Church Websites Part #3 – A Framework (putting all your content together!)

We’ve done lots of thinking about who our website is for, and what we want to include on our website. Now it’s time to think about where it’s all going to go. At the start of this training guide, we began by saying that easy navigation is one of the key reasons people stay on a website. If it’s hard for the user to find what they’re looking for or navigate their way around, they’re unlikely to remain on your website for long.

It’s always better to do things correctly from the beginning, rather than fixing our mistakes later down the track, so for this reason, we’ve put together this Framework to help you organise your website from the ground up. It’s time to map out, plan and structure your website. We want you to think about what items are included in your top and bottom navigation menus. How will you break up your content into menu items? What will your headings be? Will you use a footer navigation menu too? Will you include a search bar? These are all things we’ll be thinking about very soon.

Take a look at the Prioritised Page List we discussed in the Sustainability module. You’ve already identified your high/mid/low priority pages. You know what you want to include on your site. Now it’s time to decide where it’s all going to fit. Before we actually get to planning the organisation of our site, here’s a few things to consider:

When it comes to vital details, always over-communicate

Repetition is key. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during a sermon, a class, an announcement, or a website. When there is a highly important piece of information to be communicated, repetition makes it stick. Never underestimate the importance of over-communication. Not only does repetition help key information to stay in the mind of the listener – it also catches the attention of those who missed it the first time (or second time…or third time…!) So, how do you decide what parts of your website need to be deliberately over-communicated? Imagine you had to condense your entire church website onto a business card. What would you include? Probably something like this:

  • Your service time and location
  • A way for people to make contact if they have questions
  • A sentence or phrase outlining what you do and why (perhaps a vision statement or motto)
  • A call to action (i.e., inviting potential visitors to come and check you out)

These things need to be over-communicated on your website. Your service time and location should be one of the first things people see when they visit your website. But it should show up again and again, woven throughout the site. Contact details need to be very clear, either included in the footer of your website or via a very clear “Contact” link (or both!) And a statement that outlines what you do, along with a call-to-action, shouldn’t be hidden somewhere in the depths of your site – make it big, bold and obvious!

A word about menus

When it comes to your top navigation menu, the general consensus is that five to seven menu items is the ideal number. However, it can be tricky to limit all your church has to offer to just five menu items. For this reason, the use of a bottom navigation is a great idea to cover all those pages that are important, but not that important to be featured in your top navigation. It’s true that your top navigation menu can also include sub-menus to help the user navigate to the exact page they’re looking for, but still – don’t go overboard. If you’re a busy church with lots going on, don’t over-complicate your website by listing absolutely everything you do in your top navigation bar. Go back to your Planning Worksheet, determine your highest priority pages, and list the rest in a bottom navigation so they can still be found. Reserve your “prime real estate” for your most important website items.

The power of your Home Page

Your website’s Home Page is very special. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your website (with the exception of a Landing Page…more on that later…) Your Home Page allows you to display content that the user doesn’t need to look for. It’s right there in front of them – they didn’t need to search or navigate their way to finding it. So it’s important to be very strategic when choosing what content to display on your Home Page. Another thing to consider is placement of items on your homepage. Think of your Home Page as a tower made of single blocks. The block at the very top of your tower is going to be the first thing people see. The top three blocks will most likely be visible to the user as soon as your website loads. But from the fourth block down, the user will need to start scrolling before this content becomes visible. Your tower (ie, Home Page), can be as tall as you want it (within reason!), but just be aware that when you reach block four onwards, the content may not be visible to the user unless they scroll down the page. We hope they do scroll down! And if your website is engaging enough, they probably will. But again, reserve the top blocks for the absolutely vital information, like your Tagline, Call to Action, Service Time and Location.

Tagline + Call-to-Action

If there’s one current trend we absolutely love, it’s this: Tagline + Call-to-Action. This design trend of seeing a big, bold tagline as the web page loads, followed by one or two clear, sharp calls-to-action (CTA) buttons is one we hope will stick around for a very long time! To demonstrate just how popular this formula is, take a look at this great list of best church websites of 2016. Almost all these websites begin with a big, bold tagline or statement, followed by one or two CTAs for the user to follow. But we don’t just think you should follow this trend because it’s popular, we think you should implement this strategy because it’s good! It allows you to “funnel” the user’s attention to exactly what you want them to read. For the first-time user especially, directing their attention to a tagline that sums up what your church believes or endeavours to achieve, then giving them one or two options to continue reading, means you determine what they see and when. It allows you to be strategic in the information you present to your first-time visitor.

Time to put it all together

Now for the fun part! Take a look at our Website Planner Worksheet. This will help you determine exactly how your website will fit together.

Menu

To start with, go back to your Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet from our Sustainability Module and look at the High and Mid-Priority Pages (leave the low priority pages for now. We’ll add them in when the time is right.) Once you have your list on paper, try to group these pages into five “categories”. These will later become your Navigation Menu headings. Don’t worry too much if you seem to have a few “outliers” that don’t fit into a category. You may be able to slot them into your footer navigation, or they may not need a menu link at all! Just put them to the side and we’ll come back to them later.

Tagline

Now that you’ve determined your top five or six Navigation Menu items, it’s time to plan out your Home Page. Like we said before, we strongly recommend you utilise the power of the Tagline + CTA formula. Spend some time brainstorming some tag lines for your church. This may need to be a bigger decision that involves other church leaders, but it’s still best to present them with some options. You may choose to simply use all or part of your church’s vision statement. But these Vision and Mission Statements can often be wordy and drawn out, and the tagline on your website needs to be punchy. Give yourself the challenge of limiting it to 10 words. If you have only 10 words to sum up why your church exists, what would it be? Here are some taglines we’ve seen around the place that we love!

  • You matter to God. You matter to us.
  • Jesus changes everything. Let us show you how.
  • Everyone is welcome. Nobody is perfect. Anything is possible.
  • Welcome to ________. We’re glad you’re here.

This tagline can be anything! It can be a welcome message, a punchy overview of your beliefs, or something you want all your visitors to know. All that matters is that it’s big, bold, and leads onto your CTAs

Call-to-Action (CTA)

Once you’ve determined your tagline, the user’s attention should be funneled down into one or two (or at a push, three), calls-to-action. If you could direct a first-time user to any two pages on your church’s website, what would they be? For my church, our two CTA buttons take the user either to our JESUS page (a page that simply outlines the gospel message, then invites the user to find out more about our Gospel Exploration Course), or our PLAN A VISIT page, which gives logistical details about visiting our church, including service time and location, parking info, what to expect, and how to find out more. If a user visits just those two pages alone, we can be confident they’ve heard the gospel message, and know all they need to know about visiting us on a Sunday. Look at the pages you have listed on your Planning Worksheet. Which one or two of these pages do you absolutely want your first-time users to visit? Perhaps you need to create a new page especially for this purpose. Have a think about not only the pages you want these CTA buttons to lead, but also the word or phrase you’ll use to point people there.

Building a Page

Think of a web page as a series of rows stacked on top of each other, with these rows being split into columns. Each page on your website will contain rows and columns. As we plan out the content for each page, we need to determine where the content will sit on the page and in which order (rows), and whether certain content will be supported by additional elements like images, videos, icons, diagrams, etc (columns). Some rows will contain only one column, and may span across the entire width of the screen. Some rows will contain two columns, one column with text, and one column housing a photo or video. Some rows will contain three columns and a series of hyperlinked images, each leading to a different section of your website. Rows and columns are the building blocks of your website, so understanding these will make a big difference when it comes to ease-of-design.

On any given page, your top row will most likely be made of only one column, stretched across the entire width of the screen, and contain an image that relates to the content of the page. Our Gospel Powered websites allow you to enter custom text on top of these images, so your top row will probably also include some sort of title, heading, quote or testimonial. As we’ve already discussed, your Tagline and Call-to-Action will appear on the top row of your Home Page, over the top of a warm, inviting photo (ideally of your church!)

The Home Page

Take a look at Page #2 of your Website Planner Worksheet. This is where we’ll plan out your Home Page. From your Tagline Brainstorm, choose your favourite and enter it as text in the Row #1 box.

Now, decide whether Row #2 will contain only one column, or will be broken up into many columns. Enter the text you’d like to see in Row #2.

Continue in this pattern until you have completed your plan for the Home Page. To get an idea of how this planning sheet may look when it’s completed, see our Sample Website Planner.

Default Pages

Now that your Home Page is sorted, it’s time to start planning the remainder of your website. Looking at your list of pages, most of them will probably be built using a Default New Life Page. A Default New Life Page follows the same structure that we see throughout the Website Planner Worksheet. The repetition of alternating rows, with one row containing a stretch image, the next row containing text, the next row is an image, the next row is text, etc. There will be some pages on your website that don’t follow this Default Page structure. Pages like Frequently Asked Questions, Image or Video Galleries, Stories, Events, Sermons, etc. We’ll get to those later. But for the pages on your website that are straightforward, containing little more than rows and the occasional column, you’ll most likely be using a Default Page. So, looking at all the pages you’ve listed in the first box of your Website Planner Worksheet, determine which of those follow the Default Page structure, and use the Planner Worksheet to plan out your stretch graphics, text overlays, and written content for each page.

It will probably make more sense to outsource some of this work to the people actually responsible for that ministry area. Ask your Youth Pastor to plan out the Youth Page, ask the Women’s Ministry Coordinator to write out the Women’s Page. Simply send them a copy of the Website Planner Worksheet, ask them to fill in their part, and send it back to you so you can compile all the content into one place.

Non-Default Pages

Your website will most likely be needing a few pages that don’t fit so perfectly into that Default Page structure shown on the Website Planner Worksheet. But don’t despair! We’ve got you covered! Once you have completed that initial first page on the Website Planner Worksheet and sent it back to us, we will create every page listed. Those default pages in your Planning Worksheet will be created to your specifications, which includes us entering the content you’ve written and inserting any images you send us. But as for those “non-default” pages, like FAQ, Galleries, Stories, Events, and Sermons, if they’re listed on your Website Planner, we will create them, under the menu you’ve requested, then talk you through using the WordPress Backend to customise them to look exactly the way you want them to.

So for any special pages you have in mind that won’t work on a Default Page structure, simply list them on the first page of your Website Planner Worksheet, and we’ll make sure they’re created for you. Later on, we’ll even go through using the WordPress Backend to create new pages so you won’t need to ask us to create a new page every time you want one. But until then, just list every page you want on that Planner Worksheet, and we’ll make sure it gets made.

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