There seems to be a trend happening. I hesitate to even call it that because it’s more of a necessity now. Churches and Ministries of all sizes are starting to move a majority of their media online and creating a ‘virtual’ campus for their members near and far. Most are familiar with the success LifeChurch.tv has experienced in this area and are starting to replicate their model (albeit, on a limited scale). Online, there are literally hundreds of channels your church and ministries message can be heard.
With the vastness and open accessibility of the internet has caused many churches to think about ‘who sees my church?’ - And even more importantly, ‘what do they think of it when they do?’
There are tools you can use to analyze how effective your website is. Common questions that should be answered are: how many people come to your church website, where they came from, how long do they stay on the site and which pages are they viewing. These metrics are used by retail marketers every day for increasing sales and determine where to re-invest their advertising efforts. The same technical prowess can also be used by churches to help boost their response and increase the reach of their message.
Many people feel that everyone who gets online is a potential visitor and/or member of their church website. This really isn’t true, and from a marketing standpoint it might be better that it’s not (yet). Of course our mission is to reach the entire world for Jesus and spread the Gospel to everyone we can. The thing about the internet is however that people find you most of the time. Understanding that is important when you’re designing a website and even more important when you’re out there attracting people to it.
While web design and graphics are very much a personal preference, there are a few things that are standard among all successful sites. One is navigation. People need to be able to quickly find their way through your site and be able to get back to the pages they started from with having to use the browsers back button. Another is the sites content. The words you use and where you place them makes a big impact on how visitors (and search engines) view your site. Just like any successful communicator, our sites have to convey a message that easy to understand and calls people to action. Whether that be attending church, making a donation or just thinking about their decisions, it’s our job to deliver a message in the most effective way possible. For many people that’s through online media. There are a few important things to consider here as well: the readability (font, size, and format), the layout/structure, the design etc.).
Above I mentioned from a marketing standpoint it’s good to be able to segment your visitors. This goes back to the core marketing methods used by most webmasters – Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay per Click (PPC). Both of these tools are heavily reliant on content and your ability to place ads in very targeted places. By optimizing your web pages you can make sure people are directed to the most targeted place for them upon their first visit. Just like a church has individual classes and groups for Men, Women, Teens etc. so should your site have separate landing pages and mini-sites for conferences, special sessions and groups. This can be a powerful way to maximize the impact you have on each visitor that comes to your site.
Another growing trend, and arguably another necessity, is to have a strong, cohesive social media network. Members will find fellowship and become excited about being a part of your church community when they can converse openly in the channels they are most comfortable in. It’s great when your church becomes a part of everyday conversations. To maximize those occurrences you need to be inter-twined in their lives and conversations. Social media is a great way to be ‘present’ without being pushy. It’s also makes sharing your message among the community much easier, both for your media staff and for you members. Examples: Share a video, share a link, reTweet, StumbleUpon, Digg and even email.
There are so many facets of creating, running and marketing a successful website. However we all have to start somewhere. Every site begins with one line of code and then grows from there. Having a clear vision of your goal is essential before ever starting the project. Being flexible and diverse enough to appeal to diverse audience is also important. Having continuity is also important. Just like when you see the McDonalds arches you think Big Mac, your church brand should convey a consistent message across every channel.
It’s an amazing time we live in. There are so many ways we can share the Gospel. Choosing the right channels, the right message and spreading the good news is an exciting mission and the goal for us all.