Listen to the right advice and you’ll reach people in your community through your website

Much of the website advice churches receive is outdated, incorrect or both. Here are five pieces of advice you should not follow. | by Thomas Costello

Your webmaster told you what? Oh. No. He. Didn’t!

There is no shortage of terribly bad church website advice out there. We hear it every day. Some person who used to work in some tech field says your website needs to do this and not do that.

Here’s the thing: What might have been good advice in 2008 might be a terrible idea today. In fact, some of those “great tips” might be hurting your website today.

Let’s walk through the bad church website advice that we hear most often. If you have to open a new tab to make some changes to your site while you’re reading, that’s OK.

1. Let pictures do the talking

We have all heard the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. The right image can make an immediate emotional impact on a visitor to your website.

The problem is that when it comes to being found online, the math doesn’t add up.

Search engines are smarter than ever. They can pull information from pictures, but your church website still needs text content to rank well on Google.

We see a lot of sites that have almost no text content on the homepage. Google and other search engines will struggle to learn what your website is about. This will make it hard to recommend your site to searchers.

How much text should you have on your homepage? The more the better, as long as it is consistent with your design. According to the search engine optimization (SEO) gurus at Yoast, try to include at least 300 words.

2. Let your whole team manage the site

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. Who doesn’t like to share the load of managing a whole website for a church?

Nearly every modern content management system allows you to set up multiple users to manage the site. So why not use this feature? Because there isn’t that much work to do, and you are only adding complexity to your site.

If your website is set up properly, and one person trained to update the site, it shouldn’t take him or her more than a couple of hours per week. Even for a large church.

In talking with our clients, we find that the average church of 500 spends only about two hours per week working on their websites. This includes uploading sermons, creating events and generally managing the content on the site.

There are exceptions to this rule. If you have a church blog (you should), it is OK for all the writers to have access to the site. In WordPress, you would set them up in the “Author” role.

For very large churches, with multiple technical staff members, there are exceptions to this rule. That being said, most of us should choose one person to run the site. Train that person. Give him or her the tools needed and let them manage the site.

3. Use social media instead of a church website

If you haven’t heard, this whole social media thing is kind of a big deal. Your church needs to be using it to engage with your community.

We recommend that churches use Facebook and consider using Twitter and Instagram. Great tools like Buffer help you keep all your accounts straight and cut your admin time.

Although you need to be on social media, it can’t be the center of your online presence.

On social media, you don’t have home-court advantage. Facebook does. They decide how far your posts go and who will see them. You have limited control. In fact, your church’s social posts are not going nearly as far as they did a few years ago. It used to be that when you posted on Facebook, your post went to everyone who liked your page. Today, unless you are willing to pay big bucks, your Facebook posts will reach only a fraction of your fans.

Don’t let them control the game. You need to have a home base where you make all the rules. Your website is that home base.

One of your goals should be to get users on social media to make it over to your website so you can further engage them. Video and blogging are great ways to do just that.

4. Use your city and the word “church” over and over again

Search engines are smart today, but that wasn’t always the case.

Several years ago, when you wanted to rank for a search engine term, you could just use it a lot on your site. Google would assume that you were the best result on that topic. The problem was that, with a little effort, someone could use a keyword over and over and cause a lot of trouble.

To get in on the action, some people advised churches to use this tactic to try to get their churches in front of as many people as possible. They would tell churches to stuff their content with terms like “Madison Church, Church Madison, Madison Churches, Churches in Madison, Church in Madison” and 50 other words with the same general meaning.

This tactic used to work, and I don’t blame those who tried it. It was for a good cause.

The problem is that today, all the major search engines are smart enough to detect this strategy. If you get caught, the penalty is harsh. Your site will be demoted in the search rankings.

Your website is the first impression of your church for the vast majority of your visitors. If you aren’t on search engines, you are invisible to most people. Your church can’t afford to take this risk.

5. Make sure visitors hear your worship band

We know you love your worship team. They are awesome and are leading people into God’s presence.

Your community may well love your worship team, too. In my experience, however, your worship time on Sunday rarely translates well to the web. Producing live music is an extremely technical process. It requires experience and equipment that few churches have. If you are wondering if your church has it, it probably doesn’t.

As the old saying goes, you have only one chance to make a first impression. If someone’s first impression is a video filmed from the back of the church and direct audio from the soundboard, it will be a bad first impression.

Even worse are those sites that auto-play music when someone first reaches the website. Nobody appreciates that.

If you don’t have the gear and talent to pull off live music recording well, keep your visitors in suspense. Your sermons are still great for the site. Voice recording is a much simpler task than trying to pull off music effectively. CGM

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