You know you need a web site to provide information to your congregation, to visitors, maybe even customers. But you don't have a big budget. Maybe you could do it yourself. Or, better yet, you've got a relative or friend who knows a lot about computers - why don't you ask one of them?
This is a typical scenario for many small churches, ministries and businesses. These organizations know that they need an online presence, but many have turned to a family member or friend to design their web site, some with disasterous affects.
Making a web site is fairly easy these days. With good "What You See Is What You Get" software and ready-to-use content, any beginner can create a simple web site in less than a day, or even less than an hour. After playing around with the software for a while, you can make it too...without knowing a single line of HTML code.
The only problem is, a web site done by a beginner can be easily spotted. Just because a person owns the right kind of software will not insure a professional, and correctly designed website. I'm sure you've come across some of those amateur-looking sites before - many of them are on free servers. These sites take forever to download, play annoying background music, have strange color schemes, tons of banners, flashing animated images, hard to read text...and the list goes on.
Before making any decisions, lets see what the required skills are to design a quality web site.
I don't think anyone will argue about this. Your web site should look professional. The first impression will either build strong credibility deep in the visitors mind, or make them click the back button in a hurry.
You don't necessarily need a high priced graphic designer. You need basic design knowledge - trained eyes with good sense of balance, layout and color.
This is the missing piece for most websites. Many "professional" web site designers don't understand web site promotion, nor do their clients. You may have the most beautiful web site in cyberspace, but traffic does NOT come automatically. Your designer needs to design the site in such a way as to help promote your site. If your designer tells you, "This is not my job then you need to find a new designer. Web site promotion starts right from the beginning of web development. A good web site designer knows how to attract visitors without spending a dime on advertising.
Take search engine optimization as an example. More than 80% of all online traffic come through search engines. The best part is, it's free and targeted. Yet it's hard to get high rankings nowadays. You have to start search engine optimization right from the planning stages. Site structure, proper HTML coding, choosing right keywords, copywriting, keyword position and density, internal linking strategy...etc.
Without broad experience and up to date information, your chance of getting first page listing is very slim.
So are you ready to master the big three and do all the other jobs you have?
Rarely is there a church, ministry, or small business which has all the skills needed in-house.
Honestly, there are also very few outside web design companies or designers who understand the Internet well enough. The stereotypical computer guru often doesn't have much graphic sense. The greatest creative graphic designer may not have marketing savvy. The marketing consultant is probably an expert only in the offline world.
Presenting your church, ministry or even your personal image on the Internet needs a careful blend of design skill, online marketing savvy and technical know-how. You have to choose carefully.
Having said that, in-house web site development does have many advantages. In fact, I'd suggest you do it in-house because in the long run:
- You save money
- Knowledge increases and stays with the company
- Greater control over the final product
- Ease in updating (and you do need to test and update often)
The Best Way
Contract with a web site company/designer, who can build not only a professional and functional web site but also one that has built in traffic pullers. Have them set up your initial web site and provide maintenance for the first year. Then assign one of your employees, or yourself, to learn to use the web page template and existing structure your designer has set up to create other pages that look as good as the initial web site. Learn how to use CGI script, SSI, CSS...as well.
Don't work with a company or designer who retains copyrights, whose real designs are making you dependent upon them. Find someone who understands your mid-term goals to bring web site maintenance in-house. Unless of course you prefer to outsource your work.
One alternative that has worked well for some is the use of pre-made templates. There are many well made, well designed templates available today. These templates give you a basic look and feel for your site. It is then up to you to get your content into the templates. Some are easier than others to work with and some will need tweaks and adjustments. You may still need someone who is familiar with html and other web disciplines to make this option work for you. Christian Family Host offers some very nice professionally made templates. Look to our menu on the left to access them.
Another option that has recently become available is to use a site builder program. These programs offer basic templates and are browser based. You simply type your information in the appropriate boxes and the program does the rest. These may suit you if you are on a very tight budget and simply need to have a site up and running in the shortest amount of time.
Hopefully this article has helped you see how important your web site design is as well as who you choose to design it.