Holy Week Debrief – A Rant and a Rave

Holy Week, one of the busiest and most emotionally draining times of the church year has just completed and we have entered into the Easter season.  Before it gets too far out of our thoughts, I would like to offer a critique of how this week was offered online.

If you have been reading any of my blog postings or attended any of my workshops, you will know that I am a firm believer that digital media (websites, social media, email ) is the way that society is moving toward communicating, especially with the under 45 demographic.   Therefore, important events should be easy to find and prominent on your website and/or social media sites.  While a number of churches in the diocese did have their Holy Week schedule on their website, for many of them it was not prominent or easy to find.

People who are looking for service times or information on events expect it to be a simple and easy task.  Having to navigate a menu to find this, or open a document once the information is found may not seem like a big deal to existing members of a church, but these are extra steps that newcomers and visitors find distracting, frustrating and unfriendly.  Since you only have a few seconds once someone comes to your site to get their attention and give them the information they are seeking, it’s imperative to make it as smooth and painless as possible.

There are some churches in the diocese that did a great job of showing their Holy Week information in an easy and inviting way.  Here are some samples that can be used as ideas for next year’s Holy Week.

Good Shepherd, Vancouver has a carousel on their site which makes displaying this information easy to do.

GoodShepVancouver

Redeemer, Kenmore used video to help promote their Holy Week services

RedeemerKenmore

St. Hugh in Allyn simply put the information on the homepage. Nothing fancy, but it served the purpose of getting the information out there to visitors and seekers

sthughallyn

Finally St. Paul in Bellingham put in a separate block underneath their welcome message for their Holy Week offerings.

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These are just a few of the ideas that can be used to promote the important events in the life of your faith community.  Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy or artistic, but it makes a huge difference in being a welcoming place for visitors and newcomers.

Using Photos of Children

One of the most common questions that I am asked when I do workshops on website design and social media is “What about photos of children, what are the guidelines?”  I will talk about needing permissions, how to (or not) identify them and then go on to the broader topic of photos of people in general.  I was about to write something on this, but one of my Episcopal Communicator compadres at the Diocese of Newark, Nina Nicholson, has written a very good piece on this subject on her blog “Geeks for God“.  It has good, practical tips and even includes verbiage for crafting a release form!  Do check it out.  Thanks, Nina!

Web Trends for the New Year

One of the great things about what I do is trying to stay current on technologies and trends and then passing them on to others.  This link came across the Episcopal Communicators Facebook page and I think it is quite timely.  We are looking to redo the ecww.org site next year and these tips fall in line with what I have seen evolving.

Websites should be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it fits the mission and goals of your faith community.  A website should be updated/refreshed/overhauled every 18-36 months.  Take a look at your church website.  Is it showing its age and looking a little tired?  Make a New Year’s resolution to spruce up you site in 2014.  Do you need some assistance or consultation?  Contact me and I will be happy to send you resources or if you are in the Diocese of Olympia, I will come out and meet with you.

There are lots of options to choose from.  Get in touch with me.  Let’s get crackin’!

What Is Your 15 Second Elevator Speech?

I have found that since I started my position here at the Diocese of Olympia, my focus has changed on talking about church websites.  Initially it was all about tools, how to do it, how to maintain the site, etc., real nuts and bolts stuff.   When I talk with church groups who are working on websites, they invariably want to know what plugins to use, how many navigation tabs, etc., but they never ask me “what is the best way to show my church?”  More and more I believe this is the question that should be asked first. Continue reading “What Is Your 15 Second Elevator Speech?”

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You (21st Century Edition)

We have seen the signs for years, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”.  While this is nice to have in front of your church or down the street with an arrow pointing the way, is this the only way that people will know about your church?  Are you counting on people finding you in the Yellow Pages?  If these are your two major advertising methods, expect few visitors to your church door this summer.

As we begin to enter summer, vacations and traveling will be the order of the day for many people.  This brings the opportunity to update your website and local listing information targeted toward newcomers & visitors.  Is your church ready to help potential visitors this summer?

On your website, there are three things you should look at on your homepage and make sure are correct.

  1. Do you have your correct service times posted (you may have summer hours)?
  2. Do you have a map showing where your church is along with its address?
  3. Do you have a contact link, contact phone number or email address listed?

All three of these should be on your homepage and accessible without having to scroll.  If these cannot be readily found or are outdated, people will go elsewhere.

People search for churches the same way they search for restaurants and shopping, therefore the location listings on search engines are very powerful.  Take advantage of these.  You can claim your local listings and manage them for search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, SuperPages, etc.  Another thing that will help you be found is www.faithstreet.com.  Signup is free and you can add your church quite easily.

Writing reviews is a very popular function of the web and social media.  34% of bloggers write reviews and 90% of customers trust peer recommendations over direct advertising.  Don’t be surprised if you find reviews of a visitor’s experience at your church on one of these local listing sites or other sites like ChurchRater , Ship of Fools or ChurchPick.  The reviewers may want to link to your website, Facebook page or other social media platform.  Be ready and as my grandmother would say “put your best foot forward”.  Use the tools and technologies available to show that in the 21st century, just as we have done for years, the Episcopal Church truly DOES welcome you!

What Makes a Good Website?

A few weeks ago I received a link to a site called “40 Great Church Websites of 2013“.  Obviously I was intrigued.

When I went to this site, it was interesting that there was no explanation or criteria as to what made these great sites, it was just merely a series of images and links to the actual sites.  Given that the link was originally presented by Sharefaith, a church website builder, may have skewed the data a bit and made me a bit skeptical.  However I went a little further into these sites to see what made them (at least to the people who posted this link) great sites.

What I found was that while the visualization of these sites and the imagery were very nice, what made them stand out was that they let you know out front who they were and what they were about.  They were authentic.  By looking at their site you could see their message, theology, beliefs and what was important for them to present to a visitor to the site.  They didn’t talk about being a “visitor friendly” or “welcoming” church in vague terms, they actually showed you on their site what this meant to them.  It was designed to find things quickly and efficiently.  It gave a visitor the opportunity to interact with the church through the website.  You could tell that this church was active and alive.  It made you think you could be a part of it.

It goes back to what I have said in earlier posts — you need to attract, engage and retain.  Having a site that looks like one of these “Great Church Websites”  may be a start, but without the content to back it up you will be disappointed with the results.  You can certainly use these websites to generate ideas and maybe integrate some of their functionality in your site.  However, you need to tell your stories in a compelling and authentic manner to get people to go beyond the pretty pictures and fancy graphics.

A good website is three dimensional.  What I mean by that is that it not only looks nice and inviting, but it has depth to it.  You want to dig into the site and wander around.  You want to find things easily and you want to come back again and again to see fresh content and features.  That is the real mark of a great website.

Trying to Stop Hackers

It has been a while since I have posted.  I have been extremely busy doing other job related tasks, one of which is protecting our church websites that have been compromised.  Some hackers have a political/social agenda, some just hack for the self satisfaction of knowing they can.  Unfortunately the collateral damage done by these people can take up ridiculous amounts of time cleaning up after their tantrums.  I have learned a lot in the last few months about SQL injection attacks, Trojan Horses, Denial of Service Attacks, etc., much more than I had originally intended.  Finally, after playing Whack-A-Mole with these guys for months, I went back to square one.  Along with my good friend Chase, we rebuilt from the ground up some 25 church websites that had suffered some type of infiltration.  It was amazing what we learned and found.  In one instance, there had been a Trojan Horse embedded in a file on the site for over a year.  In another, we found that by simply incorrectly typing the cpanel directory name (the place where all of the development and administrative tools are kept) incorrectly, we kicked off a program that hijacked the website and captured keystrokes, unbeknownst to the user or the web host.  It was these kinds of issues that forced us to re-do everything.  It was a mess.

We did find a terrific tool that I highly recommend to anyone who has a WordPress.org website.  It is called WordPress Security Checklist from Ayoro SAS.  It is a step-by-step guide to securing and hardening your WordPress site.  It was very straightforward and easy to understand.  The document and plugins are free, although after you use this I would certainly encourage a “thank you” (you decide what that means 😉 to Anders Vinther and his team at Ayoro.  Since I have implemented this on our WordPress sites, I have received daily notices of different types of attacks on our sites that have been repelled by the series of tools and plugins.  Previous to this I would not of known until after the attack had occurred and I would be forced to repair/restore the site once again.

It was a lot of work (I won’t kid you!) but to date it has been well worth it.  If you have a WordPress.org site (I am not sure if this works with a wordpress.com site), I strongly urge you to harden and secure your site even if you have not experienced a problem before.

Website Design Done Right

A few weeks ago I was at the Non-Profit Technology Network‘s annual conference in San Francisco.  It was a terrific conference in one of my favorite cities.  It was a really great experience to see how non-profits were using technology to further their mission.  There were way too many workshop offerings for only three days and all were good, but one stood out for me above the others.  Continue reading “Website Design Done Right”