One of the biggest struggles with managing any group, organization, ministry, or business is coming up with a genuine strategy that is understandable to everyone involved.
Add onto that the need for applicable, pertinent content that leads to genuine action, growth, and success, and the task becomes even more difficult.
While the lack of a clear-cut strategy and organization is often a widespread issue within a ministry, an area that tends to suffer the most from this lack is a ministry’s online presence.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts, formed into a checklist of sorts, in order to help you form your organization’s online strategy for 2019.
A website isn’t good enough
Look, I’m in the business of website design, and I like a beautifully functioning, trendy site as much as the next fella.
In my experience, though, building the site itself is too often treated as the “final step” in a process that is so much deeper and more complex than just having a swanky looking series of web pages with content that was filled in months ago and then left to sit in a dusty, unvisited corner of the internet.
Honestly, creating a good online strategy in the modern day requires a lot of other little steps if you want all of that hard work that went into your website not to go to waste.
I never get tired of pointing out that a website is THE key to a ministry’s communication these days.
It can be a hub of information as well as an outreach tool that helps churches stay relevant to the world around them.
In many ways, a ministry’s website has literally become more important than their geographical presence.
Why, you ask? We’ve reached a point as a culture where someone is more likely to stop and look at a Facebook or Google Ad than they are likely to look up from their phones and see that steeple as they drive by.
With all of this said, I’m going to start my checklist at the point AFTER your website is made.
An online strategy checklist
The bulk of this article is going to be condensing a much longer article I wrote titled "An Ultimate Church Plant Digital Marketing Guide." While some of the specifics of the longer article are tailored towards newer churches or ministries with little to no marketing budget, the truth is, a ton of the content is applicable to any organization and can help bring a synergy to your online presence.
1. Fully optimize your site
As I already mentioned, building your site is just the tip of the iceberg. Just because you’ve got that handy url to pass out to congregants and plaster all over your social media, that doesn’t mean people will automatically come flocking to check it out!
The best way you can “grease the wheels” of a new site (or an older one!) in order to help get more visitors is by making sure it’s fully optimized. Here are a few of my top suggestions for getting your site in tip-top shape for guests.
The power of good, consistent branding is a crucial part of all marketing efforts, including those online. Make sure that no matter what part of your website they’re on, a visitor is made well aware of who you are.
In addition, you can use a site like knowem.com in order to make sure that your brand is being properly represented across the internet.
You can find a full breakdown on branding and all of the benefits it brings in this Church Juice article from November called "Why Branding?"
Every day this one becomes less crucial for you to worry about. Why? Honestly, a good website builder these days should make sure it’s all taken care of for you. But it’s worth taking a few minutes to go over your site and make sure that it’s mobile-friendly. Google announced that it would be going to the Mobile First Index years ago, and now we’ve arrived. The proof is officially in the pudding. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile users, you’re probably getting less traffic.
All of that said—from my perspective if your website is done correctly your church doesn’t need to and shouldn’t spending money on a native mobile app. Crazy right? Not really if you think about it. Apps saw quick rise between 2009 and 2013. More specifically in the church between 2012 and 2017.
So you have to ask, why the sudden rise? I’ll tell you. It’s because websites had not caught up to the smartphone industry and at that time websites we’re almost impossible to navigate on a touchscreen device.
But now that websites have caught up there is no real advantage to having a native mobile app.
We’ve all been there, tapping our feet in a completely unreasonable lack of patience as a website takes seven seconds instead of three to load. It’s kind of crazy what we’ve come to with the whole instant gratification thing, but honestly rant aside, it’s something that you need to take into account as a website owner if you don’t want to lose traffic. And I mean serious traffic.
Neil Patel claims that you can lose 7% of your traffic from a single second delay in your site’s loading speed!
Patel has actually done a ton of great work on the effects of loading speed. Here’s an infographic from his site that highlights some of the worst effects of a lag in your loading speed. It’s business oriented, but many of the stats are just as true for the nonprofit world as well.
If you want to address your site’s slow load time, you’re going to want to check things like
- Prioritizing above the fold content
- Using correct image sizes
- Utilizing browser caching
- Gzip compression
Structuring your site
Remember, just because you have a site doesn’t mean it’s a good one. You want to make sure that your site’s content is structured and SEO optimized in a way that will encourage Google to send traffic your way!
You’re going to want to make sure that you research appropriate keywords that don’t just relate to your ministry but also to your geographic location. If you’re a Baptist church in Phoenix, check that your site has “Phoenix Baptist Church” on it, not just “Baptist church.”
It’s also a good idea to utilize your title and “H” tags as well as geotag your images and include location-specific content to make your site show up in local search results.
2. Setup Google Analytics (and Google Ads if you can!)
Phew! Alright, once your site is optimized, you’ll already have gotten through a lot of the hard work (and you’ll have a shiny, SEO-happy site to boot!).
Now let’s go over a few of the things you can do externally to help get that traffic flow going.
Setting up Google Analytics can be a really helpful way to track if and from where you’re getting traffic. If you see that quite a few people are finding you through Facebook rather than Twitter it can help you pinpoint your outreach efforts.
In addition to Analytics, though, if you’ve got a budget, even if it’s a small one, you may want to consider setting up a Google Ads account. This allows you to create paid ads that you can then set to be promoted specifically to local people within a certain geographic location.
3. Double check your Google Business Listing
Yet another way to boost your online traffic is to make sure that others are talking about you accurately.
It’s helpful to check out your Google Business Listing (what Google is saying your ministry name, address, phone number, etc. are) and make sure it’s accurate.
You can also take this approach with Apple Maps in order to double check that you’re showing up in local searches with the right information.
Finally, you can hop online and try Googling your own ministry info and see what comes up. If you find something inaccurate was shared, reach out and ask the poster to fix it! You can also look for Church Directories or other mass information hubs where you can ensure that your organization is listed with the proper info.
4. Maximize that social media!
Finally, get a plan in place for your social media. I can’t emphasize this one enough.
If your website is the hub, the centerpiece, the “body” of your online presence, then social media is its tentacles. This is how you can get in front of people quickly and fairly easily.
It can be a bit of work coming up with content on a regular basis, but it really is worth investing the time to keep those channels of communication up and functioning well.
Your 2019 online strategy
And there you have it. My take on what you should be focusing on with your online strategy in 2019.
- Optimize your website.
- Set up Google Analytics (and Google Ads if you can).
- Make sure you’re properly listed in Google Listings, Apple Maps, etc.
- Wield that social media like you mean it!
It’s so easy to ignore the myriad of little things you can do to increase your online traffic, but honestly, this is where the future of online communication is going more and more every year.
In 2019, more than ever, it’s going to be important to have a good online strategy in order to help keep your website healthy and your traffic steady.