Online Fixes for Free





How to improve your church Web site without spending a dime


The hour is late, the room is warm and the discussion is sober. Line by line your church budget committee is going back through the revenue and expense list, searching for ways to cut costs with minimal pain.

Despite the convincing presentation made last week by your communications committee, funds for an improved Web site are axed. On Sunday, the published budget elicits an audible groan from the more Web-savvy members of the congregation.

If that groan sounded familiar to you, take note: Most of the improvements you need to make can be done without costing your church a dime. If you already have a Web site and can change the content yourself, or know someone in your church who can, then there’s still plenty you can do without spending any more money. Here’s how to start.

1. Improve your team. The biggest challenge is one that money won’t fix—you need a good team. Your people should be committed to making your site an effective tool, clear on the site’s purpose, connected to your ministry so they can access the needed information and capable of presenting that information. You don’t need a large or techie team; the key is that each member has a heart for ministering and communicating through the Web.

2. Improve your content. Give users the information they want. Review the information on your site, considering not just your ministry purpose but also who will visit. Some visitors won’t know you—they’ll be looking for “about us” information, such as service times, directions and contact information. Some will be your members, who will be looking for event information, opportunities to get involved or contacts for ministry leaders. Keep information on your site brief, clear, easy to navigate and up-to-date (remove last week’s announcements!).

3. Improve your presentation. Even if you are stuck with a design that feels dated, you can still improve it by making it uncluttered, image-driven and people-oriented. Keep it uncluttered to avoid overwhelming visitors with information. Make it image-driven because the Web is a visual medium. Consider the impression a person gets in the first five seconds of looking at your site. Add a few well-placed images that set the tone for what you want to communicate. Let it be people-oriented—your ministry is about more than buildings and words!

4. Improve your visibility. Help people to find you. Use simple “keywords”—create a list of the terms people would type into a search engine that match your purpose. Build these words into your site—into the content, headings and page titles. Submit your site information to search engines to make the most of their indexing capabilities.

You may also want to consider getting a new domain. OK, so a new domain (such as your-church-name.com) will not be free, but the $20 or so you spend on it won’t break your budget, and it can make a big difference in your visibility on the Web. Short, memorable domains are probably best to start; although longer ones can allow you to include a keyword to help improve your search-engine rankings. Other options include using free Web products such as blogs or social networking sites like Facebook. Your Web team can learn a great deal just by looking at other sites and researching ideas.

Improving your Web site doesn’t have to cost money. Make these changes, plan ahead and get things in place so you can take advantage of next year’s fully funded Web site budget.


Tim Warren is the project manager at Elexio, a company that specializes in Web design and management for churches and ministries (elexio.com).

 

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