Presenter: Rev. Dan Harper
Prepared for UUA.org by the Rev. Dan Harper, Reporter; Margy Levine Young, Editor
"There is no conceptual difficulty involved in achieving significant growth in your congregation's website traffic," said Rev. Dan Harper. Harper is the parish minister of First Unitarian in New Bedford, MA, where he helps oversee that congregation's website. "Furthermore, you don't have to be a web designer; you don't have to be a computer programmer. I believe the key to creating a great website that people want to visit is simple: put great content on your website."
Harper said that elaborate web designs aren't as important as solid content. "A fancy-schmancy design for your website will attract people for about ten seconds," he said, "but if that fancy-schmancy design doesn't have any content to back it up, your visitors will not return, not ever again."
Harper offered case studies of three Unitarian Universalist (UU) websites to show how great content is generated for UU websites.
The first case study, the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), showed that a UU website should have content on it that appeals to newcomers, because most newcomers will investigate Unitarian Universalist congregations via the Web, and because many newcomers use the Web to deepen their knowledge of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.
Harper said that newcomers are already using your website to figure out if they want to come to visit a particular UU congregation. Newcomers will use a congregation's website to find out more about Unitarian Universalism, and to find out about a specific congregation. Similarly, newer UUs are also using congregational websites to deepen their knowledge of what it means to be a UU.
Good content to place on a congregational website, to serve these two populations, includes sermons by your minister(s) and newsletter columns by your minister(s) and religious educator(s). Harper also recommends listening to what people say about how they are using a congregational website, and then respond to what they say.
The second case study, of the private blog called "Philocrites" by Chris Walton, demonstrated how important it is to update any UU website regularly. "Update your website at least weekly, if at all possible," Harper said.
Harper recommends finding and paying attention to feedback loops in order to decide what new material to add. In other words, figure out way to discover what readers are interested in, and respond to those interests if it fits in with the overall goals of your site.
The third case study covered the website of the congregation Harper serves, First Unitarian in New Bedford, MA. "To build rich and deep content on your own website with few resources and tiny budget, you don't have to do it all at once," said Harper. "Using feedback loops, add new material and do constant maintenance."
Harper feels that weekly routine maintenance and updating of the website is essential. "Treat your website just like your newsletter," he said, "let staff do the routine work," thus facilitating regular updating. Reiterating an earlier point, he added, "Find out what people are interested in, and give them more of it."