Helping Catholics worship, serve others, and relate to the worldwide Church is a constant challenge for dioceses across the country. Being visible and welcoming to the broader community is just as important. Fortunately, the Internet has opened the door to exciting new ways to answer these needs.
Almost all dioceses have websites today. Many, however, struggle to keep information current and use their sites effectively. Sites that were launched several years ago are static and hard to maintain. And with a host of additional online communication tools like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube, demands for monitoring and managing online content are ballooning.
What’s the point of having a diocesan website?
Although technology choices today are vastly different from the early years of websites, the objectives for diocesan sites remain the same:
- To support active Catholics and keep them engaged in the life of the Church
- To inspire inactive Catholics and those looking for a spiritual home
- To expand fundraising capacity online for annual appeals and development campaigns
- To keep diocesan “branding” strong and the messaging consistent
- To give each diocesan office a voice to present and promote their specialized work within the framework of the diocesan “branding”
How do you do it?
In over 20 years of doing web design and development work with Catholic dioceses and other faith organizations, we have learned ten easy-to-follow steps to keep websites appealing, active, and effective:
1. Involve all leaders including the bishop, department directors and other decision makers in the strategic planning for the new site. This means taking time to agree on a vision for the structure and features at the beginning rather than after the site development is underway.
2. Make content management easy and quick. Your site will only be as good as the reliability of its content. Designate who will have editing access and select the most appropriate Content Management System (CMS).
3. Establish style guidelines for the site, especially if many hands will be touching the content. This includes font, color, language, and other style decisions. It isn’t practical to have a Communications Department handle all content updates, especially in large dioceses. You must provide guidelines and oversight, however, to keep the site design and content from veering off course.
4. Assign a leader when migrating copy from an existing site and integrating it with edits and new information.. It is no small job! In our experience, more site launches are delayed because of incomplete content than any other factor.
5. Build in site analytics, such as Google Analytics, so you can see how people are using the parish locator, calendars, press releases and other pages.
6. Use your home page strategically. The home page design is critical. It’s the conduit that will take visitors deeper into your site so use the most compelling content. Every message from every department can’t be displayed here.
7. Break up text and use pictures. Copy-dense pages will seldom be read. Break the content into short, easy to scan blocks of text and use bulleted lists. Use pictures when you can. Images are easier for the eye to “read” at first glance and can make an emotional connection more quickly than text. Use actual pictures of your community when you can, or stock photos such as Unsplash, Pixabay, Fotolia, and Adobe Stock.
8. Know your audience. Young Adult, Youth Ministry and Education sections will be busy and should be tailored to meet these special audiences. This is a good place to use Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook and other media.
9. Make it mobile friendly. These days, it’s critical to have a responsive website, so it is easily accessible on a mobile device. Responsive means that the layout of your site will automatically adjust to fit the user’s device, whether viewing on a mobile device, tablet or desktop.
10. Always review. The Internet continues to change rapidly. Schedule a site review at least annually to make sure you’re taking full advantage of new capabilities.
Your website requires an investment of resources and energy, but the returns are enormous. A well-designed and maintained site can be one of your best tools to connect people to their faith and inspire them to live it.