Creating your website structure

Having an easy to understand website structure is incredibly important. For people visiting your site for the first time, you want them to be able to find everything quickly. If it’s too confusing or content isn’t in logical places, they’ll probably just give up and leave. It’s like going to the supermarket for some oranges and not being able to find them because they’ve been put with the shampoo and conditioner.

There’s no one answer as to how you should structure your website content. It will depend on many things, such as where you are in the country, whether you have a high student or family population, what activities or programmes you run, how your church building is used during the week etc. Below are a few tips on how to get your site ordered logically and make everything easier to find. Remember, just because you know where the content sits, doesn’t mean it’s in a sensible or helpful place.

Plan it on post-its
If you’re starting from scratch or re-hauling the current structure, it’ll be so much easier to visualise how it will look and make changes by writing the name of each page on a post-it.  You can easily arrange them in any order you want and make changes quickly without having to start all over from the beginning.

If you’re planning on restructuring your current website, why not start by printing out all the pages and lay them out on the floor to match your web structure. Again, seeing the amount of pages and how they are ordered visually will help work things out.

Keep it simple
The less links and options on your site the better as it’ll keep people’s focus on the important things. The best church websites I’ve seen are incredibly simple and well thought out. You don’t want to confuse or distract people with useless information or more information than they actually need.. You might think you need to include every single piece of information about your church online but you need to leave a little something for people to discover when they visit you!

Ensure you only have one main menu (either across the top or down the left hand side) with further options underneath the main menu headings. It’s possible to fit all the content into ten headings or less (See my example below as proof) Keeping page numbers to a minimum will also mean people are never too many clicks away from the page they need.

Be Ruthless
Are you absolutely sure you need five pages on the history and architecture of the building? Think about how many people might be coming to your site for this information, and if it’s only a small amount, think about creating PDF information sheets which those people with particular interests can download. You can also combine pages that deal with similar topics whenever possible.

Work out your Priorities
What are the most important things people coming to your website for the first time need to know? Put yourself into the shoes of a new person to help figure out what information they will want first. Information for your congregation should be much further down the list of priorities (or kept off the site completely by sending out a regular email with the information included.)

Important topics to cover for new people:

  • Who are you and why should I come to your church?
  • What time are your services?
  • How can I be baptised/married in your church
  • How can I contact you?
  • What events or social activities are you running?


Give them easy to understand names
Whilst occasional offices might mean something to you, it’s not going to mean anything to a potential newcomer. Make sure each page has a simple, easy to understand name. At the same time, don’t make the page titles too vague!

Suggested Structure
Below is just one way you could structure your content. Use it as is, or just as inspiration:

1. Our Services

  • Timings and what people can expect from them (Style of worship)
  • Service FAQs (parking, disabled access, toilets etc)
  • Children and Youth (what activities are on offer for those under 18)
  • Sermons (Embedded audio or video of sermons)

2. About Us

  • Team/Who’s Who (Clergy, Churchwardens, administrators etc)
  • Vision (goals, beliefs etc)
  • Community and church links (scouts and guides, local school and community links)
  • Outreach and Mission (Charities you support and mission activities you are involved in)
  • Church and Hall (basic church history and hall booking information)
  • Magazine (parish magazine information)

3. Life Events

  • Baptism
  • Confirmation
  • Weddings
  • Funerals

4. News

5. Events

6. Church Life

  •     Regular activities and social groups such as Mother’s Union and coffee mornings

7. Contact Us

  •     Includes phone, email and map

Got any questions? Let me know in the comments below.
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9 Steps to Improve your Website

Your website is like your shop window – for most it will be the first thing people will see about your church so you need to make it count. Here are some tips which will encourage people to spend more time on your website and hopefully transform those website visitors into church visitors.

1. Focus on the people not the building.
It’s tempting to highlight your building’s historic features, but it sends the message that your building is the most important part of your church. Instead, focus on the things people may be coming to your website for. Generally this will be weddings, christenings and funerals, as well as service times and community group information.

Tip: Create a building information pack for people which they can request by email or pick up when they visit the church.

2. Re-evaluate your structure
How many pages do people have to click through to find the most important information? Is the information structure of the website logical? What may be logical to you, may not be logical to someone else, so get people to test out the structure to see how easy it is to find everything.

Tip: Write out your website structure on a piece of paper to better visualise it. Alternatively, use post-it notes which you can rearrange easily.

3. Cut down on text
Don’t make your site visitors wade through an essay to find the information they are looking for. Keep things brief and easy to understand. You can then use large photos alongside the reduced text to make it more appealing to the eye and less intimidating. Remember that some of your visitors may not be good readers or struggle with lots of text.

Tip: Each topic shouldn’t needed need more than one page. Try and keep to no more than 2-4 short paragraphs per page and 1-3 large images per page.

4. Be as helpful as possible
Remember the people visiting your website who may not have much experience of church. To help them, use as little jargon as possible, explain what happens at each of your services and describe the facilities available (including toilets, parking and disabled access) Why not include an FAQ? Here’s one from Holy Trinity Claygate which is a good example to copy.

Tip: Ask a non-church member to read through the content. They should be able to pick out any complicated jargon.

5. Be Mobile
The amount of people accessing websites from tablets and smart phones is increasing, so when building a new website, it’s important to make it mobile friendly. A mobile friendly site adjusts to the size of the screen it’s being accessed from. For an example of this, look at the website for Holy Trinity Hastings (decrease the window size and watch as the website continuously fits the screen.)

Tip: Have a look at your own website from a mobile phone to see how confusing and unhelpful it can be. Going through what the user goes through will help you understand their way of thinking.

6. Be Social
Don’t forget to include links to your social media accounts or go a step further and embed the accounts into your website. Here are some guides to embedding Facebook and Twitter. By doing this, you’re making your social media accounts easier to find and giving visitors the opportunity to go ‘follow’ or ‘like’ your accounts. This may be their first step in joining your church.

Tip: Make sure your social media channels also link back to your website for the people that find you there first.

7 Be Simple
Avoid flashing animations, music that autoplays when you access the site or anything that makes the website look busy. By including these things, you are confusing your visitor and making it hard to find the thing they are looking for. The more confused they are, the more likely they are to leave your site. Instead, keep things incredibly simple – don’t be afraid of blank space.

Tip: Read this blog on the importance of blank space and then see what content on your own website you could remove.

8. Be Consistent.
Keep the same styles, colours and fonts on every page. This not only looks professional but will be less confusing and will help visitors find what they are looking for. The less time it takes to learn how the site is laid out the easier it will be for the visitor.

Tip: Create some design guidelines, a simple guide to what fonts and colours to use, and if needed, how content should be laid out. This will be useful for anyone helping with the website and with your social media channels.

9. Know who your audience is
If your website only caters for your congregation, you’re potentially losing out on new church members as it can feel unwelcoming. Avoid content such as rotas or referring to people by their first name with no context. You know that Margaret does the flower arranging, but new people don’t. If you have to mention someone, link back to the who’s who page so people can put a face to a name.

Tip: Create a homepage specifically designed for new visitors. This is your pitch: can you explain why they should visit your church in 200 words or less?

How to Shine Online

This blog post is about making the most out of other websites. If you want to have a successful digital media strategy, there are a few other websites you could be using alongside your own website and social media channels which will improve your website, make your church look more professional, save you time and give you more content to be sharing on social media.

Here are just a few of the main ones to be looking out for. They all offer free accounts with added extras at a cost. I’m just giving you a very basic overview on them all. If you want me to explain any of them in more detail or have any questions about any of them, do let me know in the comments.

Soundcloud
Have you thought about recording the sermon each week? With Soundcloud you can upload audio files and then anyone can listen or download them to listen to later. You can even embed audio players (add to your website) so they can be found easily in one place without having to leave your site. This is a great service to offer, especially to those who can’t make it to church one week or want to know what your church is like.
It’s also a great way of directing traffic back to your website from social media.

You may also want to go one step further and offer other audio files. Maybe you could get people from your congregation to talk about how they came to faith, what they love about your church, their favourite thing about being a Christian. Extras like these don’t take up much time and can be easily recorded on smart phones.

Issuu

Do you put together a weekly or monthly parish magazine? How do people read it online? Through Issuu you can upload a PDF of each issue which can then be read online like a magazine. You can also embed the magazine viewer on your website. It’s easy to use and because the layout matches how a magazine is read, it’s a much more professional looking way to share your magazine.

Eventbrite
If you have regular concerts or events at church which need to be ticketed, consider using Eventbrite. Everything you need to ticket an event is available to you: people can book tickets and pay for them all in one place, and you can manage the guest lists, send out messages to all attendees and customise your event page with information (such as a map) and more. Because it does all the work for you, it should leave you more time in your day. (NB Paid ticketing does cost extra but non-profits can apply for lower rates.)

Mailchimp
This site is perfect for sending out regular email newsletters. Mailchimp includes plenty of tools to design the newsletter that best fits what kind of an organisation you are, analytics to see how many people have viewed it and settings to schedule your newsletter. The site also gives you the option to let people subscribe themselves to it, meaning you can add a box to your website and grow your newsletter reach through people wanting to learn more about what you do. If you’re not sending out an email newsletter – this site will make you want to!

Google Maps
Apart from www.achurchnearyou.com, Google maps is probably the main way people locate your church. Millions of people use the site so make sure your details are all correct. Is the little pin highlighting your church sitting in the wrong place? You can fix this yourself using Google Mapmaker.

When you click on your church map pin, what details come up in the box on the left? Right at the bottom of the box are the options: “Suggest an edit” and “Are you the business owner?” Through these you can correct and update any details about your church. Fill it in with as much information as possible.

If This, Then That
This website This website lets you create ‘recipes’ so that when one thing happens online or on your phone, something else happens automatically. This is especially useful for things like posting Instagram images to Twitter. Currently, Twitter only posts a link to the image, but through this website you can set up a ‘recipe’ which will automatically post any image to Twitter which you have uploaded to Instagram. Another useful ‘recipe’ emails you a copy of any photo you take on your phone. There are many more recipes like this which will save you time and make life a little easier.

Redesigning Your Church Website

Think of your website as your shop window: All good shops update their window displays at regular intervals to keep things fresh and inviting. The same needs to be done for your website, as a tired out of date website can turn potential new church members away – especially if they can’t find the information they are looking for, or even simple contact details.

A website can easily find itself out of date within a year or two. When was the last time you completely redesigned your website? Or even just refreshed the content? It’s important that you keep the content and the website up to date.

For a redesign, start completely from scratch. It’s easier to make something work well from the beginning than it is to try and plaster over cracks and force a site to work for you.

Before you even start redesigning, there are a few things you need to think about:

First things first: Do your research

Find out which content is helpful and which content isn’t. It’s hard to make those judgements yourself as you’re generally not the one using it. Here are some ideas to find out what other people think about it.

  • Add an online survey to your website for visitors to fill in (Though it’s not guaranteed that they will, especially if it takes a lot of time to fill in)
  • Hand out a survey in church, ask people to fill it in and leave it at the back of church
  • Hold focus groups, maybe straight after the service (bribe church members with food to attend!) Get discussion going about the site and make notes.

Some of the things you need to ask:

  • What do you like about the site?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • What’s missing?
  • What isn’t being used to its full potential?
  • What should there be less/more of?
  • Is the site easy to navigate? Can things be found easily?

All the information gathered will guide you about the best way to move forward.

Second: Find your site builder

There are two options for building the site:
1. Find someone in your church with web design skills
2. pay a company to build it for you.

If you choose the church member option, ensure their skills are advanced enough to build the site you want, not the one they can cobble together. Secondly, remember that if the church member is responsible for looking after the site, make sure you also have access (in case they leave the church or suddenly can’t look after it anymore) It can also be awkward if you want to be critical of the site, aren’t happy with what they have created or you need to ask them to step down from the project (you still have to see them every week!)

The downside to paying a web company will always be the cost, but I personally think the positives outweigh the negatives. Some of the best church websites have been professionally designed. When you are paying for the design, you should get a company with plenty of experience and high quality skills, who can offer support and advice to make it the best website it can be. Employing a company and having a contract is also a safer way to work.

A web design company can also offer you a CMS (Content management system) This is where multiple administrators can edit the site from an easy online dashboard. It is a beneficial addition as you don’t have to rely on one person to edit the content and this can make updating the site as easy as possible.

If employing a company to help you with your site make sure you know exactly what your budget and time-scale is as this will help shape the kind of website you can have.

Finally: Things to Remember

  • Know your budget and time-scale, this will help shape the kind of website you can have and help the web company work out what they can offer you.
  • Get at least three quotes, don’t forget that the cheapest is not necessarily the best option
  • A website with little control over how it looks will date quicker than a website with a variety of options and styles
  • When you finally have your new website, don’t put editing access in one person’s hands – ensure at least one or two other people can log in to edit.
  • Regularly check the content of the pages for inaccuracies and other unhelpful information – update the site as often as you can.
  • There will be at least two groups of people using your site: the congregation and those looking to visit your church for the first time. Ensure each group has the content they need but prioritise newcomers (The homepage should be directed at them)

Anything I’ve missed or have any questions? Let me know in the comments.