I’ve launched several websites for organizations over the years, including three of my own. This one in particular was a bit of a bear, probably because I wanted it to be perfect. Perfection is time consuming.
It’s also impossible. You know what my biggest lesson learned was (so far)? It will never be perfect. When you launch a website, you’ll always be fine tuning and tweaking and changing elements. That’s a good thing. As people’s online habits change, so should your online presence.
But here are several other things I also learned. These might help you if your Christian organization or mission is planning a website launch:
1. Create a Plan
Think about your goals for the site. What do you want it to do? Of course, it should be informational and be an extension of your brand. But if you’re going to invest the time and money in a website, you should expect some sort of return. Do you want people to subscribe to a list? Download media or an app? Purchase something? Donate? Walk through your doors? Think about specific goals. Then think about how you can use your site to help achieve and measure those goals.
Be sure to install Google Analytics on your site and set up goals in GA so you can track whether or not those goals are being accomplished.
Some things to consider addressing in your plan:
- Who is the key audience(s) you’re trying to reach? Be as specific as possible—even have a specific person or persons in mind as your “ideal site visitor” as you develop your plan and website.
- What problem or unmet need does your ideal site visitor face that your mission or organization can solve best?
- What is your organization’s mission? How will your website help you accomplish that mission?
- Who will host your site? How much does it cost and what kind of support do they offer? Will you be on a shared server or your own server? What kind of backups do they do and support do they offer should your site go down?
- What do you want your site to do? This is more than just brand awareness. Put your site to work for you. Do you want it to generate money? Facilitate one-on-one relationships? Be read by people across the world? How can your website help your organization or ministry accomplish its mission? Remember that your website alone can’t accomplish your mission for you—but it can sure make it easier.
- Then how do you want your site to do those things—and how will you measure if your site is doing its job? For example, if you want your mission’s website to get more traffic—more people reading it—then consider the following:
- Do you have the resources to create more content?
- Can you publish new content at least once a week?
- What kinds of content will you publish?
- Do you have Google Analytics (or another analytics tool) installed on your site? Do you also have a means to consistently track how many new visitors (and returning visitors) come to your site, where they are located, how they find your site, how much time they spend on your site, what content they read the most and at what points they leave your site?
- Do you have the resources to promote the content you publish? Can you post that content across your social networks, not just once, but several times? Are you able to repackage that content into new formats and promote those new formats (say, turning a blog post into an infographic or into a Slideshare presentation)?
Your plan will be unique to your Christian ministry or organization and its goals, but this gives you an idea of what you should plan for. The more you can map out ahead of time, the better and more smoother your website launch will be.
2. Design with SEO in Mind from Day 1
Although you can optimize your website for search engines later, it’s ideal to think about SEO (search engine optimization, or SEO) out of the gate. SEO is more than just dropping in keywords throughout a web page. It has everything to do with your site structure and the way it is coded. Consider these SEO musts from the beginning:
- Code: Find a developer who is skilled at SEO and is up-to-date on what Google likes and doesn’t like as far as code goes. An alternative to a developer is purchasing a pre-made website theme, according to the content management system you choose (for this site, I chose X by Themeco, for WordPress; there are lots of other themes for WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, depending on which CMS you choose). Just be certain that whatever theme you choose, it has been rated highly for its SEO quality.
- Performance: If your site will contain lots of large images and video or other media, it can impact site speed and page load time. If your site takes more than a couple of seconds to load, it will poorly impact your SEO ranking.
- Mobile and Responsive Design: Responsive sites will automatically adjust their appearance according to the type of device on which they’re being viewed. Sites that are optimized for mobile and are responsive will be rewarded by Google.
- Content: The more high quality and highly relevant content your site has, the better. Make sure that your page and blog titles are concise, your meta descriptions are highly relevant to each page, and you have headings for each page. Don’t forget to submit a sitemap to Google Search Console so Google knows which pages to index.
3. Design with User Experience in Mind from Day 1
Google rewards sites that give visitors a good experience. Make navigation easy, make search simple and lead your visitor through the site, rather than making them guess where to go next. If you already have a website and know which pages are most popular among your target audience now, make sure those pages are easy for them to find on your new site.
4. Design with Mobile in Mind from Day 1
You probably hear a lot about this, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Data shows that mobile traffic now accounts for about half of Internet traffic. Don’t design your website primarily for desktop or laptop computers, or it could look awful and probably behave terribly when viewed on a mobile device.
With this site, it was almost like launching two sites. When I would add or change elements, I had to check to make sure those elements looked decent and worked well on my computer and then across mobile devices too. Some elements I had to disable for viewing on mobile devices because it would take too long to load or just not function well (for example, the video in the header on the homepage—you’ll see that only on a desktop/laptop but not on a smartphone or tablet).
Make sure that your website is designed to be viewed on mobile devices, just as much as it will be viewed on a computer.
5. Make It Awesome, but Forget about Perfection
It took me much longer than it should have taken to launch this site. I kept fiddling with it, tweaking things, changing stuff. Don’t do that. It won’t ever be perfect. You should strive to make your website pretty amazing, but as new services and technologies and tools become available, you’ll forever be testing and tweaking things. You’ll always want to deliver a great website experience and get the most you can from your website. But it won’t be perfect. Ever. Which leads me to my final point:
6. Test, Test and Test
Keep changing elements on your site—but for the sake of achieving a higher return on your site, not for perfection. Test what types of content perform better among your key audiences. Test new tools and technologies. Get the most you can from your site. Make your site as outstanding as you can so you can be on your way to accomplishing your organization’s mission faster.
I learned a lot of other things, too, but these lessons stood out to me. I plan to keep learning and hope you’ll join me!
If you are planning to either launch or re-launch a website, have you thought through what you want your website to do? What is the #1 goal of your website?