available for free, but my experience is they are too "techy" for most volunteers and staff members.
2) Up-to-date: revised monthly at least
Visitors looking for a church or non-profit are immediately discouraged if they see an out-of-date website. Someone needs to maintain your site, at least on a monthly basis, hopefully weekly, hopefully as a volunteer. This is especially tricky when that person leaves and another must be found, a process that can take months. Because websites lack the urgency of other publications with deadlines, maintenance is deferred too easily.
3) Web rot minimized
Web rot is the technical term for text and graphics on a website that are out-of-date and links that no longer work. If your website has a simple, elegant structure, with only a few pages that need updating regularly, you can easily minimize web rot.
Here's the rule: if you put something on the website, ask yourself, "When will it need to come off?" If you have an item with a short shelf life, put it on a page that gets updated regularly, not in some off-the-beaten-track page that no one will think of updating for a year. (This page is not one I am likely to update very often. Are the links still good? If not, contact me!)
For example, when describing the choir or other group on your music page, you may be tempted to list the leader's name, phone number and e-mail address. Instead, offer a link to a Contact page, one page where all the ever-changing names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses can be found. If this is done, the Music page will rarely need to be updated.
Another design principle is to list all your events on a separate On-Line Events Calendar such as that offered by MyChurchEvents.com. It may be tempting, on your Music page, to list an upcoming concert, a listing that will soon be out of date. Instead, simply refer people from your Music page to your On-Line Events Calendar. That way, the Music page will rarely need to be updated. Here are links to calendars of churches I work with:
- All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
- Grace Episcopal Church, Wilmington, De
- Elsmere Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE
- Concord Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE
- Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE
Churches often list upcoming events on their Home page. This is good. Home pages are usually updated regularly. Search engines give higher ranking to pages that are updated regularly. If your church lists many events on its Home page, allow room for them.
4) Easy to navigate
Visitors to a website should be able to find easily what they are seeking. Put the most important items on your Home page, especially your worship times, address (including city and state), and phone number.
If you have a link, make sure people know where it is taking them. For example, don't have links that say "Godly Play" or "Season of Creation" or "Ecumenical Liturgy". You may know what these words mean, but don't count on new visitors having a clue. Instead, be descriptive.
Also, use a consistent navigation structure so that visitors always know they can move around the website without fear of getting lost. Make your guests feel comfortable and cared for.
A good-looking website is a plus, but attractiveness only rates fifth place in my book. It is more important that your website be well-designed so it is easy to maintain and easy to navigate, and that it is up-to-date, with little web rot.
6) Rank highly in searches
The only thing you really need to do to rank highly in search engine rankings is to put all the most significant things on your website in plain language, with the most significant listed first. Beyond that, you can:
- Give each page a descriptive title. You Home page should be just the name, denomination, and location; for example, "Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Delaware." When visitors pull into town, they will often search for local churches using the name of the town and the name of a denomination.
- Use "Description" and "Keywords" metatags on your Home page. These tags, in the code, are invisible on the page but help search engines categorize websites. The "Description" metatag has the information search engines give out. The "Keywords" metatag has words people searching for your site might use in their searches. Any words you use in the Description and Keywords should also be in the text of the page. For example, if you use the words Elvis, big money and long life in your keywords hoping to attract visitors, those words need to be in your text or the search engines may ban your website. In general, don't try to trick search engines. Once you are discovered, you will be blacklisted.
- Provide links to other websites and have other websites link to you. If your church actively supports the local Habitat for Humanity or provides rehearsal space for the Metropolitan Opera, provide links to their websites and ask them to put links to your website on theirs.
- If your church has a school associated with it, make the link prominent to that school's page or website. If the school has its own website, it should have a prominent link to your website.
7) Have a wealth of information
Offer folks an in-depth look at your church. This tells them that your church is a lively place, one they might want to visit. Also, the more extensive your website, the higher it will be ranked by search engines. The trick is to do this without dramatically increasing the time spent maintaining the website.
8) Truthfully reflect the community
Avoid overblown language and false claims. Don't say you are God's gift to your city. Don't say you have the most talented music director who ever touched a keyboard. Don't say you are a welcoming church unless you are. It is better to say you seek to do God's work than to claim you do it.
9) Accessible by the visually impaired
If you use images on a page, give them titles so the blind can "hear" them. Use a simple structure of Heading 1, Heading 3, text and bulleted items so the blind can easily scan your page, moving from heading to heading. Some people who can see but not very well, make the text in their browsers very large, making Web pages easier to see. Try this out for yourself on your website to make sure things still look good.
If you have questions or want to make a suggestion, please contact me.