Making a Website that Works for You—Part II: Website Content: the Welcoming Home Page

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on March 15, 2016

in website

web-977861_1280There are many, many details that go into the development of a website.  We all know that the home page of a website is key to its success.  Therefore, it requires special thought and planning. In this post, I address the planning needed to create an effective home page for a parish website. Many of the principles can be applied to other ministry sites as well.

The home page of the parish website is the digital showcase, the display window, or front lobby of the parish community that it represents. It is the first thing visitors see and it needs special treatment. A welcoming/evangelizing home page addresses the needs and answers the questions of visitors first. Below are some guidelines and a list of essential and optional content that I think reflect an evangelizing, user-friendly, parish website home page.

General Guidelines for a Welcoming Home Page

  1. Witness that Jesus Christ is the center of your parish life
  2. Use good quality photos of happy members
  3. Keep videos less than 60 seconds
  4. Avoid the clutter of superfluous information
  5. Keep content timely and up to date
  6. Keep promotions/fundraising/recruiting volunteers secondary to the welcome and let us serve you messages
  7. Keep text succinct and friendly. Avoid paragraph length descriptions.
  8. Use clear, simple everyday language.  Avoid jargon whenever possible.

12 Essential Content Elements for a Visitor Friendly Parish Home Page

  1. Welcome message focused on the visitor
  2. The Mass Schedule
  3. A link to directions near the Mass Schedule
  4. A simple, succinct tagline near the name of the parish in the masthead.
  5. A short list of upcoming events (linking to fuller descriptions)
  6. Complete address of the parish with zip code
  7. Office hours and phone number with area code
  8. Invitations/links for visitors interested in the sacraments, joining or returning to the Church or new to the area
  9. Links to your social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  10. Photos of happy members
  11. A section on the page where you can post “promotions” of special seasons, programs or events (typically an image or a video with a link to a page or a PDF flyer).
  12. A Contact Us button (usually on the navigation bar) that provides visitors access to the parish in as many ways as possible including email and phone.

Optional Items You May Consider if Appropriate to Your Parish

  • Link to your parish app
  • Link to your online contributions page
  • Link to your prayer request form
  • Link to the Daily Readings
  • Links to select Catholic sites such as your Diocese, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, etc.
  • Lead content for a blog or stories of parish life

As you plan your parish website, create a very specific list of what you want on your home page and if possible find examples from other websites that demonstrate what you like. If you have this information in hand before you select your designer, you will be better prepared to select the designer who can provide what you want and need.

I welcome your comments and additions.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith Alberts March 15, 2016 at 11:19 am

I think you have some great articles on the topic Sister Susan. The one thing that I haven’t seen and may be coming in Part III, is the mobile experience for parishioners. There’s a great write-up about the mobile changes that Google has made and mobile traffic on our blog http://tiny.cc/ka429x

There’s no point in investing in all of these essentials that you have listed if your parishioners or prospective parishioners are having a tough time navigating your site from their phone.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND March 15, 2016 at 11:38 am

You are correct, Keith. I will be writing about responsive design when I get to Part IV of the series which is on technology and design. Part III will address content for the interior pages.

Judy M Holmes March 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm

Your regular communications are very helpful, succinct and practical. Thank you. Happy Easter.

Jim Heroux June 13, 2016 at 8:39 am

We are in the process of updating our website to align more with the guidelines mentioned in your article. The one issue that sticks out to me the most, is that of keeping content fresh. Any thoughts on the best way to do this when we don’t have a dedicated website staff person, we are using parishioners volunteering their time.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND June 13, 2016 at 11:18 am

Jim,

That is a good question. Here is what I recommend:

Limit the number of places on your homepage that can become outdated. Obviously, the calendar needs to be kept up to date, but create content and use images that can stay a long time. And have one or two places that update automatically. For this last category: you can use the Daily Readings; your Facebook or Twitter feed if you are active on those, Catholic News updates from Catholic New Agency, etc. Find out what your platform can handle.

There will be some events or activities that you want to promote during the year and you may want to change some images to fit the season of the year–so you will need someone available to take care of those things–but this should not be that time consuming.

I see that your Pastor posts every week–that is a good piece to have, because he updates it every week.

Good luck.

Sr. Susan

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