For the last nine months my focus has been on one major project: rebuilding our church website. It wasn’t an easy task, because technically we weren’t rebuilding just one website, we were building five campus websites and each campus was slightly different.
Not only did we have to build five websites, we had move our church website off of a propriety content system which meant moving each piece of content by hand. We also had to overhaul our menu structure and design a mobile experience as well.
We’ve learned a lot in the last nine months and I want to share with you five significant tips that I believe can help you create the church website that you want. These five tips are essential to creating a website that will delight your audience and give you foundation to build on in the future.
1. Build on an open platform. – There are lot of great companies out there offering churches websites for reasonable prices. They have really good designs and are quite stable. While these companies can be a viable option for your church, I don’t think they’re the best solution.
The problem with using a third party website company is that your content is locked into their content management system. When I say your “content” I’m referring to your images, videos and text. Anything you upload to your website is now locked into their system. So when you want to leave to go to another company, you have to manually move each piece of content. That can take a long amount of time depending on how large your website is.
Instead, I believe the better alternative is to use an open system like WordPress. With WordPress you can inexpensively set up and run a website with in just a few minutes. You can sign up with a webhost like Bluehost for about $5 a month and purchase a theme as little as $50.
With WordPress you can quickly switch themes, use thousands of plugins (small pieces of code that give your website new functionality) and export your website to a new host with little hassle.
The WordPress community is also huge. Which means there are lots of great websites and people willing to help you make your church’s website better. With WordPress there’s no reason that you can’t have a great website with little cost or hassle.
2. Don’t focus on the homepage. – No you did not misread that first sentence. I’m telling you to not focus on the homepage. Instead, I think your time would be better spent focusing on your interior pages. Let me explain why.
If you plan on producing on great content on your site, what will you link to, your content or your homepage? Your content, right? In fact, if you consistently produce great content and do a sufficient enough job promoting your content then more people should be looking at your interior pages then your homepage.
However most churches spend their time focusing on their homepage. They agonize over every button and photo and don’t spend nearly the same amount of time on pages that people will more likely see.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying to ignore your homepage. I’m saying that if you’re about creating quality content for your audience, then your interior pages will need more attention than your homepage.
3. Study your analytics. – It’s one thing say thing “I know what my audience wants.” It’s another thing to have numbers to back it up and that’s where analytics come in. Whether your using Google Analytics or the one provided by your website host, you need to study your analytics.
Analytics can reveal what people are actually doing with your website. This means seeing what your audience is reading, clicking on and how they arrived to your website. Analytics can give you a wealth of information about your audience.
If you get overwhelmed by all the information you get from your analytics, don’t worry. There are plenty of great free information out there on how to read and understand your analytics. Just check out my resources section for more information.
4. Think mobile first. – Whether your creating content or redesigning your layout, you should first design with a mobile device in mind. This means creating a website thats responsive (responsive means a website that adapts to the device that it’s being viewed on). This will gives you the advantage of not having to maintain two designs (a mobile and a desktop).
Thinking mobile first, also means that you need to ensure that your content is brief and the to the point. Remember people are viewing your content on a mobile device which means your screen space is limited and content that is long will force your audience to do a large amount of scrolling.
Mobile is no longer the future. It’s the present. If you’re not giving your audience a mobile experience then you could possibly leaving a good portion of your audience in the cold.
5. Reduce your menu. – If you polled every ministry in your church they would probably tell you that they all should be on the top of your menu navigation. However if you put every ministry in your navigation, you would have a menu that would be too long. So instead of putting everyone on top of the menu navigation, you make some difficult choices and reduce your menu. You do this through either drop-down menus or adding links somewhere else on the homepage.
Over time though website menus have a tendency to grow. Your church adds ministries, programs and events and you need some place to place to put them on your website. That usually means you have push something around and force it on the menu.
The problem with expanding your menu is that you’re giving your audience more choices. While giving your audience more choices may seem like a good idea, you’ll find that the opposite is true. Research shows that the more choices you give people, the less likely they are to make a choice. So if you want people to actually click on your menu, you best option is to reduce your menu.
Hopefully these tips will point you in the right direction in creating a website for your church. While these tips don’t cover every aspect of the website creation process, they will help you deliver a website that will serve you and your church well.
Have any additional tips that you would like to share? Click here to comment below.
Update: Steven Gliebe emailed me some additional resources that I think are worth sharing if you’re looking to build your church website with WordPress.