Any website designers reading this are probably shaking right now after reading that headline. SEO is short for ‘search engine optimization’ and relates to where your website will show up when people search for things. For designers, SEO and websites go hand-in-hand. SEO is about discovery through searches, and for business this is very important to be competitive. But for parishes, we’re not in the competition game . . . we’re in the service game. Therefore, functionality is what the website is all about for a local parish.
So what should a parish website look like? What are the core things that should be included? To better see what this looks like, you want to model your parish website after your office. The best purpose of the parish website should be to create it as an extension of all those services your office provides to visitors. So, yes, an attractive appearance is just as important as it is when people enter the parish office. Here are the core things your parish website should have:
- Welcome/Home page should have the parish mission and announcements. Announcements are a great way to alleviate reliance on the bulletin. We all have space constraints in the bulletin and everybody wants their thing in it. An announcements section provides another avenue to highlighting events in a quicker way rather than waiting until Sunday.
- Clergy and staff directory page. I prefer this to have photographs of the individuals because it’s more personalized that way. The directory should include phone and email contact information and can include a short bio if you wish.
- Ministry Directory page. Most parishes have several ministries and by listing all of them on the website with who to contact provides for a very easy way to keep the list organized and up-to-date. It should include who to contact in regards to the ministry as well. We enhanced this at our parish and also created individual pages for each ministry as well and linked to those pages in the directory for visitors to get detailed information in regards to each ministry.
- Parish calendar page. This should be an embedded online calendar. I’ve seen parishes do this as a PDF document that pops up and am not a fan of this. The reason is that it is too many steps. An embedded online calendar such as Google Calendars allows the information to updated by any volunteer or office staff which automatically updates on the website. Enter once and use everywhere approach.
- Mass schedule page. This again should be an embedded calendar that is separate from the Parish Events calendar. The reason is that most of the time Masses remain the same times, but Holy Days and holidays are obviously different. This makes for a very neat and organized way to communicate alternate Mass times.
- Parish history/information page. This is typically the “About” page you see on most websites. It should have the generic address and phone contact information. You can also include an embedded satellite map from services like Google or Bing maps. This way, out of town visitors can easily get driving directions.
- Catholic Links page. There are a ton of great Catholic websites. Create a page that links to them and organize the page by categories. Link to your Diocese, the Vatican, USCCB, etc.
Those are the basics, and they allow you to mimic the information parishioners can get when contacting your office. Once you have those pieces in place, then you can further enhance the website to automate administrative tasks and provide further services. Online forms are a great example of this. By moving forms such as new parishioner registrations online you can then make them available for download by visitors. This in turn reduces requests to the office saving time and saves money that is normally spent on printing and mailing. In turn you do not need to worry about storing blank forms since if you did need to provide a copy to someone visiting the office, you can simply print one from the website.
Sounds great, but what could hold this back? People and the willingness to change. You obviously have to continue to provide the same things from the office for those without internet connection, but the goal is to reduce the need to go to the office for information. You’ll need to refer to the website for about 30 days as requests come in. Refer to the information contained on the website in announcements in the bulletin. After about 30 days people will begin to “get the picture”.
What are your thoughts?