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Let’s start with the summary.
A church website can be an insanely powerful tool. It can help you connect with your community and reach people in your area like never before. It can bring new visitors through your doors week after week after week.
It can also be a complete waste of your time.
The difference between your church website being a powerful tool versus a waste of time comes down to simple 11-step checklist.
Do these 11 things, and you’ll quickly begin seeing results. Ignore them, and you might as well throw a few grand in the trashcan.
If you haven’t built a site yet and are looking to get started from scratch, simply start with Step #1. If you already have a website built, scan through the first two steps and start your read at Step #3.
Let’s get going.
The first thing that needs to be determined is the platform you’ll be using for your website.
In the past, web design was often a bit more technical, requiring standalone pages be built and designed using HTML. Today, there are several platforms that make the website building process much easier and allow you to get very professional looking websites for relatively cheap.
My two preferred options for churches are:
The option you choose really depends on who will be creating the site and if you have any special needs for your site that a typical church might not have.
If you will be hiring a developer from the start and have some really specific things you want for your site, WordPress will be your best option. Benefits of WordPress include:
Here’s an example of a church website built in WordPress.
If you are wanting to design the site yourself without having to hire a developer, or if you aren’t super picky about the details – you just want a nice looking site that does everything a normal church site should do – then Squarespace will be your best option. Benefits include:
Here’s an example of a church website built in Squarespace.
Now, let me just clarify that you can hire a developer or “do it yourself” with either of these options. In general, WordPress is better suited for people wanting to learn to build sites, while Squarespace is better suited for people wanting to simple get a site built quickly and cleanly.
In Step #3, we’ll discuss what you should expect to pay with each option and what to look for in a designer.
Once you’ve decided on the platform for your site, it’s time to select a domain.
The domain is the first thing you need to decide on, and it’s important to get this right as many of your congregants or potential congregants will probably attempt to type it directly into the URL bar.
As a general rule, shorter is always better when selecting a domain, but at the same time, you want it to be easy to remember.
So let’s say the name of your church is Hope City and you are located in Douglas, Colorado. You would want to search for available domains in the following order:
Let’s say none of these options are available.
At this point, I would recommend going with a “.org” instead. Usually the above options are going to be available via “.org” even if the “.com” options aren’t available.
If you want to stick with a “.com”, you can do that as well, you will just have to get a bit more creative.
It might be tempting to abbreviate with something like “hcdouglas.com” or to go longer with “hopecitydouglasco.com”, but that’s typically going to make it harder for people to remember your domain.
You want your domain to consist of no more than 3 understandable words.
So in the above example, let’s say none of those examples are available and your church is on Meadows Blvd. Well then a good domain could be “hopecitymeadows.com”.
You don’t need to spend a ton of time here or fret over your domain. Just make sure it can be quickly and easily articulated and remembered.
Hosting is pretty simple, but if you don’t know what it is, the concept can be confusing.
When you type “buildfire.com” into your computer, that domain functions like a home address. It tells your internet network where to go for your desired data.
The data for buildfire’s website isn’t stored in “the internet”. It’s stored on a hosting server.
But when you enter Buildfire’s “address”, your internet connection grabs the data from the hosting server and then displays it on your device.
But honestly, you don’t need to know any of this. All you need to know is that hosting is required to have a website. What you have to do to setup hosting will depend on the platform you selected in Step #1.
If you decided to use WordPress (and your developer isn’t handling this for you), you will need to purchase a hosting plan before you can setup your WordPress website.
Important Note: This is not to be confused with WordPress.com, which allows you to set up subdomain sites similar to Tumblr or Blogger. A real WordPress site is installed onto a hosted server and is very different from the WordPress.com free subdomain sites.
There are hundreds of hosting companies you can choose from. I’ve tried many of them personally over my years in marketing, and for church websites, my #1 recommendation is GoDaddy WordPress Hosting.
There are a few reasons I recommend GoDaddy:
I don’t recommend GoDaddy for business or revenue-generating sites, because I don’t like how they handle maintenance downtime, but this won’t be a problem for a church website, and you won’t find a better customer-service-to-price-ratio.
Expect to pay between $4-10 per month for WordPress hosting. And also, you will get a free domain along with virtually any hosting purchase, so if you haven’t bought a domain yet, just wait and select your domain when you purchase hosting
One of the reasons Squarespace is popular (and very profitable) is that they package the domain, hosting, and website builder into a single monthly service.
You pay $12 per month for a new site, build the site from the template, and that’s it.
You don’t have to buy a domain. You don’t have to buy hosting. You don’t have to install WordPress. You don’t have to make sure those 3 things are integrating properly. If you know what you’re doing, WordPress is just as easy, but if you don’t, Squarespace makes the process much simpler.
Again, it’s the tradeoff between simplicity and customizability. With church websites, you usually don’t need that much customization, and I think Squarespace is the intuitive choice for most, but some churches might want the freedom WordPress provides.
Now that we have everything in place, we have to actually build the website. The following pages make up the core pieces of your church website:
These 6 pages make up the core layout of any church site. You might also include a dedicated map page, a blog page, a podcast page, a ministries page, or any number of additional pages depending on your needs.
For both WordPress and Squarespace, this is really just a matter of choosing a template, configuring the homepage to your liking, and adding content for the additional 5 pages. Depending on your technical ability and intuition, this can range from being a fun challenge to an absolute nightmare.
The nightmare scenario is why many churches opt to hire a developer, but of course, hiring comes with it’s own risks and challenges.
Martha Waugh, founder of Modern Design Media, has helped numerous churches develop their websites and provides the following recommendations for hiring a WordPress designer:
First, make sure you know what you want in a website. Will it need events, sermons, podcasting, or photo galleries? How many pages will it need and what will those pages be? Having a good understanding of what you need will make it easier to get a quote from potential developers.
Secondly, make sure whoever you hire has a good portfolio of past website work and positive reviews online. When looking through a designer’s portfolio make sure you like the style and aesthetic of their work. If you don’t like their past work, there is a good chance you won’t like what they produce for you.
Third, get more than one quote. You should expect to pay between $2000-$5000 for a church website depending on the size and quality of website you are looking for. Compare quotes and select the best option based on your church’s needs.
Finally, make sure you understand the terms of your contract. Some web developers will limit you to a certain amount of revisions, pages, and hours, so you should be sure you understand exactly what you are getting before committing to anything.
All of this applies equally to hiring Squarespace designers as well, although the price tends to be a bit cheaper on average for Squarespace sites at around $1,500 – $3,500.
Like Martha said, remember to look at past work to get a feel for the type of styles a designer creates. If you like their style, you will probably like the site they create for you, and if you don’t, they may be a great designer, but that won’t make you like the results.
Once you have the core website built, there are some handy plugins you can add to enhance the user experience for your visitors.
A plugin is a 3rd party application that can be integrated into your core platform. It allows you to add very advanced functions to your website without having to hire a developer to build them from scratch.
This is where we see the biggest benefit of WordPress over Squarespace. Squarespace doesn’t have easily accessible 3rd party plugins, while WordPress has nearly 50,000 in its directory alone, with even more options outside the directory.
This is why WordPress is so superior in terms of advanced customization, but it also requires some work on your part to find, vet, configure, and run needed plugins. On the other hand, Squarespace has a wide variety of functionalities built directly into its platform, which makes these much simpler so long as everything you need is accounted for.
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Accordingly, I’ve listed some of the best available WordPress plugins for church websites below and also signified whether or not Squarespace has similar built-in functionality.
This is just a small taste of what’s possible. As you can see, Squarespace can handle pretty much everything essential, while WordPress allows you to do some more uniquely “churchy” things via your site.
You can’t get around social media in the 21st Century. It’s here to stay, and you need to be on board.
You should already have your social media accounts up and active, but if you don’t, check out the Ultimate Social Media Strategy for Smaller Churches.
For the purposes of your website, it’s important to integrate your social channels so visitors can find and connect with you on the platform of their choosing. This is typically done via the footer of your website, which allows visitors to navigate to your social profiles from any page of your website.
If you are using Squarespace, simply select Settings > Connected Accounts > Facebook to integrate your Facebook account, and then repeat for all social accounts.
If you are using WordPress, it’s also a fairly easy and similar process. Most (if not all) WordPress installations come with the Jetpack plugin pre-installed. Simply go to Appearance > Widgets and then drag and drop the “Social Media Icons” widget into the Footer section.
Finally, enter your social usernames in the appropriate sections and visitors will be directed there when they click on the relevant icons.
Once your site is fully built and all the features are installed, it’s time to start thinking about how to get new visitors to the site.
The first step to grabbing those new visitors is to position your site for search engine traffic. Basically, we want people in your local area to easily find your church website when they are looking for a church via Google.
In order to make sure your site gets found, we need to do a few things:
Let’s break these down.
1. Identify the right keywords
Who are the types of people who might be interested in your church? What sort of phrases would they enter in Google in order to find a local church?
The answer to these questions is what gives us our list of keywords.
For example, let’s say our church in Douglas, Colorado is of the Baptist variety. Here are some of the things potential visitors might search for:
There are quite a few possibilities, but you’ll notice that “douglas” and “baptist church” are included in many of these. What this means is that “douglas baptist church” should probably be are #1 keyword.
Don’t worry about stuff like “in”, “local”, “find”, or “area”. Those are filler words and Google essentially filters them out.
You’ll want to have one primary keyword and then 3-5 secondary keywords. In order to see which ones are best, copy all the keywords you’ve thought up and then enter them into the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. This is a free tool that just requires you to create an Adwords account.
Adwords will not only show you the traffic for the keywords you entered, but it will also suggest other frequently searched keywords as well. Since I’m using a semi-fictional example, we’ll just pretend that “douglas baptist church” was the #1 keyword for the purpose of our guide.
2. Optimize on-page SEO
So now that we have our primary keyword and a list of other keywords, what do we do with it? Well, we have to optimize our website, and particularly our homepage, around that keyword.
This can be a bit advanced if you aren’t familiar with the lingo, but the main points are these:
For a more in-depth look at website optimization, check out this fantastic On-Page SEO guide from Brian Dean.
3. Create a Google My Business listing
Finally, you’ll need to build some online citations for your website. Citations are basically just places online that have your church’s information.
The most important citation you can have is a Google My Business listing.
This will place your church in Google’s official directory of businesses, meaning you will show up on Google Maps AND you will have the potential to show up in the top 3 results that Google displays for certain search phrases (as pictured below).
Setting up your listing is actually super easy, but if you need some additional help, check out this step-by-step guide from Tech Function.
If your church has been around awhile, it probably already has a listing, in which case you’ll need to claim it and verify ownership. Here’s guide showing you how to do just that.
4. Build citations
While Google My Business is your most important citation, you’ll need a lot more if you want to get ranked in an area with a lot of churches.
The more citations you have, the better you’ll rank.
The main thing to remember when building citations is that all information needs to be exactly the same. You can’t have “Hope City Church” on one listing and “Hope City Community Church” on another. Your address shouldn’t be “1293 Meadows BLVD” on one listing and “1293 Meadows Boulevard” on the other.
Everything needs to be identical to what is displayed on your Google Business Listing.
To learn more about citations, check out this guide from Be Top Local.
It’s important to constantly update and add to your church website.
Not only will this make it more helpful for your congregation and visitors, but it also signals to Google that your site is active and up-to-date, which increases your ranking.
Updates should include the following:
In terms of adding content, there are some really easy ways to do this:
All of these things add pages and content to your site, which helps increase your ranking over time. And best of all, none of these require a lot of work on your end as they are a natural part of running a church in the first place.
By now, you’ve completed the standard slate of church website activities. You’ve built a competent website and put yourself at the same level as every other church investing in their web presence.
But of course, we don’t want to stop there. We want to go a step further!
And this is where we take a page from the digital marketing world’s favorite playbook: content marketing
Content marketing is a type of marketing focused around content that people want to engage with. It’s designed to be user focused rather than self-focused. It provides value and causes people to see you as an authority or resource in your niche.
We can apply this same strategy to marketing your church and getting people to your website.
One of my favorite ways to do this is with something called “skyscraper content”. Skyscraper content has become very popular in the marketing world because it works very, very well, but few churches have even heard of it.
Here’s the basic process:
Simple enough, so how do we apply this to churches?
Your target audience is local people, so create skyscraper content that targets local people.
For example, let’s say you want to connect with families in your area, and you discover via the Adwords Keyword Planner that “family activities in douglas” is a popular search phrase.
You could then create a blog post with a huge list of fun family activities in Douglas, optimize it for the keyword “family activities douglas”, and then have your church share it with their friends. You could then promote it around your area and watch as hundreds or even thousands of new people visit your website.
Most of these new visitors will probably never visit your church, but some will, and if you create several pieces of content like this, you can potentially attract a steady stream of new visitors just from this strategy alone.
For a more in-depth look at Skyscraper content, check out this guide from SEO Nick.
Wow. We’ve covered a lot of ground, but we’re not quite done.
In some ways, we’ve saved the best for last, because if there is one thing that churches should be using more, it’s Facebook Ads.
Facebook Ads offer an absolutely unprecedented level of geographic targeting, which is perfect for churches. You can target Facebook users based on a physical radius from your church.
This means you can advertise to ONLY people who live within a 15 minute drive from your building.
You don’t need an insane budget. You could try something small like $25 per week and monitor the results.
There is honestly no reason not to test this out.
Here are some potential ways you can use Facebook Ads for your church:
The ONLY “downside” is that Facebook Ads can have a little bit of learner curve and often require you to try out a number of different ads before finding one that drives a good number of clicks to your website or signups to your events.
But ultimately, it’s worth a try. You simply can’t get this type of efficient targeting anywhere else.
For a more in-depth beginner’s guide to local Facebook advertising, check out this guide I wrote for Be Top Local.
The final strategy we’ll discuss today provides you with the opportunity to really make your church stand out. It also makes it easier for regular visitors to quickly engage with your website.
I’m talking about creating a mobile app for your church!
You might be thinking that creating a mobile app would be an insanely large, unnecessary expense, and 5 years ago, you’d have been right. Today, Buildfire allows you to create a mobile app in minutes.
Plus, it’s super affordable!
What are the advantages of creating a mobile app for your church?
These are just a few of the many possible benefits that a church app can provide. For more ideas with an in-depth description of each one, check out BuildFire’s Church App Checklist.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful!
If you aren’t super technical, the idea of tackling the creation of a church website can be daunting, but as you can hopefully see from this guide, the process shouldn’t be frightening.
Follow this checklist, and you’ll quickly begin to see the power of the web firsthand.
You’ve worked hard to create a fantastic church for you congregants and community. Use these strategies to let the web work for you and connect you with people in your community who are looking for a church to call home.