Peter’s Big Checklist of Congregational Website Considerations
If you are interested in growing, attracting younger families, young adults, youth, increasing pledge amounts – make sure your website is as amazing as you want to be. This is the easiest and most cost-effective way to improve how members, friends and the larger community perceive your congregation. Make it something you can be proud of.
Once upon a time people visited your congregation in person to learn about your community, your values, and to see if it is a good fit. No more! Now nearly 100% of people visit your website first. That is the first visit. Given many of the 1990’s style websites I see out there, that visit lasts about 10 seconds. That’s about long enough to think “Oh my gosh! This is hideous. Are they serious? NO WAY am I visiting there. I’m going back to see what my friends are doing on Facebook. See ya! Tweet me when you catch up with the present…”
Post Freshness: This 2011 post has exceeded its freshness date and has been tagged for an update. While many considerations still apply, the web has evolved considerably in recent years. ~ Peter
The following is a draft list of design and content considerations. I have been compiling this list during my Spring and Summer presentations on social media, outreach, and online communications. I’ll be updating this and then sharing as a more refined resource you can download and print.
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75+ Congregational Website Design and Content Considerations
by Peter Bowden
- WHO IS SITE FOR?
I like sites to have information for members, but be newcomer optimized.
- People are LOOKING FOR FRIENDS, not a friendly church. PEOPLE!!
Is site about people? Do site visitors feel they are getting to know your community? Is there information so people can connect, maybe like some people before even visiting?
- EASY URL Is your website URL easy to remember?
- Is your website URL (web address) printed on your roadside sign
All publications and leaflets, letterheads, press adverts and news releases? Is it also included in email footers of official church emails?
- WHAT STATE AND CITY above the fold.
- CONTACT INFO provided including city, state, zip, phone, email.
- HOME ABOVE THE FOLD
Most of homepage should be on one screen
1024 x 768 screen resolution.
- AVOID SPLASH PAGES
Is home a jumping-off point or home page?
Are colors, white-space, text and graphics pleasing?
- WHO ARE YOU?
Is that clear immediately. Name, religious affiliation, what you’re about?
- WHAT KIND OF CONGREGATION
Size, rental space or own building, brand new or historic…
- FORMAL STATEMENTS
Are formal statements newcomer friendly or are they going to freak people out?
Mission, Vision, Purpose, Covenants
- POSITION STATEMENT
What makes your congregation different compared to others I’ve visited? Why choose you?
Not too formal. Want to be approachable. Be true to your congregation – if you are very formal with an equally formal dress code, reflect that.
- PEOPLE ON HOME PAGE — I’ll keep repeating this…
Is there a photo of real people on the homepage, more prominent than any picture of the church building?
- WELCOME VIDEO
Simple message from minister. If you have a minister, people want to know who this is. It isn’t ego, its putting relevant information front and center.
- BUILDING EXTERIOR
Somewhere I want to see it so I know what to expect. Good to have people in shot so there is a sense that others are going as well.
- BUILDING INTERIOR
Again, so I know what to expect
- BE BRIEF
Make sure site is easy to scanning. Not too wordy. Shorter is always better.
Appropriate humor can be disarming.
- COMMUNITY CONTEXT
Does site communicate community you are not only located in, but part of, engaged with, valued by?
Invite newcomers to specific events, with clear contacts. Sunday Worship isn’t the best way for newcomers to connect.
- SUNDAY SCHEDULE / SERVICE TIMES
- SERVICE THEMES
If you know them, share them. I was against this until I moved and was looking for a place to bring our family. This isn’t so members can pick and choose which of your services to go to. It is for people deciding whether to go for the first time. Do they go to your congregation or the other place? If they tell and you don’t, you are the unknown and therefore a more anxious choice.
- WHAT TO EXPECT
How to dress
What worship is like and why
How long is service
What kind of music? Organ vs. jazz band
Better yet, SHOW ME.
Help PRE-QUALIFY people for visiting. People now visit having done their homework. Do you help them do this via your site? Make it easy.
Can use videos from various sources embedded in site to educate people about Unitarian Universalism.
Great way to help people give you a test drive. Some people I know have listened to local podcasts. That kept them connected until they were ready to visit.
Link to books people can purchase related to your values and beliefs. Have a library? Make an online catalog for members and friends.
- MAP AND DIRECTIONS
Embed Google map, link to other services. It costs you nothing to add links to multiple sites. Drives me crazy when I’m forced to use a map service other than Google Maps.
Include your address as text on your map and directions page so people can copy it and paste into the mapping site of their choosing.
- TRANSPORTATION AND PARKING
Where to park – lots, street, both?
- BIKING OPTION
If biking is option, is there bike rack? I know a lot of congregations wishing people would bike, yet they don’t have bike racks.
- ACCESSIBILITY TO BUILDINGS
If accessible, toot your horn. If not, clarify so people can make smart choices, other options.
- CHILD CARE
Do you have it? Tell me. Show me your facility.
- Use PROFESSIONAL STAFFED childcare
Pay money to have preferably non-member child care professional with infants and toddlers.
Explain the child safety code, everything to comfort new families
Check in / out policies
- CHILDRENS RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
What are various grades doing?
What is my kid going to experience?
Philosophy, teachers, activities…
- GET INVOLVED (or SMALL GROUPS)
Primary menu item / front page. People want to and need to get involved ASAP. People should be connected to some kind of group connecting experience within weeks of attending. Another option is to have “Small Groups” in main menu.
For both newcomers and members. Make sure events that allow for connecting with others, participating, serving, helping, using gifts are clear.
- MEMBERSHIP PROCESS
Make sure membership expectations are clear, including pledging information and events/how to join. Need to see from day one.
- SOCIAL JUSTICE
What do you care about? Hold up justice work, people want to make a difference. Helps people choose right community.
- ONLINE GIVING
This is becoming more popular. Nice to give members this option.
- PEOPLE on every page. Did I mention that yet?
- STAFF and LEADERSHIP DIRECTORY
- PHOTOS OF LEADERS
Staff, core leadership at a minimum.
- UPCOMING EVENTS / NEW NEWS easy to find
- OPT IN
Can people opt in to get more news and keep in touch
RSS News Feed
Enews subscribe on front page
SITE NEWS / RSS Feed
- DO NOT ask people to email the office if they want to get on your mailing list.
- OLD NEWS Avoid old news, ancient dates. Is there outdated news on the church website which should have been removed?
- CLEAR NAVIGATION
Navigation makes location within site clear.
- MAIN MENU user-friendly. Not too many links. 10 max.
- Use GUEST not visitor. Majority of people who visit are in some way GUESTS of your existing members. That’s how you grow a congregation, through relationship.
- AVOID JARGON and ACRONYMS
I work a lot with Unitarian Universalist congregations. May are filled with literature with UU this and UU that. You ever see the old Sesame Street segment where the Bandit-X rides through town stamping everything with an X? Avoid this. It creates an insider culture.
- MEMBER PROFILES
I love sites that show real people including details about non-religions things. Help people connect via hobbies and other interests.
If diverse people visit site will they find a welcome for them?
- PROOF READ
If you’re not good at this, like me, get someone else to do it.
(I’ve included some typos in this post as an example. Do they drive you crazy?)
- HOSTING SERVICE
Make sure site loads fast with no ads
- SITE COMPATABLITY
Try site on different devices and browsers.
MAC and PC
Ipod, Iphone, Ipad
- COMMUNITY DEVICE TESTING
Invite people to test your site via devices, share response via simple form.
Have you testing site usability using volunteers, different tech ability, members, friends of members who aren’t affiliated with your congregation. Hey! What a great outreach idea. Have members share site with their non-member friends.
Make sure standard accessibility design principles used
- FULL TITLE
Are your name, town, and area, also clearly included in ‘title tag’ coding on your home page
- TITLES ON ALL PAGES
Not repeat of main
- META DESCRIPTION
This is information encoded on page. This helps search engines.
Getting techie. Make sure HTML and CSS is validated. Especially if someone is designing a site for you using something other than top platforms. Me? I’m a WordPress guy. They take care of the most techie of technicalities so I don’t have to.
Make it easy to remember (bookmark) site
- SHARE THIS
Make it easy to click and share via popular social networking sites
Do you have one?
Is every page listed?
- LISTED ON BIG SEARCH SITES
Make sure you are listed accurately on major search engines
- DENOMINATIONAL LISTING
Other sites may list you, make sure information is up to date.
- GOOGLE PLACES
Have you claimed your place? This allows for customization of that page. Also powerful tools to see who is looking for you.
Do you analyze your website visitor statistics? I recommend Google Analytics. It is powerful and free.
- TEAM APPROACH
Is your webmaster and/or communications team part of ongoing outreach and growth conversations?
- CONTENT IN TEXT, not GRAPHICS
Don’t hide content like address in graphics. People and search engines need to be able to read and copy this.
- AVOID FRAMES
Bad for search engines.
- KEYWORDS in URLS
When naming URLs, the address of pages, name with relevant words.
Calendar, Membership not page1, page2.
- AVOID SCARY LONG URLS
Some sites make the various subpages have very odd names. It should make sense if you read the address.
- THREE CLICKS to all major content
Update: Okay, Jeff shared with me that this is a myth. See article & research links. Let’s amend that to navigation should be easy and not lead to frustration. If people are swearing at your website, something is wrong.
- DROP DOWNS
If used, make accessible via basic links.
Note that I do offer website reviews for congregations. Hopefully you have a rockin’ communications team and can take this list and review on your own. If not and you want an outside perspective, let me know. Happy to help. I review your website capturing my audio commentary and computer screen as I go. The session audio and video are then shared with you. This way you can see exactly what I’m looking at, clicking, and so on. Again, you can do this yourself using this list. Contact me via email if you need assistance.
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- Have suggestions for this list? Please share via a comment on this post.