Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Apostolic web ministries

My quest to improve my church's web presence began after a discussion with Wendy Scoggins (who is just a little bit odd). She challenged 'net using Christians with the question: Why are we so ineffective on the web? Changes (still in process) and this blog are partially a response to that challenge.

The 90&9 Webzine's answer to this challenge is the e-panel discussion "Where are the Apostolics? On the Dearth of Apostolic Web Ministries". The panelists have good websites from a design standpoint, and most of them are good from an usability and accessibility standpoint. I've enjoyed Bro Moehlenpah's material for several years. Endtime has a first class website from any perspective. Endtime is probably doing more for outreach than any other group (and I write as one who's not a big fan of endtime discussion). 90&9 is wonderful. And I've always admired Paul Polvoni's design work.

I think some of the panelists "get it" -- the interactivity of the web, the communication and relationship building that can occur. 90&9 is the best example of this. The technology they use is simple, but the communication goes both directions. When you write to the editors or writers, chances are fair that you'll actually hear back from them. Endtime is another good example. They're not quite as good at responding to your inquiries, but they present a lot of good, up-to-date information and analysis that is frequently updated. They make good use of presentation technology to enhance the Endtime website, but extra plugins are not absolutely required to view the information on the site.

The panelists who create online church brochures, on the other hand, probably need to read and think a little more. Nobody is interested in an online brochure, no matter how attractive the brochure looks. Kent d Curry hit the nail on the head in his commentary about church websites as a placeholder. Kent writes, "I’ve hit my own church site about thrice in five years and it’s well done, but why would I visit it — I’m a member who can get that information at church. (And why would an outsider visit if they’re not a member?)"

I browsed the portfolios of the professional designers on the panels. They all have very attractive designs but most were difficult to find via search engines. Whether you are focused on inreach or outreach, what's the point of the website if nobody can find you?

Read the articles in the sidebar. There are several things you can control to improve your website and increase traffic. Make the changes that you can. Participate in conversations online. If you are interested in outreach, don't cloister yourself off and stay in Apostolic circles. If inreach is what you're doing, participate in the Apostolic forums. Make yourself known. Answer the questions -- even the hard ones. If you don't have time to answer, be honest and say so.

To be effective in person or online, you must connect, communicate, and participate. Building an attractive online brochure for the world to see is exactly as effective as printing a glossy four-color handout and sticking it on the windshields at the shopping mall. If you develop relationship -- whether face-to-face or online -- that's when you win the right to minister to people .

Thursday, May 26, 2005

We're Number One!

Google's latest update, dubbed "bourbon", occurred last weekend. Some of the changes I've made to my church website over the past couple of weeks have really paid off. For variations of my selected keywords, my church is listed number one or two (out of a field of over 88,000 hits) in searches on Google or Yahoo. This is a huge improvement over the tenth page listing we used to receive. Watch this space for specifics on what I did to improve my church website's search engine results placement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Google 302 hijacked

All of the SEO message boards are abuzz with the news that the mighty Google is a victim of 302 redirect hijacking. As of Tuesday night (May 24), searching for "adsense" still gives the hijacker -- all-in-one-business.com -- the top search result.

Seoconsultants.com has a detailed article explaining 302 redirects and pagejacking.

Update: As of 4 p.m. California time, the "all-in-one-business.com" site is gone from the adsense listings, and google.com/adsense is back on top. It appears Google probably hand-tweaked the results here!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Local search and advertising

Discussion here deals mostly with techniques to drive traffic to your website organically or naturally. Besides raw SEO optimization, however, you also have the option of plain old-fashioned advertising -- paying for those links from websites and search engines to your website.

I've focused for several years now on local content. International news sites such as CNN rank very highly to search engines. If you want the local news, however, you have to read your local newspaper. Many high profile web design professionals have been downplayed the importance of local search for several years, but now that the major search engines have jumped on the bandwagon in providing Local Search results, they're starting to change their minds.

Similarly, Joe Soul looking for a church wants to know where the local churches are. If he searches online, one way you can get his attention is through the use of paid advertising. Google and Yahoo both offer local search options in their online ad programs. These are the "Sponsored Listings" that appear before the normal results whenever you do a search at the various search engines.

These advertising programs are cheaper than you might think, especially if you carefully select the right keywords for your program. People with effective advertising report a much higher return on their investment with online advertising targeted to local searches versus buying a Yellow Pages ad.

Some people report great success in just setting up the program, forgetting about it, then watching the phone calls come in. It's a little more involved than that, but buying ads is an easy and inexpensive way to get people to visit your website.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Advertising & Marketing?

My own denomination strongly discourages the use of television as a source of entertainment, yet endorses the use of the Internet. Several people believe this view is completely inconsisent. I've never really understood those who claim the Internet is the same as television until I re-read The Cluetrain Manifesto. You see, television is a completely passive medium, whereas the Internet has always been a method of communications for me since I started using it in the late 80s. Cluetrain decries the hijacking of the World Wide Web by the "clueless newbies" who see the web as merely a slow version of television. This is very evident in use of the Web in the corporate and the church world as a method of advertising.

This is relevant in the context of using the web to advertise the church because the church is all about interpersonal relationship and communicaton. "This the church, this is the steeple, open the door and see the way-cool animated graphics and multimedia sound presentations!" Too often we forget about the people. If church websites can be used as an adjunct or a helper for this interpersonal communication, then perhaps THAT is the way of of increasing my church's web presence.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Keyword selection is important

In creating your website, put some thought into the keywords that your prospective web visitors will be looking for. The articles in the sidebar at this page give good detailed and additional information, but here's an overview of what you should do.
  • The "TITLE" tag in the header is the most important text on each page. For a church, your TITLE tag should have your church name, city name, and possibly your ZIP/postal code. If "church" is not part of your church name, be sure to include the word "church"! I've seen several church web pages with generic titles like "Page 2" or "Homepage." If you Googled and saw this on the search page, would you click on it?
  • The H1 tag is almost as important as the TITLE. Your H1 tag should include important keywords. Avoid sappy dumbed down "market-speak." You should only have one H1 tag for each page.
  • Make use of meta description content. Most search engines haven't use meta keywords since 1998, but meta descriptions are used by the major search engines when they display their results. This isn't strictly a keyword issue since the description is not indexed by the search engine. Nonetheless, this description is what is displayed on the search results page. The description displayed to the searcher should GRAB THE READER. I've seen copyright statements in this description space -- BAD mistake. Again, avoid stupid sappy marketing speak. Mission statements help define the purpose and drive of the congregation, but they are completely irrelevant to most prospective visitors and should not be used in your meta description content.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The purpose of your church website

I'm on a mission to make my local congregation known to the world through the use of the Web and the Internet. Church websites are generally electronic advertising -- an attractive sign put out in the hopes that somebody cruising by on the Information Superhighway will see the ad and maybe drop in for a visit. Some of the signs are professionally designed billboards. Several are the equivalent of a humble, hand-lettered signboard. Too many are tacky, gaudy flashy signs that are reminiscent of something you'd find on the Strip in Vegas. And almost all of them are completely ineffective.

I've been talking with some people about effective use of the Web and Internet to promote their church. They create (or pay somebody to create) a very attractive website. And, hey, if you search for "[Denomination] [Yourtown]" and come up in the first page of search results, it's all good! Frankly, I'm not that interested in the people who are searching for "Pentecostal Church in Longmont Colorado" -- they already know where to find us. I want to reach the newcomer who just bought a house out in the suburbs who's looking for a good church for his family. I want to reach the single mother who is unraveling from life's stresses who's looking for some help. I want to reach the engineer who is up to his neck in debt and needs to find satisfaction in life from something other than new toys and activities. These people are not going to be looking for a particular denomination or "brand," especially in Colorado where denominal loyalty is very weak.


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