Help for Church Webmasters
Issue 25                                                                               9/3/03

The Cost of Content

When we are working on our websites we often think of the effort, money and hours that go into designing a page or site. There’s the graphics, maybe some are purchased, or maybe we hunted for hours through the “free” sites out there looking for just the right image. There’s the page backgrounds and effort involved in finding just the right one. There’s the church logo or denomination logo that we want to be just so. Maybe we have pictures of the church staff or church family on the page and there’s all the work that went into convincing those folks to pose for the camera and editing the images for the website. Then there is the page layout itself. We have to make decisions about 1 column, 2 columns or 3 columns. We have to make a navigation scheme and keep it updated for all the pages. We need to make a decision about guestbooks, counters, webrings and a 1000 other small things. Whew! I get tired just thinking about it.  

But the one thing that we often don’t think about is the cost of our content. How much time and effort is spent on the words of the webpage?  Let’s face it, most people don’t come to our site for any of the items in the above paragraph. They are there for the content. So how much effort do we put into it?

Consider the following scenario:
A church is going to start a website. They put together a team (can’t bring myself to use the word committee) and start working on the site. There are many meetings about the colors, the fonts, the images and maybe they even talk about what ministries of the church need web pages. But when it gets time to talking about the content of the pages it is decided to just talk to the ministry leaders get the information from them. The team basically bails on the most important part!!! I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Now it is left up to the one or two people (Joe and Judy Webmasters for our example) who are actually doing the site to come up with all the content. So they track down all the ministry leaders and ask them for something for the website. Of course the ministry leaders are all busy too and some don’t have time or forget and have to be nagged, ummm, reminded to provide something. The ministry leaders probably have no idea exactly what to provide either. They weren’t present at any of the planning meetings are entering into this project cold turkey. So they provide all sorts of different types of content written in different styles.

Well, in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles, eventually our persistent webmasters, Joe and Judy, have something from all the ministry leaders or they have given up and just hacked something out themselves. So Joe and Judy copy and paste out of the emails and word documents into the HTML and presto – they have content. Joe and Judy can now go out and celebrate with a dinner about a completed job. Something is nagging at the back of Judy Webmasters mind, like something is wrong. But she just can’t put her finger on it and decides just to have a good time that evening with Joe.  

In this scenario (which is fairly common), the content is not all that great and is probably down right lousy. There is no consistency between the writing styles, there are typos, it’s not carefully proof read and edited. No one took the time to make sure what was written made any sense to anyone outside of the church. There are terms and acronyms that are meaningless to anyone who doesn’t attend church there. And once the content is there, it never changes. It is stagnate. What went wrong? After all, we had two great dedicated people working on the site. They love their church, so what’s the problem? And furthermore, why bother should we bother with all the design issues if we can’t get the content to be decent?

Your content (the words on the page) is the most important thing on your site. Treat it that way! Here’s a suggested plan for making sure the content is top notch.

  1. Plan the content. Don’t just leave it up to the ministry leaders to decide what the page should say. Certainly they should have a part in the process. But give them some guidelines of what you would like for the page AND let them know that what they provide maybe edited for content, space and clarity. Plan what type of content should be on the site. Just schedules? Descriptions of the ministry? Should ministry leaders names and contact information be present? (if so, use church addresses and phones ONLY – no personal numbers and addresses on the site). Is each page going to be an invitation to join that ministry or work with that ministry? You get the idea. There are a bunch of decisions that need to be made about the content.
  2. Edit the content. Once you have the content, edit it. Generally, make it shorter. Reading on the web is more difficult and most people are surfing, not reading. Make the content so they can scan it and harvest the information they need. Make the writing style consistent across the site. Get help proof reading. Have several people look it over and give comments, if you can, get help from someone that doesn’t attend your church. An unchurched friend would be even a better proof-reader as they can help with Christian terms that might not be obvious to non-churched folks. You don’t have to implement all their suggestions, but it is good to get different viewpoints. Give consideration to using your key words towards the top of the page to help with search engine results.
  3. Approval process: If you have an approval process for your website, get the content approved. Take it to the committee and make sure they give it the ok. This can be painful, but it is worth it in the long run.
  4. Schedule updates: Some content is more dynamic than other content. Schedule updates that make sense for the content. For example, if you are doing the calendar you might have a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly schedule for updates. If you’re scheduling the updates for the list of Bible study classes, maybe you just need to check that twice a year to make sure it is still accurate. Use the calendar in your computer to schedule the updates so you will be reminded when it is time to review and update content.

It matters not whether you are working on a huge site with a big team or whether you are a one-person web team, your content needs to be given proper time and effort to get it right. 

See ya,

Bill

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