I don't have one single source for all that I have learned with websites and online marketing. I will say that my friend Craig Walker from UpWardChurch.org and one of my coaches, Bob Franquiz, of Calvary Fellowship have been instrumental.
I do know that churches have the worst ideas when it comes to websites and online marketing. I spend hours talking to pastors about how to make their sites better. Most of them listen to about 5% and then continue to do what they "think" is best.
Let me just say this: Don't mess up the website! It is key.
Thrive Church started with just 25 people in June of 2012. We have grown to over 125 people in 6 months. That is 500% growth in 7 months. 90% of our newcomers are coming through our website. The two elements that helped me the most was Craig's book, "Right Message; Wrong Method," then I studied all the top churches websites.
Over the years I have learned the hard way about websites and having a strong online presence. These principles will apply to your church or business.
Here are the seven, common, mistakes of churches and websites:
1. Your Website is Based on Your Own Personal Creative "Think Tank."
I remember talking to one guy who sat with his friend to make this really cool new idea about creating their churches websites. They had this elaborate plan of forums and discussions. It was in depth. I asked this guy, "Do any of the top churches or growing churches in your area do this?" His response was, "I don't know." I encouraged him to see what they are doing and use their principles. He didn't. The website is your basic, irrelevant, church website.
When creating a website make sure you use empirical evidence. Find out what design companies the top churches in your region are using. Find our what links they use as main links. Find out what they are doing.
Don't sit around with a friend to make the "ultimate website." Hint: It's been done. There are churches who have paid someone lot's of money to figure this out. Mimic their principles.
2. Someone in Your Church Can Make Websites.
I am laughing as I write this. Listen, my great aunt took a class at the community college that teaches how to make websites. Anyone can make a website, but not everyone can create a WOW website. Be courageous enough to say no to this. Unless they are a pro and a stable person in the church, just say no. If they are amateur and not very connected, eventually you will have a bad site that is never updated.
I hear this one more than anything else. If they are web saavy, then have them use a reputable web design company that will host it. You will get a great template and they just have to "plug and play." Make sure you get ALL passwords and information. Don't get caught with them leaving and your URL is on an island.
3. Cheaper is Better.
One of my pastor friends was trying to convince his board of the necessity of a great website. They wanted to know the CHEAPEST way possible. They would do yardsales for irrlevant events, but not put money into a quality website.
Here is the key: If it is cheap, it will be cheap. Just like a used car, you will get what you pay for. This can be the best investment you have ever made.
4. Too Much Information.
Make sure your home page has the KEY links and buttons. Pretend you are a first time guest. What type of church is this? What do they believe? Where are they located?
Have links on your page, but your home page should NOT have a novel on the front page. Make it easy to navigate around the page.
5. You Don't Know What S.E.O Means.
Search Engine Optimization is the KEY. Google is the number one search engine right now. Search engines read your web page. When someone searches for a church, they will use key words. A person may move to our area and type in: Christian Church Chesterfield. If we don't have these keywords in description pages, on the front page and in other areas, it will be looked over. Google doesn't read JPEG's or FLASH. Pictures and flash NEED to be on the front page. It looks good, but being found is much better than looking good. We had to cut our flash pictures in half so we could add more keyword search words. This boosts your rankings in certain categories. We have several key words we use over and over again on our website.
We paid a company called, "Boostablity," to come in and optimize our site. They helped GREATLY. The two ways you are found are: 1) Organic listings and 2) Paid Advertising.
Use a company like Boostability to help your organic rankings and then use Google Adwords Express for your paid advertising. We see tons of families a month come through Thrive Church due to Google Adwords. We INVEST money into Google Adwords. If you type in "best church in richmond va," we will come to the very top.
We have put enough emphasis on Google Adwords to the point that we now dominate our region with organic listings and Google searches.
We also use Bing/Yahoo search, but the return has not been as good.
Have your site, "Search Engine Optimized."
6. Lack of Video and Audio (or poor quality).
I have heard countless people say, "I watched your welcome video. That sold me." We have a link to a welcome video. They need to see the pastor first and then see what the church looks like. Make sure your video is solid and reflects your church.
One issue I have found is very poor audio quality of recordings. People want to see a welcome video and they want to hear your preaching (or see it).
Don't post crappy videos though. If you can get a better audio clip than video for preaching, then go with QUALITY. Video doesn't sell. If they can't hear you and you look really small on the screen, it may be a turn off. People will search for your website while at work. Most work computers will not let them play YouTube videos. If that's all you have then you will miss out. Post audio.
I have also seen churches try to post worship in those venues. BAD IDEA. Let people know what music you play and add some shots or video, but don't put extended video of your worship that was recorded with a cheap camcorder or iPhone. Remember that most of our teams will sound worse recorded. That lady who can't hit a note- the guest will hear it. Play it safe. I know you are proud of them, but your guest to the website may not be as proud.
Keys: Welcome video. Great Quality Audio. Finally, have some video if it is good quality.
7. Website Doesn't Match the Church.
I learned the hardway. When I planted a church in FL this happened to me. Before we launched our church we created this rocking website. The problem is that we were still running 30 people. We met in a weird location with bright blue walls. I had our first website guest come to the church. He told me afterwards, "You have a good thing here, but your website oversells your church. Tone it down to match your church." That was hard to swallow.
Use pictures of the facility. Use pictures of your people. Don't let guests be surprised when they come to your church. After they leave the website they should have an accurate description of what to expect.
If you have a great church then don't have a terrible website either. Your website is a personal reflection on how much you think of your church.
Here are a few companies that host sites:
Church Plant Media
-many, many, many more.
Craig Walker's Book, "Right Message, Wrong Method."