4 Steps to Help Maximize Engagement on Your Church Website | Bart Blair

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Today Bart and Jason discuss tips and tricks that they have learned to maximize engagement on church websites.

Podcast Transcription


Bart Blair: Well, hey there, I’m Bart Blair, and I am on the line with the CEO of Missional Marketing, Jason Hamrock. And Jason and I have gotten together today to have a conversation that we want to share with you about website engagement. Now, Jason, you and I were talking just a few minutes ago, and we talked to churches every day about their church websites. And one of the things that we, both having built websites and managed church websites, know that there is a certain level of effort that goes into creating all your content, getting a website all set up and launching it. And then kind of crossing your fingers and hoping, one, that people find it, and two, that they find what they’re looking for when they get to the website. Right? So as we kind of launch into this conversation about web engagement, website engagement, what are some of the highlights that you would be discussing with the church if you were talking about how to create a website that’s highly engaging to a user? And what are some of the things that we can do to make a website more engaging?

Jason Hamrock: Such a loaded question, Bart. And I have to agree with you that I was guilty at my church, we would just put together stuff we put on the website, hope that it’s working, we never, almost never, went back and looked at analytics. In fact, we probably didn’t know what it was back in the day. Yet, it’s such an important component to the strategy that that every church needs to have. If your website is one of your best marketing tools, your best tool to engage people, how do you know if it’s working or not? How do you understand, is this page engaging people, or are they leaving? Right? So like you said, we talk to churches all the time about this, and there’s really three areas that this product breaks down into, it’s engagement, it’s analytics, and it’s what I call On Page SEO, or Website SEO.

Bart Blair: Okay, so when you use the word engagement, why don’t you break that down a little bit? What does engagement on a website look like? Does that have something to do with the user experience? Does it have something to do with like chat online? Like, I don’t know, break that down for me. What is what is website engagement look like?

Jason Hamrock: Every page on your website should have options for somebody to engage, right, never, ever have a page that’s a dead end. Otherwise they’re probably going to bounce, meaning they’re just going to hit the back button, or they’re going to leave, close the tab and leave your website. So when we talk about optimizing the engagement, we are talking about the user. There’s a term called User Experience, or UX, that’s kind of how it’s called. And you really want to stare at your UX, and talk about how are people engaging with your website, every page. Probably the most important, the most important page will be your home page, that’s kind of a given. I’d say the second most important page would probably be a plan your visit page. If you don’t have one, you should probably make one, because that’s the page that people who are thinking about coming to your church will probably click on. If they’re interested, they’re going to click on plan a visit, they want to learn more, and what does that mean?

Jason Hamrock: Well, when you have those two pages, your home page and plan to visit pages, like all the other pages, you actually want to have buttons on there. You want to have Call To Actions, and it could be talk to us via chat, or it could be, you know, fill out this field, or it could be send an email, but they’re buttons that cause people to engage. Another one that’s a great one is adding video, having a video on your page, so people could watch. That’s optimizing your engagement.

Bart Blair: Okay, so, you know, if I can summarize what you just said, if we don’t have calls to action, or we don’t have content on our website that is engaging the user, all we’ve really done is created a brochure. Right? It’s a brochure. You remember those days when you used to print paper brochures, and you put them in somebody’s hand to promote something, there’s nothing engaging about that, right, it’s purely one way. And what we really want to do is we want, as the church, we want to create an experience for people online that isn’t just one way. It’s not just us telling them about us, but it’s us providing a pathway for them to engage with us, to let us know that they want to be known. Right. They’re kicking the tires, they’re checking things out, whether that’s the plan a visit page, or watching sermons online, or just reading about children’s ministry and checking things out there. But at some point, we want them to let us know that they’re ready to reciprocate a relationship, right, that they want to to connect back.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, and you want to be able to measure that, right? And so you never want to be sitting in your boss’s office and he or she says, “Hey, tell me, how did that event go with the registrations?”. “I don’t know.” You never want to say that, you always want to go, I have all the data. Well, if you don’t collect that data, and you don’t even have call to actions on those different pages, how are you going to report a good, bad or ugly report to your boss? You don’t want to ever walk in and not have the answers. And so to your point, having those call to actions, having that engaging content on that web page, any web page, is so important in measuring, looking at the data, to see did it work or not?

Bart Blair: Yeah, we work with a lot of churches that will run advertising campaigns to drive traffic to their websites, whether it’s a Facebook campaign, or Google search, using the Google Ad Grant, or paid search campaigns. And I have this question asked all the time, so if we’re getting hundreds or thousands of new visitors to our website, how do we know what’s working? Like, how do we, how do we know if it was a success? Because it’s one thing to get eyes on your website, it’s another thing to actually begin to initiate relationship with people. So as the local church, that’s our ultimate goal, right? Our goal is not to be a hub for entertainment, but it’s to be a place where people can actually connect, engage, initiate relationship. And hopefully step into our assimilation strategy, or our discipleship pathway, so that we can begin to lead them towards Jesus, or help them grow in their relationship with Jesus.

Jason Hamrock: You betcha.

Bart Blair: Okay, so what are some of the things that we should be looking at? If we’re putting videos on our website, or we’re putting these calls to action like plan a visit, or prayer request, I think that’s another thing that’s really highly engaging for people. The different types of calls to action we can have on the website, you know, what are the ways that we can measure those things? What are some of the tools that we can use, and how do we know what to do with those things?

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, there’s a thing called Google Analytics, and pretty much every website that I look at, a church website, almost has Google Analytics, but some of you don’t have analytics. You got to get it on your website, right, it’s a free tool, add it to your website, that’s so important. Number one is Google now can crawl your website, right, that’s pretty important, they’re seeing what’s going on. But number two, Google Analytics has such powerful information to explain the behavior of users while they’re on your website. Right? So you can get into analytics, and you can create conversion funnels. What’s a conversion funnel? A conversion funnel is if you have somebody that lands on your homepage, right? And then you have a above the fold, meaning that the very top of the page, you have some kind of like plan to visit, or watch online, right, maybe those are two buttons. Well, you can go into Google Analytics, set up a funnel, so that you know how many people landed on your homepage, in fact, you can actually know where they came from, right? When they landed on your home page, how long they stayed there, and then did they click on one of those two buttons or any other button on your website? Google Analytics gives you all that data, and we love working with churches and helping them set that up, so that they can understand if their website is actually working or not.

Jason Hamrock: That data, I kind of like say it’s like flying an airplane. If you’re flying an airplane, you kind of want to look at the instruments. You know, what’s our altitude, and which way are we going, and, you know, that’s kind of important. A church website is the same thing, you have your website, it’s a phenomenal tool. But if you are not looking at your Google analytics, how do you know if you’re successful or not? That’s the only way you can know to get better, right, or change things, or hey, this one’s doing really, really well. Right?

Jason Hamrock: Another thing we look at with your Google Analytics is your speed, how fast does your website load? Another indicator about the user experience, right? If your website takes forever to load, guess what people are going to do? Leave.

Bart Blair: Bounce.

Jason Hamrock: They’re going to bounce. So those are just, I mean, those are just a couple things. Google Analytics is loaded, it’s loaded with all kinds of tools that you really need to know. And we understand these tools, and we can teach, and inform you, and actually set you up, so that you can have access to it.

Bart Blair: You know, one of the things that, as you were talking about using a conversion, a conversion pathway. Right? And we use the term conversion as in clicks, and things done on the website, not actual salvations. Although that’s the ultimate goal, right, [inaudible] we want web conversions to lead to spiritual conversions. So this is one of the things that I thought of is, that as a pastor, one of the things that I want to measure in my church is next steps that people are taking. Right? So someone has been attending our weekend service for weeks or months, they’re consuming the content, watching the sermon, putting their kids in the children’s ministry, listening to the music. At some point in time, we’re asking them to take a first step, or a next step. And different churches do that in different ways, in terms of how they’re trying to integrate people into their church family. But as churches we measure, we measure money well, like what was he offering this week, and attendance, what was the attendance this week? And of course, now churches are learning to measure how many views we had on our video on Facebook or YouTube, right, how many online views?

Bart Blair: But really, the most important measurements are not how many people showed up on Sunday, or what the offering was, but it’s how many people took the next step, how many people joined a group, or how many people signed up to serve in the ministry, or how many people gave their lives to Jesus, or how many people took our baptism class, and how many people came into membership or partnership, however, your church shapes that. So those next steps are really critical, so when we’re planning our website, we want to do the same thing. We want to create a pathway for people, so that we can follow them and see what steps they’re taking, and give them calls to action that give them a logical next step. Ultimately, you mentioned this earlier, is that plan a visit. Whether that’s plan a visit in person, or plan to visit online, we want to be able to see, okay, if we have this many people coming to our website, how many of them are actually clicking plan a visit? And when they click plan to visit, you’re using Google Analytics to see where do those people come from? You know, are they coming from Facebook, or are they coming from an ad, or are they coming from organic search, are coming from the Google Local Pack in our Google my business page? When they’re coming from there, where are they going? What is their pathway? In some ways need to be able to predict their behavior, right, because we want to provide for them on the website what they’re looking for, and try to predict that behavior. But at the same time, lead them to a pathway that’s logical for them to be able to connect with us at a time that you’re ready, at a time that they’re ready.

Bart Blair: So we talked a little bit about the tools. We talked about some of the, you know, the structure of the website, SEO, and our ability to measure some of those things. What does an implementation strategy entail? If we were going to work with a church to help them figure out what to do with the data that we get, what are some of the things that we would coach the church in doing?

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, there are several things. The first thing is, we have to do research. We’ve got to kind of open up the hood, start digging in, and find out what’s been going on with your website. I kind of call it the good, bad, and ugly, because you’re going to have all three. So we first need to know where have you come from, and where are you today? That’s called research, it’s roll up your sleeves and get to work, we understand that.

Jason Hamrock: From there, then we want to start building a plan, putting together a plan that makes sense. And as you just spoke to about new guests kind of funneling through from a plan your visit page, I’d even go deeper to say, what about your children’s ministries? What’s the goal? In my church, you know, at the fourth, fifth, and sixth, grade level, one of the most important goals is to get those kids ready so that they can become baptized. So they can go through the Discovering Christ class, so they can learn more about what it means to follow Jesus, so that they can be baptized. Right? As they’re heading in junior high, that’s the goal, not the only goal, but that’s like the most important goal. Well, on our website, are we doing that? Are we sharing that with parents on that children’s page? And are we talking and explaining to them about what they can do, and how they can get signed up for this class? It’s just a funnel, right, we want to keep funneling. So we talk about plans, we want to plan all of your pages out. We want to understand, and kind of align what it is you’re trying to achieve as a ministry, you just mentioned this, inside your church with your website.

Jason Hamrock: Then comes implementation, that’s the third step, we need to implement it. We’ve got to implement the plan we just built, right, get all those widgets put together, get all the knobs dialed in, and hit go. Get it going.

Jason Hamrock: And then the last step is kind of an ongoing optimization. Staring at the data, what did we learn? What do we need to adjust, and keep moving from there to get better? And that’s really going to paint a very clear picture for you, church, you’re going to understand where you’re deficient. Where are you lacking any kind of engagement or content, that really just brings that to full attention, so that you can do something about it. So those four steps, research, planning, implementation, and then optimizing, that’s our strategy.

Bart Blair: So let me get something straight. I just paid someone thousands of dollars to design a website for me, to build the website, and to launch the website, and you’re basically telling me that I’m not done.

Jason Hamrock: You’re not done because they didn’t quite paint the full picture. Now, that first part, incredibly important. If you just rebuilt your website, and you used somebody, and you’re happy, awesome, that’s great. Most, not all, but most companies don’t really go deep into what we’re talking about here with SEO, they just don’t. They don’t tend to take that next, and really, really important step. And so it wasn’t a waste that you did that, but you need to finish it, right? We need to go through this process with you, to help you understand how you can continue to build up on that website, your website is never done. It’s not like you wrote a check for five thousand dollars, got a new website, cool, see you in five years. It doesn’t happen that way, right?

Bart Blair: Yeah. See that, that right there, Jason, that’s the diamond in the rough that people need to understand. Is that a website that is built and launched is never a finished product, and it’s not finished just because you’re adding a new sermon every week. It’s not finished because it’s kind of like a living organism, right, people interact with it, people engage with it, and it needs to be massaged to the point that it’s really functioning at optimum level for engagement. Like, that’s the whole point, I don’t know if we’ve used the word engagement enough in this video, but I’m going to say it again, engagement. Their end game is engagement, not information, engagement.

Jason Hamrock: And we have to be, church, we have to understand, when covid broke, everything changed, it all changed. Well, what’s to say that’s not going to happen again, right? And we understand that people are going online, they’re just, they are there already. Such an overused term, they’re already there, they’re already doing it, that’s how people engage. We Google it, right, when we’re looking for help, or looking for something. Church, we can’t expect people just to drive into our parking lot and attend, those days are long gone. So we have to think more creative, and think differently about how we use our website as a church growth tool, but it’s also an evangelism and discipleship tool. Right? And it can happen from the moment they enter your website, right, that can start, but you got to put effort into it.

Jason Hamrock: And we didn’t really go deep into On-page SEO, to be found in Google with your felt need content. We can certainly do that if you want to reach out to us, we’ll have a conversation about that. I’d love to spend time talking to a church about what they need to do to optimize their content. There are so many great strategies, the church is not lacking creating content, we’re doing lots of that. But optimizing on your website, game changer, and most churches are not doing that very well.

Bart Blair: Okay, your microphone is taking a beating today because you’re so you’re so excited about a SEO. He gets so excited about SEO and optimizing the website, he starts hitting things around him. Okay, you know what? If you’re the person that has gotten this far in this video, congratulations, there is tons of content on our blog about optimizing your website for search. We’ve got other videos on our YouTube channel related to search engine optimization, and how to optimize your website for search. Feel free to root around in those areas, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and make sure to ring the bell so that you can find out when we’re posting new content on our YouTube channel. And without a doubt, if you want to have a conversation about how to improve the performance of your website as it relates to engagement and the user experience, you can reach out to Jason or to me, and we’d be happy to have a conversation with you about that, to see what we can do to help your church reach more people online. Jason, anything you want to add before we end this video today?

Jason Hamrock: Well, that old adage, the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago or right now.

Bart Blair: Right now.

Jason Hamrock: You want to do it right now, you don’t want to wait, well, I’ll get to that in years, no, do it now. At least connect with us so we can teach you, and educate you, give you some free advice, give you some free tools. We’d love to do that, just because we want you to win. Because when you win, the kingdom wins, and the kingdom expands, and that’s what we’re here for.

Bart Blair: Well said.

Jason Hamrock: That’s all I’ve got.

Bart Blair: Well, we’ll put a fork in this one, it’s done. Thanks, Jason, appreciate your time.

Jason Hamrock: You’re welcome. Thanks, Bart.

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