Before your church’s website can even completely load, the average visitor has already formed a first impression. It takes just 50 milliseconds. In a flash, they’ve already decided whether they want to continue engaging with you (through your site) or move on to the next church on their Google search results page. The takeaway? You better have a great website. Potential visitors are coming to your website to learn more about your church—to gather information, and see if your church is the right fit for them. So how can you quickly and effectively engage more people through your website? Here are 4 tips for creating a great church website.
Know Your Audience
One key mistake many churches make when it comes to their website is not having a clear audience in mind. Google says, “Great marketing begins and ends with the audience.” Have one clear audience in mind when it comes to your website. The less laser-focused you are, the more muddy and confusing your website becomes. So, who is your website meant to reach? Is it the already-connected member, or someone who has never set foot in any church, let alone yours? Those are two completely different audiences. And your website should look entirely different depending on which audience you’re trying to reach.
It is essential to identify your primary audience, and then stick with it through the web design process. This may mean that you need to have a separate website for your next step or member-centric resources. Or, perhaps you need to create a page with a specific URL (web address) to be your church member’s central hub—a URL on your main site, but one that isn’t directly navigable from the main homepage.
Be sure to study and really get to know your primary audience well. Know what issues they’re facing; what questions they’re asking; what they need to know. Meet them where they’re at, and help answer any question they may be asking when they visit your website.
If your main audience is visitors from your community, look at area demographics. Survey neighbors and fellow community members about their most pressing needs. And talk with folks who have recently started attending your church. Ask them why they came and why they stayed. You may find that your church’s rock-solid recovery program has been attracting the majority of new members to your church. If this is true, your church website should make it easy for visitors to learn about the hope and resources you provide for people who are struggling with addiction.
The more you know your audience, the better you can cater your website to meet their needs. This will not only provide a better first impression, but it will increase the likelihood that a website search will turn into a real in-person visit.
Create Simple Calls-to-Action
It’s important for the great church website homepage to provide the essential information your audience is looking for, but fight hard against the temptation to over do it. Keep your homepage simple and provide one or two clear call-to-action buttons. Your homepage should draw people in, but also leave them wanting more information.
An effective call-to-action button provides a clear next step for a visitor to learn more about your church (think “Service Times” or “Our Beliefs” or “Watch Online”). It directs the visitor to a page deeper in your website where more detailed content and information can be found. Once you’ve thought it through and identified what you think are the most essential calls-to-action for your audience, mock up a front page, and test it with folks from your primary audience (e.g. potential visitors or members).
Set Realistic Expectations
Make sure that whatever is on your website authentically reflects who you are as a church. There’s nothing worse than reading that the dress code is “wear whatever you want” only to arrive on a Sunday morning to find that the real dress code is khakis and a collared shirt. Be true to who you are as a church—people will appreciate your honesty. Never use your website to try to convey that you’re something you’re not.
An easy way to quickly and authentically communicate what people can expect from your church is by using visuals. But don’t use any images. Use real photos from your real church, not stock photography. A picture of your actual worship setting shows people what they can expect—from your facility, to your demographics, to your worship style, and even your dress code.
I hate to break it to you, but a great church website is not a one-and-done project. You must regularly re-evaluate and update your site. If your website is static, people will notice and it will make an impression (but not the good kind). The key is not just to update things for the sake of updating them. Instead, establish a schedule for your website evaluation and updates.
For certain parts of your site, you may have to update information weekly (e.g. Sermon info), but for other pages, like you’re front page and navigation, you’re probably not going to alter it very often. However, it’s still important to schedule these evaluations quarterly or at least every six months. And when you do, go back to your target audience and see how your website is performing with that audience. Ask them simple questions like: What can you improve? What is working well?
Whatever you do, don’t ask your church members to evaluate your website if they’re not your target audience. You’ll get skewed data. Sally really cares about the Ladies’ Bible study, so she wants that information upfront. Karen is the treasurer, so she wants to make sure the online giving button is prominent. You get the idea. Instead, ask someone who goes to another church, or maybe ask your neighbor who doesn’t go to church at all—someone who fits your target audience—to visit your website and give honest feedback. Are their questions answered? Can they find their way around?
Follow these 4 key tips, and I think your website will be off to a great start. And if you want even more information about what makes for a great church website, check out Church Juice’s free “Church Website Guide” ebook.
This aticle originally appeared here, and is used by permission.