I’ve seen hundreds of parish websites in my time with eCatholic.
Toss in the experience of our other team members, and we’ve logged mileage across thousands of websites that publicly represent the Catholic Church.
We’re blessed as the “road trip” continues each day. But let’s take a pit stop. Today, we humbly and happily submit to you 10 tips for building a website people want to visit.
Tip #1: Keep it simple.
Four seconds. One. Two. Three. Four.
Can someone visiting your homepage discover what you’re all about in less than four seconds? Within this short amount of time, a visitor to your homepage should be able to find answers to the following questions:
- Who are you?
- Where are you located?
- What time is Mass? (That is, if you’re a Catholic parish)
- What activities are happening?
- How do I connect with you/get involved?
If the content on your homepage doesn’t lend itself to answering these key questions, put it on a different page.
Tip #2: Have an information gatekeeper.
The buck has to stop somewhere. It’s important to identify someone at your parish who is responsible for deciding:
- What needs to be communicated
- How to communicate it
- When to communicate
Perhaps the information gatekeeper at your parish is your director of communications. Maybe it’s your pastor. While not ideal, It could even be a volunteer (if your parish is strapped for resources). Regardless, be sure that the information gatekeeper at your parish has an eye for beauty, a firm understanding of effective communication methods, and the ability to make tough decisions. (For help with said decisions, refer to Tip #1.)
Don’t handcuff the gatekeeper. Burdening them with extra levels of approval and office politics destroys trust and leads to inefficient communication.
Tip #3: Limit your use of slideshow images.
Remember the four second rule? (Tip #1?)
Assume that you have just a few seconds to make a positive first impression to your visitors. The slideshow is likely the very first thing they will see. Make sure your first slideshow image is clear and communicates something meaningful, valuable or compelling. Give your visitors a reason to stay or dive in more deeply.
Exactly how many slideshow images should you use? That’s up for debate.
From my experience, I’d suggest using at most three or four images in your homepage slideshow.
Some people question whether a homepage slideshow is even a good idea. As an alternative, current website trends are shifting toward using a single, impactful static image. While that’s a topic for another day, the basic takeaway is the same: Don’t put 10 images in your homepage slideshow.
Tip #4: Post timely information.
What’s the point of having a website if it never gets updated?
Letting your website get stale is a surefire way to keep visitors away – and give a poor first impression. Just like a parish wouldn’t shove its Advent wreath into a visible corner of the sanctuary to collect dust throughout the year, parishes shouldn’t keep the Christmas and Holy Day Mass schedule on the homepage year round. Doing so clutters the homepage (see Tip #1 again) and seems, well…stagnant.
To keep your website current and relevant, build a communication plan. (Don’t forget about Tip #2! The information gatekeeper needs to be involved in this process.)
In fact, the liturgical calendar can really come in handy when determining what to communicate (and when) at your parish.
Tip #5: Keep it under three clicks.
If you want someone to find something, don’t bury it in the deep, dark places on your site.
An analogy: Churches themselves are organized and designed very intentionally. Thanks to beautiful, deliberate architecture, our eyes are often naturally led to the most important part of the church: the tabernacle.
Just the same, be deliberate about how you structure your website. Team up with your information gatekeeper (Tip #2) and build a sitemap. Ask yourself:
- What’s the single most important thing a visitor should see when they arrive “inside” (0 clicks)?
- Which information would be appropriately found in a “storage closet” (1-2 clicks)?
- Has the structure of our website established a clear hierarchy (instead of just spewing everything on the homepage)?
Once you build a sitemap, test to make sure visitors can find your most important information in just a few clicks. Aim to keep all information no more than three clicks away.
Tip #6: Don’t use clipart. Just don’t.
We’re pretty serious about this one. Don’t do it!
Microsoft discontinued clipart for a reason. And it wasn’t because people stopped making clipart.
When you can, use real, high-quality images of your church, school, or ministry and the people involved. While you work on building your library of authentic images, eCatholic offers some free Catholic stock images you can use on your website. We’ve also created a list of our favorite go-to resources for Catholic images.
Clipart is dead. The moment of silence has been observed. It served us well…10 years ago.
Tip #7: Avoid Catholic jargon.
The more time you spend working or living within a certain culture, the harder it becomes to recognize when you’re overusing jargon. (Just ask me about my first week at eCatholic!)
Jargon can easily alienate others. As a member of eCatholic’s support team, I deliberately use common words when answering questions from customers.
Remember that the words, lingo, and acronyms (RCIA, anyone?) used in the parish office might not be second nature to everyone.
Even if you do know the difference between a thurible and a chasuble, assume your website visitors don’t.
Tip #8: Limit your use of font types and colors.
This one comes in as a close second to Tip #6 (clipart) on the “things you must avoid” scale.
It may be fun to use special colors or fonts to highlight things on your website. But (as you can see) the result looks tacky and unprofessional.
Create guidelines that outline your official fonts and colors, and always make sure you use them on your website. Consistently doing this strengthens your brand and helps the community instantly recognize material coming from your church, school, or organization.
If you have a team of people managing portions of your website, make sure everyone is aware of your font and color guidelines.
Tip #9: Pay attention to what works.
It pays to watch the data.
Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to measure your website traffic. You can see what pages people are visiting, how they are visiting (mobile vs. desktop), how long they’re viewing specific pages and much more.
If you have an eCatholic website, it’s easy to connect Google Analytics to your site. Once you’re set up, regularly check the data within Google Analytics. Then use the information to make decisions about your content. Doing this will help you continually improve the experience your visitors are having on your site.
Tip #10: Think mobile-first
Not having a mobile-friendly website today can have a significantly negative impact on your website’s search engine ranking – not to mention the poor user experience it creates.
If you have an eCatholic website, you’ve got the responsive web design aspect covered! However, you’re not out of the woods…
When building a page on your website, it’s natural to assume everyone will view it as you are viewing it: on a desktop monitor. However, it’s possible that a majority of your website traffic is happening on mobile devices (see Tip #9). Think mobile-first.
Always test your most trafficked web pages on a mobile device, then reformat or adjust the pages accordingly. (If you need help, contact support!)
Regularly doing a quick test of your site on mobile might reveal some surprises you weren’t aware of. It’s worth the effort to make sure your mobile visitors are having a smooth experience on your site.