My church is having one of its’ biggest events of the year this weekend. It has been in the planning stages for months. As such, there are a bunch of folks going around the church making sure that the experience that people have (many of them for the first time) will be a positive one.
So, all that work around the cleaning and sprucing up of the church got my mind to wondering (perhaps as an alternative to actually working??) about an important component that is critical to not only this event, but to almost everything the church does.
And that wondering got me to thinking…”Hey, what about me? Yea, you know…the church website?
We do a lot of things to get people to our church website or blog. But what happens once they get there? Does the look and feel of your website give off the wrong vibe? Does it look like it was someone’s first attempt at putting one together? Does it look (or even worse “act”) clunky?
I am hoping that your church website makes me feel warm, welcoming and inspired enough to come back and perhaps even visit your church in person. But if you are someone (other than the website designer themselves) who goes to your website and doesn’t come away with a good feeling about it or your church, perhaps you should check out the following to help you understand what people are looking for. And just like “Dancing With The Stars”, these are in no particular order, as they are all important to your website visitor:
Is the site easy to navigate? This sounds pretty basic, but is an often overlooked feature that many websites are lacking. But think about the user here. We like familiarity. So, make it easy for us by having the same navigation links in the same place. I am also a big believer that they should be in text links at the bottom of each page. I have outlined in other articles how more than 10 navigation links on a page is a deal breaker for me and that I wouldn’t come back. If you have that many links, break them into categories. I don’t need to see a link for every ministry you offer on every page. Give me a link to ministries and either a sub menu or even another page to break them out for me. Make it easy for people to move around the site. They should not have to hit the “back” key to go somewhere else on the site.
Does your site have a clean design? One of the easiest ways to tell a site was built by a novice is that they feel they need to fill up the entire page. In a word, it looks “busy”. Advertising experts will tell you that you can sell more with white space than something that is cluttered up with words. Make sure that your pages have some “breathing room” in them. Minimize the text and try getting your points across with bullets. Add in some graphics, but not animation that is going to distract your visitor from what they are reading.
Is your website easy to read? While you need a contrast between the background and your text, take the time to insure the colors feel warm and inviting to your visitors. You want them to feel comfortable spending some time learning about your church.
Give some thought to how your pages are formatted! Hand in hand of if your website is easy to read is proper text formatting. Use short paragraphs. Can you make the same point using bullets vs. long text paragraphs? If so, do it. Make sure you are using proper grammar by having multiple people proofread your site before publishing. Something else to keep in mind is the font that you use. Remember, not everyone has 20/20 eyesight that comes to your site. Using fonts that have serifs may make it difficult for your visitor to read.
Does your website look good in multiple web browsers? I am currently working with a client that has someone creating their website for me to review. However, when I look at it, everything looks out of whack. When I asked about it, her reply was “It looks fine in my browser”. And that is the thing, what looks great in one browser can look simply awful in another. You need to test this out not only in the more popular browsers, but also in different monitor sizes to see how it is going to play out. If you don’t want to load multiple browsers (although if you are designing sites, I don’t see why you wouldn’t), then you can use a site called browsershots, which will generate screenshots of how websites appear at 800×600 and 1024×768 resolution in six commonly used web browsers.
Are visitors forced to scroll down incessantly? You have a lot of information that you want to provide. That is great. What isn’t great is when your visitor feels like they are wondering when that page is going to end. Today’s web visitor tends to be impatient. So get to the point you are trying to make within 2-3 screens or consider breaking up the subject into multiple pages. Otherwise, they just leave and don’t come back.
Have you set the proper expectations? Nobody wants to feel blindsided when they visit your church. Having a page that tells first time visitors what to expect in terms of dress as well as some information of what your church is about can make for a better church experience. So consider having a page that addresses visitors or an “A word about xxxx Church” is very helpful and something that many visitors will review before making a decision to come to your church.
Pictures and videos of events! Do you want people to feel welcome? Of course you do! Having pictures and videos lend a hand to make your church seem more “human” and will help to displace any negative thoughts they may have or have heard about your church. A quick word about pictures…use action pictures!!!!! People aren’t really excited when they see a picture of an empty classroom. Showing that same classroom with people smiling and enjoying themselves makes a huge emotional shift for your visitor.
Show a cross section of what your church is about! Don’t leave it to chance or think people will know that all ages, nationalities, body types (I was amazed to attend a church that wasn’t welcome to other than thin people), backgrounds and lifestyles are welcome at your church. Demonstrate that by showing people just like them in your photos and videos. If they see other people like them, they are more inclined to feel comfortable and thus likely to attend.
Directions and contact info! Hey, don’t leave me hanging by getting me all excited and not let me know how to get to your church, what time services are and how I can contact someone if I get lost or have a question.
By incorporating the above, you will have a better chance of a visitor staying longer on your site. The longer they stay means the more they are interested and the better your chances that you will be seeing them at a church function or service in the future.