First-Time Church Visitors Visit First On the Web
Why the web? What are they are looking for? What are they finding? It is very likely that someone who is looking for a church, or already considering a visit to your church, will want to first find your church on the web for some very practical reasons. They want to know what to expect, how to dress, where to park, what time to show up, and so on. Without a well-managed web presence that answers their questions, potential visitors may decide to move on to the next church.
We are going to cover three important web how-tos for churches:
- How To Manage Your Online Brand
- How To Claim Your Web Real Estate
- How To Build (or improve) Your Website
1. HOW TO MANAGE YOUR ONLINE BRAND
Whether you realize it or not, your church is very likely already populated all across the web. So it is important that you take responsibility to manage your online brand.
Why does your web presence matter?
Imagine a family is moving to or visiting your community and they are looking for a church to attend. It is likely they will do a quick search for churches in your town. If they do that search, will your church show-up?
Exercise: Do a quick search for ‘Baptist churches in [your town]’ and see if and where your church shows up. Where ever your church appears, follow the steps below for managing your online presence.
Important Steps for Managing Your Brand:
- Search your church name on Google and see what turns up in search results.
- Look for it’s position in the results, accuracy of information, reviews, etc.
- If you find any inaccurate or negative information try to correct it right away by taking ownership of the listing or contacting the source of the listing.
- Set-up Google alerts for ongoing monitoring: http://www.google.com/alerts.
- BONUS: Ask your members and friends to go online and write positive reviews. This can be done on Google Business pages, Facebook, Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.
2. CLAIM YOUR WEB REAL ESTATE
Wherever your church appears online – Claim it!
Begin the process of claiming and owning online profiles by clicking on each relevant search result. When the profile opens look for a link somewhere on the page that invites you to take ownership. Often it will be a question like, “Own this Business?” with a link to begin the claim process.
There are some great benefits!
Including the benefit of owning a host of free advertising sources with accurate information for those who find your listing. You will be able to add details like service times, contact information, photos, links to your web site and more. This should also improve your position in search results. For example, if someone searches for churches in your town, the claimed and active profiles are more likely to rise higher in the results.
Top Profiles to Claim:
- Google Business Listing > https://www.google.com/business/how-it-works/
- Facebook > https://www.facebook.com/
- Yahoo > https://www.yahoo.com/ (shares with Bing)
Curated Business Listings:
- Yelp > https://yelp.com
- Yellow Pages > https://www.yellowpages.com/
- CitySearch > http://www.citysearch.com/
Other Top Sites To Consider:
Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
These are all free web real estate properties for you to claim!
3. BUILD (IMPROVE) YOUR WEBSITE
Your church website should be inviting to visitors. Here are a few suggestions:
- Give them a feel for the church – Church seekers want to know if your church is a possible fit for them. What kind of worship style? Contemporary, traditional or blended? What are the foundational beliefs of the church? Are there programs and ministries for them and their children? What is the typical dress code?
- Introduce your pastor – “Church” seekers are also “Pastor” seekers. They are looking for a pastor. What does he look like? What does he sound like? What is his background? Who is his family? Based on these questions, having His picture on the site is important (a good picture!). If possible have a sermon audio or video available. Better yet, post a welcome video from the pastor. Finally, have a bio that includes his educational and vocational background. Share about his family, hobbies and other interesting details. You should include bios on all the staff as well.
- Provide clear directions – Potential visitors to your church not only want to know how to get to the church, but what to do once they arrive. The most predominate link on your home page should be for visitors. Maybe it reads “FIRST TIME GUESTS” and once clicked, your visitor will easily find the church schedule and a map of the facility to help them find the nursery, worship center and rest rooms. Let them know about the visitor parking and invite them to enter at the welcome center.
Your Church Website Should Equip Your Regulars.
How can a church website be developed for equipping regular attenders?
Offer resources that inspire spiritual growth – blog posts, sermon audio or video, lesson outlines, event informations, and more. Here is a good example: LifeChurch.tv
Your Church Website Should Connect with Online Communities (both ways):
Create a cross-pollination between the church website and social media platforms. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, are all “Big Ponds” of people and we are “fishers of men”? [Matt. 4:19]
Set-up profiles for your church on the top social networks and then include the social links on your website. Consider share buttons for blog posts and recorded sermons. A great side benefit will be improved search engine results.
One word of warning: Do not set-up social networks if you do not have a plan to be social on them. For this to succeed, someone needs to be posting and monitoring.
HOW TO BUILD A CHURCH WEBSITE
There are countless ways for building a website, everything from absolutely FREE, to custom platforms costing thousands of dollars. I want to make my suggestions as narrow as possible, so I am suggesting two categories that will offer multiple variations between the two:
Here are the most popular and often recommended DYI web platforms for church websites. They all offer a free version or free trial period. For each, I have include a link to a review and a link on how it works… (note: of the four, I only have first-hand experience with Wordpress).
Some Highly Rated Platforms:
wix.com – begins with a free version that displays ads. The lowest entry point that removes ads is $10 per month.
squarespace.com – entry level is $12 per month / Business in $18 per month.
weebly.com – begins with a free version that displays ads. The lowest entry point that removes ads is $8 per month.
wordpress.com – Wordpress in the number one web platform in the world which speaks volumes about it’s usefulness. There are three price tiers, $4 personal, $8 premium, or $25 business. This is a monthly and includes domain name and hosting.
Wordpress video tutorials: http://videos.wpbeginner.com/
To get a feel for how Wordpress works, here are some of the best training videos available. You will have to create a log-in but the training is free and well worth the time.
Hire A Professional
Beyond DYI, there are designers and agencies who can do all the work for you. Of course that is a much higher price point. Typically the entry point would be in the ballpark of $1,000.00 for a basic website. then it would go from there based on the needs of the website.
Build: If the site includes premium items such as a sermon player and interactive calendar, your looking at an entry level range of $1,500-$2,500.
Hosting: In addition, there will be an ongoing hosting fee that can be paid monthly or yearly, which would be in the range of $10-$50 per month, according to where the site is hosted.
Updates: Most Designers and agencies will offer ongoing updates at an hourly rate which could range from $20 to $80 per hour.
ALERT SSL Encryption
Around the first of this year Google decided that all websites should be secure (long story), and any websites that are not encrypted produce warnings. When someone attempts to visit for the first time they have to accept the warning that basically says to ‘proceed at your own risk’ before the site will open. It also impacts SEO. Mainly, it’s just a bad look for new visitors to the site.
Fortunately, there is an easy and free fix. Your web person can add an SSL certificate through Let’s Encrypt (https://letsencrypt.org/) that will secure the website and produce the green lock in the browser. This will remove all warnings. We actually use Let’s Encrypt on all our websites without any problems.
I trust you will find this information helpful. If you still have questions please feel free to contact me. I want to support you however I can.