This post continues my pledge to help churches take some first steps, to live out the resolutions I listed in my post, “Five Communications Resolutions for 2018.” You can read about what inspired the post “The One Reason Nothing Comes Out of Those New Year’s Resolutions.”
The single post on first steps to updating a church website is turning into a series of its own. Today, I am going to offer some advice for deciding whether to keep your current site or start from scratch.
Whether it took some work to get access to your church website or, you already had access, you have a decision to make before you start updating the site.
Should you work with what you have, or just start over?
Given that the upfront costs and labor involved in starting a website from scratch are lower than ever, starting a new website is always a serious option. But how do you decide? I recommend asking the following questions.
How much does the current site cost?
There are a number of costs to consider when determining the total price of a website.
Platform and Hosting Costs
Every website needs software to create, edit, and run the site. The website also has to live on a server somewhere. The server holds all the data related to the website and handles all the internet traffic coming to your site. It is becoming more common for platforms and hosting to be combined. Platforms like Squarespace and Weebly include hosting in their monthly prices. The biggest exception is WordPress. WordPress software is free, but you need to pay someone to host your site. And, while WordPress is free, there can be additional costs. Some plug-ins that give the site functionality have additional costs.
Note: Some churches are lucky enough to have someone donate the hosting space.
Domain Hosting Costs
Wherever your website lives, people need to be able to find your site. Your domain host keeps your domain name (www.yourchurch.org) and ensures that it points to the IP (Internet Protocol) address where it lives. (This is slightly more complicated but this is likely all you need to know.) To see what I mean, type 22.214.171.124 into your web browser’s navigation bar. That is the IP address for Google.com. Some website platforms (like Squarespace) will often throw in free domain hosting if you pay for your site yearly. Other times, the domain is hosted by a host like GoDaddy, HostGator, DreamHost, etc.
Depending on your provider, you may pay a monthly fee for upkeep of the site. These services vary significantly in price and scope. With all-in-one services like Squarespace, they are included in the monthly rate. If you have a WordPress site, and you aren’t comfortable with keeping it maintained, they very well be worth the fee.
Content Update Costs
You could have a service agreement that charges whenever you want to make a content change on your site. With the advent of more user-friendly interfaces, these are becoming rare. This isn’t always a bad thing. If you need someone else to do content updates, it might be worth paying for.
Change and Upgrade Costs
Sometimes content updates aren’t an issue. But with some arrangements, you need to pay when you want to make any major changes to the site. For instance, there may be a charge to change the overall theme or add a feature like videos.
You will need to find out if you entered into a contract or other agreement. It might mean you are stuck. However, if it was paid in advance, it still might be worth starting over. (See the economic concept of sunk cost. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_cost)
Can you work on this site?
No matter how great or cheap the website is, someone is going to need to keep it updated. Is the interface something you can understand? Is there enough help and support available? Is there someone in your congregation who could help?
Does this site have all the features you need?
This is where you will need to start thinking about what you want to do with the website. In a way, I am jumping ahead here. In a future post in this series, I will write about evaluating your site’s content and features. Once you figure all that out, you will need to decide if your platform will allow for all the content and features you want.
Does this site have all the features you will want in the future?
Are you thinking about adding sermon videos, a calendar, a news blog, or something else? Before you start putting effort into your current site, make sure it is capable of handling the new features.
Something to think about: Some platforms feature components like media player and calendars. Others don’t, but some of them make it easy to embed YouTube videos or Google calendars.
And now for the “Choose your own adventure,” portion of the blog.
If you have decided to ditch your current site or, if you weren’t ever able to get access to it, you will want to read my next post. I will write about choosing a new website provider. I will also evaluate some of the best current options.
If you’ve decided to stick with your current site, you can skip ahead to the next post I am working on which will give you a chance to evaluate the content of your site and begin working getting it updated.
Have other questions about evaluating your church website? Let me know in the comments. Always glad to help!