Bokeh

Hosting & Domain Names

This week we’re taking a break from the sector-specific articles, and instead are looking at the two things required for a website to be online; hosting & domains.

Hosting

Contrary to popular belief, websites don’t just float about in the sky; they are stored on computer hard drives all around the world. For a website to be accessible to the public, it must be stored on a computer that is always running and connected to the internet, so it’ll always be available should someone request to view the site. This is known as hosting.

Technically you could host your website on your laptop (some hobbyists do it “for fun”) but they aren’t built for that kind of use. Even if you could have it constantly on & connected, it would be bad for the computer, and also very annoying! Instead there are dedicated computers called servers that are made to handle these requests and ‘serve’ back the relevant data.

However, before you rush to the hardware store to purchase a machine, an easier option is to purchase space on someone else’s. Using a good hosting company will mean your website is stored upon banks of reliable up-to-date servers maintained by professionals with fail-safes and backup systems, plus it doesn’t have to be expensive. (Our hosting packages start at £5/month for instance.)

Domain Registration

To get to the servers you can use a number (like a telephone number) called an IP address. If you type the IP address of our server for instance (178.62.36.144) into your browser’s address bar, you’ll be directed to our website*. But those numbers aren’t very easy to remember. It’s a lot better if you purchase a nice relevant looking domain, like ‘mishmedia.co.uk‘ and assign it to point traffic to the server’s IP address. Here are some more examples…

IP Address**
mishmedia.co.uk 178.62.36.144
bbc.co.uk 212.58.246.103
google.com 216.58.210.14

*This won’t necessarily work for shared hosting, as there are multiple sites on the same server/IP Address – in that case the server uses the domain requested to determine which site to serve up.
**These may have changed since the time of writing

People may also talk about the ‘web address’ or ‘Universal Resource Locator’ (URL) depending on how geeky they are! But they don’t have to be complicated, and they don’t have to be expensive. Our prices start out at 35p/month for .co.uk or .org.uk and £1.20 for a .com or .org

Choosing your domain

Some things to remember when choosing your domain – on the one hand you want something relevant that contains crucial keywords that people will search for on Google, but it also needs to be easy to remember, easy to say, easy to write & type as well as it fitting nicely on business cards etc.

Get Creative

Sometimes your ideal domain will already be taken, in which case you may have to get creative. Using calls-to-action can be good, or inventive domain endings.

Domain Strategy
B&Q diy.com Topic
Listly list.ly Finish with a domain ending
Loverly lover.ly
D&AD’s Creative Search creativesear.ch
Grouper joingrouper.com A built-in call to action
Cover paywithcover.com
Headspace getsomeheadspace.com

A Word of Warning

On the flip side, check you don’t fall into any traps such as these ones…

Ah… awkward
IT Scrap itscrap.com
American Scrap Metal americanscrapmetal.com
Choose Spain choosespain.com
Therapist Finder therapistfinder.com
Speed of Art speedofart.com
Experts Exchange expertsexchange.com

There are many more examples we could list but we don’t want to have our site blocked for inappropriate key words!

Multiple Domains

You’ll have heard that it is recommended to purchase multiple domains if possible. (We have mishmedia.co.uk and mishmedia.com for example.) This is for a few reasons.

  1. To catch typos, and make it easy to remember
  2. To stop others setting up a neighbouring site that may damage our brand or reputation
  3. If we want to focus on the local vs international markets

But you should choose one domain as your primary one and forward all the others to it. That’s partly for brand consistency and ease of maintenance, but also so that the domain is made as popular as it can be when it comes to the fight for the top spot on Google. More on that next week…

How To Build a Great Church Website - Part 2: Functions

Part 2 – Functions

There are many ways in which a Church website can serve its audience; an audience which is becoming increasingly au fait with communicating online. In fact companies sell online church-management systems that do everything from track attendance to organise rotas, but we’ve found much of this can be covered in a simple WordPress site if you know what plugins & settings to implement.

So Church websites can do so much more than merely displaying static content like a printed leaflet, but what is possible (and moreover what is useful) for Churches to use?

“The Internet opens up a whole new range of possibilities in a wide range of areas.” – Herbie Hancock

Below is the possible functionality that we suggest to our Church clients, but before we list them, I’d suggest bearing two things in mind:

Careful Design

There’s so much information online that if it’s splurged out all at once and not prioritised and categorised appropriately, the user gets overloaded and can’t find what they need.

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” – Mitchell Kapor

To prevent this, it’s worth reading up on the 80/20 rule and visual heirarchy. (Or get a good designer!)
Essentially, users will need 20% of your functions 80% of the time, so the remaining 80% can be hidden a click away e.g. on a submenu. A lot of examples can be found in the toolbars of modern software. Once you’ve determined what you want to show and prioritise, its level of importance should be reflected in it’s prominence on the page through things such as size, position, thickness and colour. You want the user’s eye to be guided through the page – if it’s wavering with indecision it will get fatigued an result in a bad user experience.

Modular Expansion

Everything listed here is modular & optional, so can be built upon a bit at a time.
Adding functionality in stages can help stagger the users’ learning curves, spread the project’s budget and be helpful for testing, whilst adding everything at once can often prove too much for either the church congregation or its leadership to take on board.

Possible Church Website Functionality

Members Directory

Set to private, this can be great to keep members in touch with one another and allow them to build community. You can choose what fields to include on the profiles, and then members can update their details as and when they change. Gone are the days of having to wait a year for the next publication!Sample Members Directory

Online Talks

With many churches recording their talks, we use a plugin that allows you to easily post them on your website and categorise them in terms of date, speaker, topic, sermon-series etc. Any Bible references appear as pop-up windows when clicked and you can even embed your slides, notes and video too. The talks appear as an embedded audio/video player but visitors can also click the option to download it onto their machines for offline listening, and the system can also be linked to populate a podcast on iTunes.

Online Talk Screenshot

‘Subscribe’ Button

A ‘Subscribe to new posts’ form is useful for people who want to be kept up to date of new material. They can enter their email to get notified whenever a new blog post or sermon is published to the website, or if they use RSS feeds they can just add /feed or /rss to the end of the url.

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Auto Posting on Social Media

We can link a social-media plugin to your Facebook or twitter account, so the website can then auto-post a link on your social media whenever a new blog post or sermon is published. Social media is a key driver for getting your site noticed on Google and if you upload weekly talks, that immediately gives your facebook page a weekly post with great topical/relevant content without even making a single extra click! (We’ll cover more on social media in section 5.)facebook auto-post

Comments

User generated content is great for helping you appear on search results. So allowing your users to comment on your talks and blog posts is a great way of getting them engaged, getting feedback on your talk and adding user generated content to your site. By default, c

Event Manager

This is key for both members and visitors alike; promoting and providing practical information for your events. The plugin we use generates a calendar or list view on your website, and gives each event it’s own page with information on where/when/how the event is happening as well as space to describe and promote the event. The venues are saved and linked to google maps navigation and there are buttons to import each (or all) events into digital calendars. You can even have online registration and restrict tickets if places are limited, plus taking payments online is also possible in the premium version.Event Manager

Online Shop

Not as many Churches will need this, but if you sell books, CDs, or crafts etc. for fundraising you can do so from the website and take online payments via trusted gateways such as PayPal.

Members Only Access

This separates the two target audiences; sensitive information that you don’t want public on the web can be set to ‘Private’, meaning people would have to log in to be able to view the page. This may be particularly useful for prayer requests, personal details or things that would be irrelevant for non-members such as news nights or ‘AGM’s.

Further Permission Levels

If you want to take that even further you can set up different permission levels for different groups of users allowing viewing, moderating and even editing or publishing changes to content. This can be especially helpful as the Church grows too large for one person to manage. Permission can be given to the outreach team to manage the outreach events, to the kidswork team to keep the kidswork pages up to date, to the audio team to upload new talks and to the bookshop manager to manage online sales.

Things to Host Elsewhere

Embedding YouTube Video

Uploading video to your site takes up a lot of space & bandwidth, so it’s widely recommended to create a YouTube account, upload your videos there, and instead embed them on your site. That way visitors can still view the video content on the church website, but YouTube will optimise and deliver it. Plus you’ll get the added benefits that publishing your content on the YouTube network brings.

Organising Rotas

Our clients haven’t as yet added this to their sites, although there are staff schedulers around such as ShiftController. Some of the clients we talk to recommend using Doodle for gathering people’s free/busy dates and then creating a shared spreadsheet for people to view. If the current shift-rota plugins don’t cover this properly maybe we should write a new plugin for this… watch this space.

Members Forum

If you want to host a lot of online discussions you could easily add a members forum to the church website, but for most churches we’d recommend starting a private facebook group. (We’ll cover this more in part 5) That way you’ll get a lot more engagement and integration with people’s daily lives, but it does assume that your members have facebook accounts.

Prioritise

But, as mentioned earlier, all of the above is modular so it’s worth determining the priority of each function’s importance to your congregation. Then you can release the changes gradually over a period of time, or at least know which features you need to be highlighting and which to file discreetly under a submenu.

Coming up…

  • Next week in we will be taking a break to give some practical guides on how to get started with things such as hosting and domain names.
  • Then In part 3 we’ll be looking at how to increase your chances of appearing in search results and getting noticed online.
  • And in part 4 we’ll be looking at how to use social media to your advantage.

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How To Build A Great Church Website - Part 1: Audience

Part 1 – Audience

Welcome to the first of our sector-specific blog articles. This week, we kick off our series of how to build a great Church website featuring our most recent Church client Hope Church Bedlington.

“We want our new website to be more aimed at non-Christians than at Christians.”

There’s a growing trend of self-realisation in Church website design; a combination of evangelistic theology, modernisation and, well, good marketing. Churches want to stop facing inwards in a holy huddle and instead face outwards and be a metaphorical light on the hill.

It’s not that Churches want to stop serving their members (that is important) but rather they want to stop alienating the wider community and communicate in a way that is relevant today. Religious jargon is making less and less sense in today’s society; people want Churches to talk to them in plain English, and through the means of communication they use every day. When was the last time you read a church noticeboard, for example, compared to the last time you checked your phone? And as more and more Churches meet in less traditional church buildings often away from the high street, the need to communicate “We’re still here” is all the more important.

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates

Over the next few weeks we’d like to share some tips & tools that can help you to build a great Church website. We’d like to show the lessons that we’ve learnt since starting out and use our most recent client as a case study for where we’ve got to. But a good starting point for this week’s article is the target audience, or in other words who is the website for?

Who Is A Church Website For?

Church websites tend to have two target audiences, the priority of which depends on the outlook of the Church…

Church Members

The first group consists of current church members who need to check practical information on event times, venues etc. or are looking to catch up on news or talks that they missed. Depending on the demographics and type of community there may even be a degree of online communication such as prayer requests, offers of lifts or other such community-building activity. They are likely to be returning to the site having already read the static content, so will probably be focusing on the newly generated/dynamic topical content such as the talks/events/blogs aside from the practical reference we mentioned earlier such as phone numbers and addresses.

Potential Visitors

These potential visitors may or may not be Christian, so it is vital that religious jargon is kept to a minimum in order for the site to be understandable and accessible to newcomers. Visitors are often viewed as the most important target audience for evangelistic churches, but they will have less patience with the website than church members if their content isn’t good quality, prominent and easily accessible.

Keen to preach the Good News, many churches like to include the gospel message in this prominent visitor content, but an equally important outcome would be to see the visitor face-to-face, i.e. for them to visit one Sunday or attend a course or event where they could hear the gospel message first hand and see it at work in the Church community.

Learning From Church Website Statistics

But don’t take our word for it; here’s some real-life statistics to back it up.

According to the data collected by Google Analytics, Hope Church’s 10 most visited single pages are as follows. (We’ve excluded the homepage & old-website forwarder for simplicity’s sake)

  1. The Online Talks Archive
  2. What We Do / Sunday Mornings
  3. About / Our Leadership
  4. Contact Us
  5. About
  6. About / Vision & Values
  7. About / Jesus (Gospel Message)
  8. What We Do / Connect Groups
  9. What We Do / Youth Work
  10. What We Do / Community Help Hub

But if you group page visits into their sections, the sections rank in the following order:

  1. About
  2. Online Talks
  3. What We Do
  4. Contact Us

So fitting that in with our target audience above, we’d speculate that the visitors wanted to find out more about the Church, whilst the members already know that stuff, but are instead visiting the newly generated dynamic content which they find useful – the online talks. We can’t separate the two target audiences exactly on the analytics, but you can separate new users from returning users, and sure enough, this is what we got:

%age New Users %age Returning Users
About 81% 19%
Talks 24% 76%
What We Do 68% 32%
Contact Us 83% 17%

We’re just about to integrate an events plugin, so it’ll be interesting to see how the statistics change when bringing that into the mix. It creates dynamic time-sensitive content which would be useful for members revisiting the website for upcoming dates etc. but it’ll also be key for getting visitors along.

Coming up…

  • In part 2 we’ll be looking at what a church’s website can or should offer in terms of functionality.
  • We’ll then be giving some practical guides on how to get started with things such as hosting and domain names.
  • In part 3 we’ll be looking at how to increase your chances of appearing in search results and getting noticed online.
  • And in part 4 we’ll be looking at how to use social media to your advantage.

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Regent Centre - Better for Business

The Grainger Suite welcome us to the Regent Centre

As some of you may already know, we’ve just moved into serviced offices at The Grainger Suite in The Regent Centre (Gosforth). We’ve been made to feel very welcome & at home by the staff & community of businesses there. Everyone’s very friendly; from Christine, Clark & Danielle on the Grainger Suite reception to the folk from neighbouring businesses such as Systems for DentistsKEDA ConsultingAddere ValoremBioStoreSRG Recruitment. We look forward to meeting many more in the coming months!

About The Grainger Suite

The Grainger Suite recently joined Omnia Offices, and is situated in the old Gosforth Council building among other non-serviced offices owned by larger businesses. All this results in a good range of small to medium businesses in a nice professional environment. We share some communal facilities within The Grainger Suite such as foyers and kitchens, so some some natural mingling happens, but there are also some networking events throughout the year to encourage more cross-pollination. But perhaps the best thing about serviced offices is having everything sorted and included in the monthly rent, even down to the tea+coffee supplies!

Regent Centre Transport

The other thing about working here it that it’s very handy, even if you don’t live close by, as the Regent Centre metro station & bus interchange next door give great access to transport lines.
The Grainger Suite in Dobson House

New Website Up & Running!

Welcome to our new website! This website is set to be a lot more helpful than the last one, which was essentially a mere landing page! On here you’ll find not only an outline of our services, but also some jargon-busting explanations and guides to help your business succeed online.

Promising Google Analytics Spike

With the launch of the new webiste we’re enjoying some impressive increases on Google Analytics!

Google analytics for our new website

Those figures might be hard to keep up, but we’ll do our best!

What do you think of the new website?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.