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Seasonal Events and Search Engines

Search engine time-lag

At particular times of the year, many churches make a special effort to invite local people to come to church services. For example, there may be special Christmas service(s), an evangelistic presentation of the Easter story, or even an 'alternative' Halloween. Naturally, it is desirable to advertise these events on the church web site so that they will be found by someone searching for, say, "Christmas services in Phoenix".

So far, so good. But search engine time-lag creates a problem for the unsuspecting church webmaster. By the time your church minister tells you what the Christmas services are going to be, it will probably already be November. Suppose you manage to get the details onto the web site by the 1st of December, and submit the relevant page to the major search engines. You could find that it takes around two months before the page is indexed by the search engines. So someone searching for Christmas services may not find them until February!

Solving the search engine problem

Careful web site design can reduce this problem significantly. The solution is work out which special events happen every year (e.g. Christmas, Easter, children's summer holiday club, etc.) and then create a page for each of those events. Upload those pages to your web site now, so that they can be indexed by the search engines in good time.

Of course, you probably don't yet have most of the information you need for these pages. But it is still easy to write something based on what happened last year, and you can always go back and fill in the details nearer to the time. For example on a Christmas page you could write:

Each Christmas we have a number of special services to celebrate the birth of Jesus. You would be very welcome to come to our traditional Carol service, or if you have children they may enjoy our fun Nativity service. For further details please visit this page again nearer to the time, or contact us.

If you can include comments from people about how much they enjoyed the event last year, or photos, then so much the better.

Remember that you need to create a link from the rest of your web site to each of the pages you have written, otherwise they won't be indexed by the search engines. The easiest way to do this is to have a "diary" or "what's happening" page, and then list them as "upcoming events".

So to put it simply, include these special pages early in the design of your site and let the search engines index them normally. Then they will be there and you only need to add/edit the information that exists as you receive it.

Aiming at two groups of people

The most successful web sites are those designed with their target audience clearly in mind. Your target audience is simply those people who you hope to attract to your web site. Good church web sites are hard to create because they must reach two target audiences, not just one. The key to ensuring that your web site works well is to design according to the different needs of these two audiences.

Your first and most important audience is those people who are not yet Christians but who are considering coming to your church (perhaps because they have a friend or neighbour who goes, but they want to find out more). The church web site offers them an ideal way to find out about the church and the Christian faith in an anonymous way before taking the plunge and coming along in person.

Your web site's second audience is your existing church members. This group is less important than the first, simply because there is probably little which you can place on the web site that they don't already know, or can't easily find out from another source. So do provide information relevant to church members, but not at the expense of making the site inaccessible to your main audience of non-churchgoers.

Providing relevant content

The key to good design is to ask yourself what the members of each target audience are looking for when they visit your web site. Potential visitors to your church probably want to know:

Is this church weird, or do normal people go as well?

What do Christians believe? Why do people go to church?

Where is the church? How do I get in touch?

What times are the services? Which service should I go to?

Are there facilities for children?

Many church web sites do not answer these sort of questions. When reviewing church web sites we often come across sites which look good, but which don't rate very highly because they are not focused on the needs of non-churchgoers. By contrast, a good church web site is aimed primarily at those who do not yet come to church.

The sort of information which church members may look for on the web site is very different. They are more likely to ask questions like:

Since the questions which church members are asking is so very different from that asked by other visitors, it is almost impossible to write one page which is interesting to both sets of visitors. Either you end up giving church members information they already know, in which case they won't bother looking at the web site very much, or you confuse potential church visitors.

The solution is to have different pages for different audiences. For example, to tell people about the Sunday services create one page containing the basic information which an enquirer might need to know (e.g. service times), and then provide a link to a second page which contains detailed information for church members (e.g. who is preaching). If this is done throughout the site then you will achieve your aim of providing a web site which is welcoming and informative for both your casual visitors and your church members.

An additional audience

There is a third group of people who will visit your site, namely those people who are already Christians but who don't go to your church. Perhaps they go to another local church and came across your web site, or perhaps they recently moved into the area and are looking for a church. Whoever they are, there is no need to design your web site to reach these people. If you have followed the advice given above, your site will already welcome them and provide all the information they need to know.

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