W W W. Who Wants a Website?

Rod Ismay, PCC member, All Saints Ecclesall @AllSaintsEcc gives an excellent account of a thorough branding and website excercise for his parish.  A really useful account for all those considering a new website...

Rod writes:

You might have already decided that your church needs a new website, you might not be sure or you might be convinced that the internet is an irrelevance.

If you do know that you want a new site, you might be daunted by the challenge, you might be confused by the options or you might have some great experiences to share with other churches.

Whatever your situation, I hope that this article will give you some helpful hints for planning your journey and that you will be encouraged to join the growing digital dialogue across our Diocese.

At All Saints Ecclesall, we had a feeling that our communications needed refreshing, so we involved members of our congregation in a wide reaching review. We explored the usage of all our material, we listened to peoples preferences and we googled ourselves on our mobile phones. At the same time, we asked ourselves deep questions about our mission and our identity.

We soon confirmed that we had a problem, but therein an opportunity too. Whilst our existing website had served us well, technology had moved on apace. There were clearly new and simpler mechanisms to share the wonderful missional work that our church family were delivering.

This was compounded by the rapid migration of internet users to mobile phones. Many older websites are just not responsive to mobile.

We needed to remarshal ourselves around our vision and to share our story with more vibrancy. This would, in part, be enabled by a new website and a revitalised brand.

We just didn’t know where to start though. But here’s what we learnt.

Ten Steps to Success

  1. Understand who you are (your brand, identity and vision) – don’t try to be something you aren’t
  2. Look around – google lots of other websites, talk to other churches, look at non churches
  3. Set your bar – you can get lots of easy to use DIY websites almost free. Or you can pay for help
  4. Have a plan – just like in an exam, spend some quality time planning your product, before acting
  5. Agree your prime audience and look through their eyes – you are building for them, not for you
  6. Keep it simple – a single, easy to use menu supported by warm text but no waffle
  7. Photos make or break your website – invest in bright, sharp photos that welcome you in
  8. Be clear how it fits your wider “IT strategy” – sounds geeky but saves time and money
  9. Build a team – find out who has expertise or enthusiasm in the church and provide good training
  10. Own it – during design and thereafter. Don’t be done to. Do keep it fresh and alive

Know Your Brand

We did some research on branding and how organisations engage with people – it led us to a thing called “brand essence”. This gives you a simple mirror to hold up against yourself. For example Volvo has an essence of “safe” and Disney is “magical”.

We determined that our essence is “multi-generational”. We were then able to design our website around that core theme and to continually test ourselves against it. “Are we being multi-generational?” Do our images, our wording, our services and our actions prove it?

Go Window Shopping

Take the time to look at other churches websites and logos, and at unrelated organisations. Get a feel for layouts you like, menus you like and things that you don’t like it. This will help you to help your supplier. You will be clearer what you want and they can build it quicker and cheaper for you.  You don’t buy a car without days in the showrooms and test drives on the road. That said, please be open to the expertise of your supplier. They do this for a day job. Listen to them.

Set Your Bar – Will DIY do?

Whether or not you do it yourself, it is well worth looking at the options.

  1. Wix.com and Wordpress.com – you can use these for free or pay a little for a few perks. These are two giant global brands with some beautiful off the shelf templates. We found that the “editor suite” was the main difference. Wix lets you “drag and drop” stuff and is really quick to learn. Wordpress has slightly more complex menus but some great outcomes.
  2. www.ChurchEdit.co.uk – they have built websites for hundreds of churches and they offer free tutorials and a 45 day free trial to help you make a decision. At the time of our enquiry they didn’t offer actual site visits to meet face to face but they have many happy clients from small churches to Cathedrals. Other church focussed firms are available too.
  3. We invited ten firms to submit quotes. We learnt a lot from these interactions.

Think About Your Wider “IT Strategy”

Don’t bit off more than you can chew, but do spend some time considering how things fit together. You will definitely be more efficient if you understand how your newsletters, social media, giving and calendar integrate between paper, noticeboards and website etc. You should aspire to “touch it once” and not find yourself copying and pasting and reformatting all day.

In a bigger and bolder project there may be synergies with your server, hosting, phones, databases etc. At the very least you should be able to draw your IT landscape on one piece of A4 paper and make your decisions with that in mind.

The Essentials for Our Website

Our old website had 163 pages and, in consequence, was a challenge to maintain. We were blessed with a keen and dedicated team ensuring up to date calendars, news and talks, but the site did not enable things like punchy page titles for adverts. Its contents were well used, but we needed to move on from coding to flexible formatting.

Our new site is much easier to navigate with only 22 pages. The menu has our multi-generational model at its heart and we agreed there were 5 priorities for users:

  1. A warm welcome – be enthused by our mission, our team and our ministries
  2. Lively calendar – with a choice of formats for the user
  3. Fresh news – regular updates and easily accessible recordings of talks
  4. Easy to get in touch – to subscribe to emails, for giving and for enquiries
  5. Simple guide to services – baptisms, weddings and funerals

And after all that work, here is our new website – www.allsaintsecclesall.org.uk

We have been delighted to partner with YouSaySocial www.yousay.so on our site. They in turn work with Revo Creative www.revocreative.co.uk for brand design. The same partnership underpins Sheffield Cathedral’s website. We’ve also built up a great bank of fresh photographs involving our own team and two professional firms - www.johnandersonphotography.co.uk and www.alivephotography.co.uk

To conclude here’s a couple of things you can get on with right now:

  1. Decluttering your existing site – see what’s there, thin it out and polish the important bits
  2. Ensuring “communication” is part of the day job – website, social media etc must be alive

“Digital” is an essential part of mission now. We have much to share, much to celebrate and people eager to engage. Let’s get out there. Do tell us how you get on.

Rod is also the author of “Bells & Bikes” a story of church engagement in Le Tour de France in Yorkshire. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook @bellsandbikes