When people talk about updating a website for a parish, diocese, religious organization, or religious community, they often start by talking about a new design. They want one that is more contemporary, colorful or interactive. They seldom start with the most important element: content.
Content that meets the needs of our audiences as well as conveys our message is the most important element of web presence and it is sometimes treated as an afterthought or not at all. Obviously, an unattractive website will not draw people to an organization’s message, but a website that does not answer the questions of the visitor clearly and quickly will not be successful either. In most cases, people visit a website because they are looking for an answer to a question. What times are Mass on Sunday? What does it mean to fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How can I get in touch with someone on your staff? How can I find a sister who taught me 30 years ago? How can I get involved?
While people come to a website with a question, they may stay beyond finding the answer if the website offers additional content that adds value to their lives. They will revisit for the same reason. If their question is not answered or they do not find anything worth their time, they will not stay or return.
A 21st century website is a place where we can start and nurture relationships, but only if we serve and engage the visitor first. Content needs to be crisp, clear and reader-friendly. We engage our readers by inviting them to take an action: join us on Sunday; attend our Lenten discussion group, follow us on Facebook, become part of our justice committee; sign-up for a retreat; send us your prayer requests; subscribe to our newsletter; send us your question, etc.
Good websites use design to support content and visitor engagement. If we lock into a design before we are clear about what we want to say and how we want to engage our readers—we will be limiting the effectiveness of our website.
I suggest that these questions be answered in detail before beginning to update a ministry website.
1) Who are your audiences?
2) What do they want from you?
3) What would you like them to do as a result of their visit?
4) What else can you offer to add value to their lives?
That’s my opinion. What do you think?