Recently, we were working with our church on their online presence. We decided to put a full-blown internet marketing plan in place. Why on earth would a church need a marketing plan? They don’t sell anything, and don’t really need to market to anyone, right?
Churches are businesses – non-profits obviously. Nonetheless, they are a business. ALL businesses need a marketing plan. In the case of the church, we want to market to people who are looking for a new church because perhaps:
- They’ve recently moved to the area
- They are looking for a new church because the old one isn’t serving their needs anymore
- They want their kids to be involved with the church
- Any of a variety of other reasons
In defining who is the audience that’s coming to the site, we broke it into two broad categories: existing members and regular attendees, and of course, people who are looking for a new church. What they want to see probably overlaps some, but they may have distinctly different needs.
Complete Website Overhaul
The first step was to design a brand new website. The old website was functional, but its look was stale and not terribly inviting. The content was a bit out of date, and it was very static. There was no clear call-to-action for people who came to the site to figure out where they wanted to go. Instead, we gutted the entire thing, started fresh with WordPress and a StudioPress child theme called Outreach that uses the Genesis parent them. It’s flexible, mobile aware, and we could easily customize it to look how we wanted.
The main rotating images at the top show the core values of the church, and each is clickable to a page that clearly explains each core value. Then below that are four smaller images that clearly lead somewhere. The two on the left are for existing members to get to the “News” and the “Calendar of Events”. The two on the right are for new people or visitors to take them to a page that introduces them to the two co-pastors, and to a page that is an FAQ for how service is held, what to wear, and so on.
I’m also actively encouraging the use of video to put a personal face to the church. The pastors each have an intro video. The youth and children’s ministry leaders also have an intro video.
Overall Marketing Plan
Those are the basic mechanics of the website. What we really needed was fresh content and fresh information that’s always being added to the site.
So I rounded up the pastors, the staff (including the office manager) and a few other people that are involved with various aspects of the church. Each of them was set up with a user id on the site, and given Editor access. They have the full capability and right to make changes to any page on the site. If something’s not correct, change it. We spent a couple hours in training going through everything.
Furthermore, my hope (expectation) is that each person provides an article or two that goes into the news section (or blog). There are LOTS of things going on at the church
- Mission projects
- Community outreach
- Internally focused groups, classes and fun things to do
- Volunteer opportunities
We didn’t do a good job of communicating any of it before. Now we have a regular stream of articles that gets posted to the site, and a lot of that material goes into the monthly newsletter, Asbury Articles.
I also taught them the fundamentals of search engine optimization (SEO) so that they could understand how the Title and Description tags work.
Finally, I’m encouraging the pastors to get into blogging a post each week, giving an intro to the service and sermon for Sunday. This way people can see what it’s all about, and know ahead of time what to expect. I’ve told them that it’s even OK if they post the entire sermon, because I as a reader might be out of town and have to miss Sunday, or maybe reading it first, then experiencing it on Sunday will make it more meaningful for me personally. Soon, we’re going to be posting the podcast recordings of the sermons so people can listen any time they want. These of course, get posted on Facebook, and people seem to be enjoying the previews.
Social Media and Social Proof
Social media has played a big part in promoting events and other things going on at the church. We have approximately 250 followers on the Asbury UMC Facebook page. Every single article (blog post) gets published to Facebook around noon, Monday through Friday (when most people are online). Each has a simple call-to-action (CTA), like, “Like this post if you’re going. Comment if you were there last year.” That encourages people to like and comment, which then spreads the visibility of the articles to their friends.
I wanted to develop a Yelp presence because Yelp shows up very high in the search engine results page (SERP). So I made sure the Yelp page was claimed, updated, had photos, the history and all the other information they want. Then I quietly asked a few people to write a review on Yelp. Once we got two reviews, I put the button on the website in a prominent location on EVERY page.
What Results Have We Seen?
The site has been up since the end of May, so approximately 45 days as of this writing. From a search engine and traffic perspective, comparing the last 45 days to the previous 45 days, I’m astounded at the results we’ve gotten.
- Overall visits: Up 111%
- Unique visitors: Up 59%
- Bounce rate: Down 24%
- Direct visits: Up 117%
- Google search: Up 55%
- Yahoo! search: Up 50%
- Bing search: Up 147%
- Facebook referrals: Up 9,650% (wow!)
Statistics Are Great, But…
This is all fine, but if it’s not helping people come in, the extra traffic isn’t doing any good. So what tangible results have we seen?
Vacation Bible School (VBS) is an annual week-long summertime activity for kids. A whopping 2/3 of the children attending this week are NOT from the Asbury community. They’re coming from the Livermore community, which is a way that parents can see the inside, experience it from their kid’s perspective and perhaps join. Yes, I optimized that page so it would show up high in the search engines.
We have three new young people who just started attending two or three weeks ago. They are interns from Princeton working at the Sandia National Laboratories. One them wrote a note to the Pastor:
I remember you said that you were interested in what role the website played for me, and I did not really get to elaborate this morning. For me, the website was my main source of information, and I think a main thing that made me choose to go to Asbury was that I felt more comfortable going to Asbury when reading the website. One section that helped with that was the section for newcomers as well as a part I remember reading about embracing diversity. As an Asian American, being among a group of people that respected and embraced diversity was important to me, and I think that Asbury has definitely held to that commitment.
This, to me, is a total SCORE. This is why we have a new marketing plan in place. Bringing new people into our midst is going to give us fresh ideas, fresh perspectives, and attract other like-minded people to our doorstep.
By having many people participate in the upkeep of the content of the website, contribute articles, news and anything else they want to say, as someone said, “Many hands makes light work.” And it’s definitely paying off in just a short month or two.
As a pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church, I loved reading this post! Tom did a great job in helping us feel comfortable with our new website, and gently nudging us to keep on posting. Just having the website up and running wasn’t enough….we needed to use it effectively. Tom had the technical skill to desgin our new website, as well as the teaching skills needed to get us comfortable in using it.
Great article. I talk with lots of pastors every day and most of them don’t understand why a good presence online is pretty much a necessity now for churches.
When people hear about a church via word of mouth, driving by or maybe a billboard or other print marketing, they will Google your church.
I wish more churches were prepared for this.
Thanks, Sarah. I appreciate the feedback. IMHO *all* businesses (and yes, churches are businesses too) need a marketing plan, or they get left behind in the dust.