Places of worship aren’t just for prayer, they are also hubs for an entire community, hosting everything from concerts and seminars to community meals, youth groups, missions, and neighborhood meetings. Because of the breadth of a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple’s duties, building a website to encompass their multifarious activities can be particularly daunting task – and even more so when you take into account the need to keep congregation numbers (and donations) up. Thankfully, building and optimizing an engaging website for your place of worship is vastly simplified by following a few simple guidelines:
Understand your Congregation’s Needs
Your website is your single most important communication tool, a central point connecting all the activities and people that bring your place of worship alive. All too often, though, websites are mapped out according to how a single person thinks information should be organized, as opposed to asking for the help of the entire community. In order to organize and prioritize your website so that all visitors’ needs are met quickly and intuitively, try conducting these two kinds of analysis:
- Word of Mouth: Take notes on frequently asked questions posed during services and events; if a member of your church needs to ask a staff-member or volunteer, it might mean that this question is not being properly addressed on your website. Use these queries as guidelines to prioritize information on your website.
- Google Analytics: If you already have a website for your place of worship, take a closer look at your Google Analytics account (if your website is not already configured for Google Analytics, you’re far overdue; setup takes minutes and will provide immeasurable insights). Google Analytics helps you to understand which pages and information are receiving the most attention, as well as how long visitors spend on each page, what devices they are visiting your website on, and much more.
Using these two methods, try to locate superfluous information, such as links that are never clicked and pages that are rarely visited. Don’t be afraid to delete them from your website altogether; hoarding information in dark corners of your website “just in case” is just as messy as leaving them where they are. A visitor, after all, should be able to find what they are looking for in two or three clicks, or within about 5 seconds.
Be More Than Just an Events Calendar
Your place of worship’s website needn’t be just for relaying times and dates, it has the potential to inspire your congregation even when they’re sitting at home, or driving to work. Here are 2 ways to make your website a fulcrum of your community:
- Share Sermons Online: Whether by audio recording or video, sharing sermons, seminars, and events online is an invigorating way to allow your congregation to bring their place of worship home (or on the road) with them. Uploading audio or video with your IM Creator site is as easy as dragging and dropping a video element, then filling in the URL. For audio files, IM Creator has an easy-to-implement SoundCloud widget. SoundCloud allows users to stream any audio files, then add comments at any part of the recording – a great way for your congregation to ask questions and get involved.
- Never Miss a Moment With A Blog: With all the buzz of activity that surrounds a place of worship on any given week, small moments, thoughts, and events can easily be forgotten. Taking time to blog, even if it’s just to upload a few photos or lines of poetry, is a great way to engage your congregation, and make them feel part of a special community.
Blogs are also an excellent way to shine light on the countless volunteers that help keep places of worship alive. Try posting volunteer profiles on your blog, along with a portrait and a short interview, then encourage your subject to share their spotlight with friends and family. Your volunteers will feel appreciated, and you’ll introduce new visitors to your blog.
No matter the religion, attracting new and young congregants to a place of worship is crucial to its continuation. For decades, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have relied on adherence to tradition to keep up their worshiper numbers, but in order to create lasting relationships, places of worship need to speak the right language. With 90% of 18-29 year olds in the United States using some form of social networking, you can bet that connecting your place of worship to a social account or three is a good place to start. Connecting your website to your place of worship’s social media feed – whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, or Pinterest, is easy: Simply drag and drop the appropriate widget, and add a link to your page.
Make it Easy to Find You
SEO – or Search Engine Optimization – is the process of making sure that your website pops up in relevant searches. Tomes have been written about what makes for great SEO, but following these 2 quick tips is already a good start:
- Keywords: Simply put, a website’s search engine ranking is determined by the relevancy of the content on that website. In particular, Google’s algorithms look for keywords that help make sure that a page is about what it says it’s about. Keywords can include information about your location, what kind of place of worship you are, and how you would broadly define yourself. Place them throughout your website’s copy, especially within titles and headlines.
- Geo-Location: Google My Business brings all the necessary information about your place of worship – including directions, opening hours, and contact information – all into one place, providing visitors searching for you on Google with instant confirmation and quick details.
Thinking Like a Business
Places of worship don’t like to think of themselves as businesses, but applying online marketing and web optimization tips that the business community swears by will help your website to reach those who need it. For some design inspiration, take a look at these great examples of websites:
Image Credits Eldridge St. Synagogue NYC (Chinatown) by Wasabi Bob at Flickr Creative Commons pray by belgianchocolate at Flickr Creative Commons