One of the cool parts of being a website administrator is that I can see what search queries led visitors to this site. It’s helpful to get a sense of what people are looking for. Sometimes, when I see how people found this website, I wish I could write directly to them.
One of the search terms today was “how to get more visitors to your church website.” What a great question! Here’s what I wish I could say to that person.
How to Get More Visitors to Your Church Website
Obviously, if your church is putting a website out there, you want visitors. For many churches, I suspect that if they checked their visitor numbers, they’d be disappointed at how few people actually visit their site. Considering how much effort and cost can go into making a good church website, I can see why you want to know how to get more visitors.
Here are some steps to getting more visitors to your church website – and they’re probably not what you think!
The classic answer for any website looking for more visitor traffic is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO means optimizing your website’s layout and content for search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo so that when people search for specific words or phrases (“keywords”), your site will be at the top of the results and people will click on it. And yes, SEO is important for churches. However, it’s not nearly as important for church websites as it is for many other types of sites. Church websites have other priorities.
Who is Your Church Website’s Target Audience?
Before you spend time trying to target specific search keywords, you need to think about who you want to come to your church’s website.
When your church decided to create a website, who were you hoping would come visit? Most churches are concerned about three primary website audiences.
First, many churches are trying to reach potential visitors through their websites. When someone moves into the neighborhood and is looking to connect with a church, they will nearly always begin by looking at church websites. Very often, people decide whether or not to visit a church based on its website. I know this was true for me.
Even for people who have been invited to your church by a friend (which is overwhelmingly the most effective way to get someone to visit!), they’ll likely check out the church website to figure out what to expect on Sunday morning, or even how to get there. The same goes for people visiting your city who are looking for somewhere to worship just for a week or two.
Second, many churches want their members to visit the church website. Having information like the church calendar or weekly prayer concerns is likely most useful to people already involved in the church community. If you’re really concerned about the number of website hits, focus on members, because they’re the most likely to come back over time.
Finally, some people will visit your site looking for general information, or just out of curiosity. Since a website is available all over the world, there can be visitors from literally anywhere who might stumble across your site. Or, people might be curious about where their relatives or friends go to church.
Obviously your site should be welcoming to these other visitors, but they are the lowest priority for targeted content, since they’re unlikely to ever come for a physical visit or have any other real interaction with your congregation.
Side note: I’ve seen some church websites that seem to be trying to cater to people they’ll never see again by putting things like steps to get saved or something similar on the website. Although presenting the gospel to every person who has any contact whatsoever with your church might be a laudable goal, doing so on the website is not very effective, and can even be off-putting to your actual target audience.
Give Members a Reason to Visit the Website
Once you’ve thought about who you want to visit the church website, go through it and see if the content matches the target audience. If you’re trying to focus on visitors but the most prominent feature of the website is a calendar full of acronyms, you’re missing the chance to connect with potential visitors.
Similarly, if you are trying to focus on members, but the front page of the site is all about what to expect as a first time visitor, members aren’t likely to visit the site. They already know what to expect! And if members aren’t visiting the website regularly, then putting announcements for members online is mostly a waste of time.
If you want members to visit your website regularly, you need to give them a reason to visit. Here are some ideas for getting members to visit the website more often.
- Put event pictures online. Everyone likes to see pictures of themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. Keep adding new pictures so people get excited about checking to see what’s there. (Of course, make sure you have permission to post pictures of people online – especially of children.) Recent pictures also show potential visitors what’s going on and give them a sense of what the community is like.
- Online prayer requests. I’m personally not sure about the privacy implications of putting prayer requests online, but in the right context with appropriate permission, it could be a good way to get members to check the site more often.
- Permission and registration forms. If the permission slip for the youth trip to the waterpark is online, those going on the trip will visit the website.
- Online donations. For the sake of visitors, please please please don’t make the most prominent feature of your website a request for money. That said, having the ability to donate online is a great way to give members something to “do” on the site.
- Leadership biographies. Consider putting faith auto-biographies of congregational leaders on the website. Don’t limit it to just staff, but include council members, committee or board chairs, session members, and even anyone who wants to share their story of what God is up to in their lives. Here’s a church that does this well.
There are other ways to get members to visit the church website, but they boil down to giving them a reason to visit. If they visit a few times and the site is always the same, they’re not likely to come back. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if they’re not the target audience, but then don’t treat the website as the sole communication channel for members.
Once there is a reason for members to visit, you need to let them know about it. Mention in worship announcements that the VBS pictures are now online, or that they can find the details for the new women’s Bible study group online and a link to purchase the study materials.
Also, make sure you’re advertising your website.
Here are 12 places to publicize your church website.
Attracting Outside Visitors to Your Church Website
For attracting outside visitors to your church website, many of the same principles apply. Think about what information visitors are most likely to be interested in, and give it to them.
- Make it abundantly obvious when and where worship services are taking place.
- Give directions on how to get there.
- Let people know what the dress code and communion expectations are.
- Use words and pictures to let people see that they will fit in at your church.
Visiting a church takes courage, but the website is your chance to alleviate some of those fears.
If you’re wondering why outside visitors aren’t finding your website, think about where you’re advertising it. Absolutely, you should be putting your URL in the bulletin, the announcement page, on the screens, and in the newsletter, but those are all for members. Is your website address in the newspaper? On the church sign? In the phonebook? On the voicemail message?
Look again at these 12 places to advertise church websites, and pick out ones that focus on visitors.
Are you advertising your site to the people you’re hoping will visit it?
Also, this is where SEO comes in. Make sure your website is listed on your denomination’s directory. If you’re in an ELCA church, here are specific instructions for updating your site listing on ELCA.org. If you do a Google search for your church’s name, does it come up? What about if you search for something more broad, like “Baptist church in Dubuque, Iowa”?
Odds and Ends
A few other odds and ends about website traffic: Posting sermons is a great way to let absent members, especially college students, catch up on what they missed or go back to hear a message again. Audio or video recordings give visitors an idea of what to expect when they come. I also encourage posting transcripts of the sermon, since this helps search results by giving Google more content to index. What about putting a new “Sermon snippet” on the front page each week?
Similarly, blogging can be a good way to add more fresh content to the website, and to provide something for people outside the congregation.
Web design and organization matter. You can have the best, most useful content possible out there, but if no one can find it, then writing it was a waste of time. If something is more than 3 clicks from the home page, there’s a good chance no one will ever see it.
At the same time, remember that thanks to search engines, any page can be a landing page. A visitor’s first impression of your website (and hence, of your church) can come on any page, not just the front one. Keep that in mind as you think about menu, sidebar, footer, and header design.
Finally, remember that the goal is ultimately not to get people to your website. The goal is to share the incredible story of what God has done and is doing for us, and to connect people with the Body of Christ, the church. People engage with stories, not numbers or announcements. Share the story of what God is doing in this place, in this time.
The website points to Christ and to the church. It’s not a goal in and of itself. Keep that in mind as you work on getting more traffic to your church website.
Have other ideas or tips for getting visitors to your church’s website? Share in the comments below!