Most of us don’t put a lot of upfront thought into our church website design. When you are redesigning an existing church website or even building the first website for a church, there are some things to consider before starting anything else. Because I have noticed so many redesigns lately, I am going to write this from the perspective of a church redesigning an existing site. However, many of these things would be helpful to consider if you are starting from scratch.
1. Church Website Design – Review: Current Stats
This is an interesting one for many churches because sometimes they have never looked at any of their statistics. It raises an interesting question. “If you don’t know how many people are visiting your site, what they are looking at, how long they are staying and if you don’t know how your current site is ranking on search engines, why are you redesigning it?” Usually, church websites get redesigned because someone thinks it is outdated, or hard to navigate, or it is too hard to find essential information. Really, I am not sure where they get that from. If I looked at my metrics and saw that first-time visitors were quickly getting to my new visitor page and a very high percentage were requesting more information. If those were my goals for the site, I am not sure I would change anything.
Unless you are a new church start or a small church, your current church website is overflowing with content. Sure, some of it may still be relevant, but it is likely that some of it is outdated, no longer necessary, or even no longer correct. So, instead of just putting all that old content on your newly redesigned site, figure out what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what needs to be updated.
3. Church Website Design – Set: Goals
Many churches design or redesign websites with absolutely no goals in mind. To use an appropriate cliche, “If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to know when you get there?” There are far too many church and business websites that clearly display the fact that the organization had no idea what they expected of the website when they built it. The reason so many church websites are ineffective is that no one ever stopped to consider what effective looks like.
If you can’t determine what success would look like for your website, you should stop reading here. This is like asking me to book you a flight and refusing to say where you are going. Some churches might say clearly, “We want people to be able to find us when they are searching for a church.” That’s great, but, I would ask, “How do you know if what you are doing is working?”
Be specific with the goals. Don’t worry. No one is grading this. If you don’t think you know what a reasonable goal would be, make one up. Just take a guess. You can fine-tune the goals as you start seeing results.
I am going to give you a goal as a template. You can steal it if you want but you probably won’t because it is a big goal.
Goal: 10 first-time church visitors per month directly trackable back to website visits.
That is a big goal. Not to drop too far into strategic planning, but at some point, you will need to develop some subgoals to lead to the primary goal. You can actually reverse engineer this goal all the way back to the beginning.
- To achieve the goal of 10 first-time church visitors per month, I will need to set a target of 20 completions of our “plan your visit” form, based on the estimate that 50% of those who complete the form actually visit.
- In order to make that happen, I need 100 unique visitors to the “Plan Your Visit” page based on the conversion rate of 10% we have measured on that page.
- For that, I am going to need 500 unique visitors per month to the site, based on the click-through rate to the “Plan Your Visit” page.
I could go even deeper than that by figuring out where my traffic is coming from. Are people typing in our web address manually meaning that maybe they saw our sign or billboard? Are they finding it via Google, Bing, or another search engine? What percentage is coming from our social media accounts?
Unless you have been at it a while, you won’t likely start with a goal that big or clear, but at least be able to answer, “What do we want our website to do?” or “How would we know if our website was successful?”
4. Develop Calls to Action
The Call to Action is one of the most critical features of any website. When you decide what you want a visitor to do, you need to be sure that you have asked or invited them to do that. If my website sells books, I want to be sure that I have invited visitors to buy books. Churches that get this far tend to be too general with their calls to action. Many churches have a clear invitation to come visit the church on Sunday morning. Let me say that is much better than those who don’t even do that. That is a solid call to action. Unfortunately, it is not easily measured. Unless you poll every guest, you won’t know if they are responding to your website call to action. However, you can measure things like completion of “plan your visit” forms or requests for more information, or even newsletter sign-ups.
At this point, we are still not designing, we are still just thinking. Consider what you are going to want people to do when they visit your website, what you are going to ask in your call to action, and how you will know if they acted.
5. Church Website Design – Research: Other Sites
Once you have an idea of what you are hoping to accomplish, spend some time looking at other churches. Don’t limit yourself to your geographical area or denomination. Also, at this point, don’t dwell on what looks cool or what you like or don’t like. Look specifically at how these sites are working to achieve a goal. What do you think is the purpose of this site? What calls to action do you see? How do you think they measure success.
Take some notes of what you see and keep a list of sites you want to revisit.
6. Ask: Adjust or Start Over?
Now that you have a clearer idea of what you are trying to accomplish with your church website design, you have a big decision to make. Will you be making changes to your current site or will you be starting over from scratch? Depending on what you hope to accomplish, it may be possible to make some adjustments to the website you have. When you are all done, it will have a better look and feel and be more effective. But often, given the changes you hope to make, it may be impossible to simply adjust what you already have. In that case, it is time to start over from scratch.
Starting over from scratch begs another question, should you continue with the website host you already have, or is it time to make a change? Once you have a clear idea of the goals you have for your site, it is time to determine if your current website host has all of the features you need. Some churches start out with a very simple website host just to quickly and easily get something up on the web. However, that setup may not work for a more focused site. You may need to speak with your hosting company or someone with some expertise in websites to figure this out.
Keep this in mind: I have spoken to churches who desperately need a new website host but are resistant because they have already paid upfront for another one to two years for the current one. I understand that it is hard to walk away from that. However, you may need to consider that as sunk costs. This is money that you have already paid or have already obligated yourself to pay, and there may be nothing you can do about it. However, don’t let that keep you from moving forward. Your church’s website is an essential part of your outreach to new people. If you have to let go of some money you have already spent to make that happen, so be it.
7. Church Website Design – Develop Site Architecture & Navigation
If you have made it to this point, you have already done quite a bit of work. Isn’t it time to start building the new site? Not yet. Before you started building a house, you would want blueprints, right? You need to create one of those for your website. You can approach this in many different ways. I have used whiteboards, sticky easel pads, post-it notes, and once even an interactive touch screen. Basically, you just want to draw out how your site will go together. Think of your navigation in terms of your goals and calls to action. It is simple and easy for visitors to find what you want them to see?
8. Test and Adjust
One of the most overlooked components of church website design is testing. Even a website designed by a professional development agency needs to be tested. It is the only way to make sure everything works and that users respond as expected. A church may not have the resources to complete thorough agency-level testing, but it can still complete this step. Find a group of trusted members to spend some time on the site to see if they can find anything that isn’t working correctly. Then, see if you can find some other folks to let you watch them as they navigate the site. You will be able to see if they respond to cues and navigation as expected.
This may seem like a lot of extra work to add to the process of church website design. However, your church website really is this important. It is the new front door, billboard, yellow pages ad, and yard sign all in one. It is worth the extra effort to make sure you are putting the best version of your church out on the web for all to see.