Some years ago when Catholic parishes, dioceses, religious institutes and organizations first started setting up their websites, our goal was to “have a website.” It was the new phone book listing only with more content. We found someone who could create it for us, figured out what we wanted to post and put it up. We announced to everyone that we had a website.
Our websites have come a long way since those early days and many of them have gone through one or more re-designs. The whole science of websites has evolved—we can get statistics on visitors: how often they come, how long they stay, what they click on, and whether they return, etc. from free services like Google Analytics. We are putting a lot more work into our websites now and we want to maximize the number of visitors we get and the number that return. We understand that our websites are essential communication and ministry services.
The most common mistake in creating a website is to begin by talking about design and how it will look. Design is not the first step or even the most important step. There is a lot of pre-design work that needs to be done especially if attracting visitors is important to you. The most important point to remember is that our websites are for our visitors. It is easy (and a mistake) to let what I (we) want to say, get in the way of what visitors need and want. If we are not meeting THEIR needs, they will not come back.
Identify Your Audiences
Start by identifying your audiences. Thoroughly answer these questions with input from as wide a range of staff and potential visitors as possible:
1) Who are the audiences for this website? Yes, plural. List all of the groups you want to serve.
2) What common information might people in all or most of these groups want? (Contact info, directions, office hours, etc.)
3) What specific questions might each group want answered? (Sacramental information, calendar of events, how to get specific services, how to participate, etc.) Who has the answers to these questions? They need to be part of your website team.
4) What special services do you want to provide? (Links to resources, downloads, how-to videos, etc.)
5) What key words might visitors use in searching for this information?
6) How will your audiences connect to your site? (computer, mobile device, phone, etc.)
Do you have any other questions to include in the list above? Please list them in the comments below.
Do you already have a website? Look at it now from the perspective of one of your intended audiences. Does it answer their questions, meet their needs, invite them to engage, give them a reason to come back? If not, what can you do about it? Do the same exercise for each of your audiences. What have you learned about your website from this exercise?
In next week’s post we will consider how we want to interact with these audiences through our websites.