As Catholics, we aren’t the only ones who should be striving for virtue or allowing ourselves to be defined by our Faith. Believe it or not, our faith should also define our websites. This means more, however, than simply delivering sermons from the web mount – it means using the tools at our disposal, and using them powerfully to deliver our Faith or products in an attractive, compelling and optimal manner.
Web technology is a powerful tool, with many applications and intricacies that shouldn’t be taken for granted. While there is the advanced, specialized know-how, there are also the basic building blocks of Catholic web design that we should know. You don’t need to be a developer to understand some important points about web design or integration. Knowing what to ask and why is key to any project – no less to the web.
The “Must-Haves” for Catholic Web Design
There are seven things that every Catholic who is stepping into the web should know and incorporate into their site. We’ll go through them one by one:
1 – Navigation
Who is your target audience, and what do they want? What are they looking for? If you are a parish, for example, then Mass times or event times are key information. You want your product and key information right…there.
Don’t make them hunt – if they have to hunt, they’ll probably just go somewhere else.
But if they can find the answers immediately, you become a resource. They’ll come back, and they’ll send friends to you, too. You can always provide links to other pages on your site or prompt them to read more with such hooks as “Read more here…”. Simple navigation means easy access and you want that great content out there.
2 – Social Media Integration
No one lives in a vacuum. Every goal, dream and message is shared, realized and driven by human interaction. People are movers and shakers and the same goes for the people on the web.
Whatever bias you may have about social media like Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, the fact is that they are vital to the success of every site, including that of a parish or church. When used well they perform well, as tools should. They’re not stumbling blocks. If your audience is connected on Facebook, you’ll want to be connected, too.
This is key for businesses, but it’s also good for parish community building as well. Businesses understand the importance of reaching and connecting with a consumer base – why shouldn’t Catholics have the same sensitivity?
3 – Email Marketing
Everyone has email. Whether you’re a business blasting out coupons and special offers, or a parish keeping the flock updated on news and events, email marketing is a powerful contact tool.
It may sound like a headache, but a good system will actually spare migraines rather than cause them. It will allow you to systematically control output, to streamline emails with your logo and branding, to manage who receives what and how often, and much more. Hint: the paper cuts are at a minimum with this kind of mailing.
4 – Mobility
Tablets don’t only come in stone. And androids aren’t semi-human robots. More and more cell phones are pulling in the web, and their users are increasingly more web-savvy. What does this mean for Catholic web design? It means that you have to be more than laptop friendly – you’ve got to buddy-up with mobile phones, too.
Does your site appear beautifully on a mobile device? If not, it’s something to go for. You always want your target audience to be able to reach you from their chair, whether it happens to be in a train, on a plane, or in the living room. The more accessible your site is, the more exposure you’ll have.
5 – Reliable hosting
Before you’ve connected yourself to all these great applications, you should anticipate and prepare for the traffic that’s coming your way. To avoid being squashed by consumers, check your hosting. Who’s going to provide it, and how much weight can they take?
There are reliable options out there, and if you look carefully enough, you’ll find that they’re not budget-killing, either. Take the time to look, and choose a firm whose services are versatile. If you only want hosting, then they should provide it without demanding your bread and butter in exchange.
6 – Good graphics & logo
Appearances aren’t everything, but they are something to Catholic web design. People will be more attracted to your site and your product if both are aesthetically appealing. If graphics aren’t your strong suite, work with a friend or a professional for whom they are. But it’s important to attract your audience with iconic logo and branding, and with an attractive, comfortable look and feel.
Spend time with this part. Dream it and draw it. Be artistic and creative. Any developer can throw up a functioning template for you in 24 hours, but you want more than function – you want appeal. And the prettier your site is, the more meaningful the design, then the more appealing it is. And appeal is memorable. Your visitors won’t easily forget a beautiful site.
7 – SEO
Having a great product is one step. Driving traffic is another. How do you flag web-surfers to your site in particular? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of developing a Catholic web presence. You want to narrow your focus on keywords: words that your target audience will be searching for most, and words that resonate with your product or service. You want to bulk up the meta-space of your site with these words, and you want to build links with other sites.
Whether you hire someone to optimize for you, or you choose to do it yourself with something like DIY SEO, the time spent is well spent.
7 makes a site worth seeing
In the end, Catholic web design is about customer service – it’s about serving our fellow brothers and sisters. The “virtues” listed are tools to accomplish that service. Without them, why would we expect anything less than faulty web design?
These “virtues” of Catholic web design will not guarantee your site success, but they will prime your site for it. Whether you intend to draft a simple parish site or something more involved such as an online store, these “virtues” serve and strengthen every make and purpose. After all, it’s not the devil who is in the details – it’s the saint.