I’ve been making web content professionally for 15-plus years. Over the course of that time, I’ve come up with a few rules. For the past several years, I've talked a lot about the importance of interactions on your website.
Fundamentally, a website needs to be different than a print newsletter, because the internet gives you options you can’t have on paper, such as "click here" comes to mind, as an obvious example. But what is the difference between a good interaction that drives engagement and busy-work for the user?
Think of the user experience.
In my opinion, the strongest interactions follow five basic rules:
1. All web products must allow the guest to connect with the rest of the site and the church’s information easily. Nothing is completely self-contained, because everything feeds back to additional, reinforcing information elsewhere.
If you finish reading a blog on the kids church, the bottom of the page should include a photo gallery of kids pictures or a link to past Kids Church activities. Or better still, an article for parents in the church to find out how the kids ministry works. Keep the content relevant and focused.
2. Guests must be able to interact with the site. Whether enticed, challenged, or entertained, there must be an opportunity for them to make a choice: “Click here to learn more!” Sign up forms following an event with descriptions are a good example. This is done through two simple steps: 1. Give the users a strong call to action, like "Sign Up," and 2. Make sure the sign up form actually works! Nothing annoys a user like believing they signed up and never hearing back, because of a broken link or broken process.
3. Any interaction must lead the user to fulfill the intended goal of the page; whether that's a sale, a demonstration of comprehension, a download of data, a request for information or a simple chance to connect. And it must do so effectively in a way results can be monitored.
Ultimately for a church, the goal must be a deeper relationship with Jesus through better connection to the body.
4. Interactions work best when they lead to real connections with real people. Online relationships can be disposable, but if they lead to real life relationships, they are invaluable. Maybe respond to inquiries through the website with phone calls, or when appropriate, handwritten notes.
In a time when marriage proposals are happening on Twitter, we can’t forget that people have emotions and lives away from their PC and online avatar. Make a point of reaching out personally and using those online moments to invite them to the church to meet them in person. How much more amazing would our email prayer teams be, if we could actually get everyone in the same room for once?
5. Interactions must hold a clear benefit to the guests viewing it. Interactions may not exist for the sake of having interactions, and they must not waste anyone’s time. If it doesn’t lead to a connection, a sign up or a donation, it should at the very least be fun or informative or very short.
If I were to summarize the five rules into one, it's this: Think of the user experience. Give them the chance to make the most of their time. Be both the steak and the sizzle.