Website Essentials – A Solid and Simple Foundation

Creating a website requires a good starting point. If you start with a simple website containing the essential pages, you will establish a good foundation for growth. Churches, non-profits, clubs, and small businesses all have different goals and different target markets. Within each group, every organization will have a unique focus too.

Minimum Essentials

Most visitor-oriented or customer-focused sites should have two standard pages. This is not rocket science, but it is overlooked more often than you might think.

A contact form: Include a contact form and other contact information so visitors can ask questions and learn more about you. Email forms are great, but I feel it is important to offer a phone number and mailing address too.

Information about you: Tell your visitors about you and your organization. This little piece of information may never be the focal point of your site, but it gives it a personal touch. When you meet someone in person, do you ask about them? If you are interested in something, you naturally want to learn more about it. The same principle works on the web.

Organization Essentials

Each organization type has different foundational needs. The following list contains simple ideas to help you find the best pages to start a new website:

Making a Search Engine Plan

Improving your search engine ranking is an ongoing process that can take quite a bit of time. If you spend the time to build a website you probably want to leverage it and make it an asset to you, your organization, or your business. The tried and true strategy is to write great content and continually add more great content to it. If you build it they will come – as long as it is good. Unfortunately, most people want to see quick results after spending many hours (or dollars) to build a website. There are many tactics used to generate some quick results. The best plan would have some short term tactics that compliment part of your long term strategy. This will give you a quick jump in the search engines and some motivation to put in the effort to continue to grow your website and improve your search engine rankings.

SEO vs SEM – Some simple definitions:

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the work you do to lead traffic to your site. This is the off-page effort.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the work you do to your site. This is the on-page effort.

See Weberz’s article on SEO and SEM for a little more depth describing the two.

So, is SEO or SEM more important?

The safe answer is “It depends.” However, I believe that SEO will give your more in the long run.

Let’s think about this for a minute. . .

To illustrate this let’s assume you have to choose one or the other. I know it is crazy, but bear with me for a few paragraphs.

What if you spend hours on SEM?

In a future article I will cover each of the SEM items in more detail. A basic SEM plan will include:

  • Search Engine Submission – Submitting your URL to the search engines – At least the top search engines
  • Creating Press Releases – Writing, submitting and publishing Press Releases about your website.
  • Off-Site Article Writing – Writing articles for other websites that reference your website in some way.
  • Blogs – Creating a blog, writing blog entries, and commenting on blogs.
  • A link campaign – Convince or beg other websites to link to your site using either reciprocal links or one-way links.
  • Web Directory Submission – This is part of a link campaign. Add your website to free and paid directories.
  • Purchasing Text Links – Pay a broker to add your links on many different websites.
  • PPC Campaigns – Paid advertising using Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing, MSN AdCenter or other search advertising.
  • Banner Advertising – Create a banner and influence others to add it to their site.

It is easy to see how you can spend many hours and a lot of money spreading your links around the internet to increase your google page rank. This will get you results but it won’t last forever.  For example, Press Releases and article writing take time and actually improve other websites. You are adding great content that they will benefit from.

What if you spend hours on SEO?

In a future article I will cover each of the SEO items in more detail. A basic SEO plan will include:

  • W3C Validation, good source code, proper html, etc.
  • Proper naming structure of files for search engines
  • Proper phrasing of the page title
  • Inclusion of a robots.txt file
  • Creation of a sitemap
  • 404 error handling page
  • Meta tags
  • Relevant site copy to page title
  • Site navigational structure
  • Keyword inclusion in your text

If you were to spend the hours to make your website content great you will get to a point where your personal link sharing effort will level out. You’ll spend less time spreading your links around the web since others will do it for you. If you have good content your readers will share it on Facebook, visitors will digg it, subscribers will tweet it on twitter, and much more.

I am not promoting that you just splatter your website all over the web and direct searchers to some junk-infested content. That will work for a short time, but in the long run the good content will always win out.

Making a Plan for Your Church Website

Before you choose colors, images, pages and features for your church website you need to find out who is going to contribute. Often times, a volunteer web designer will explain all of the possible bells and whistles for a website in an attempt to “sell” the need to the church staff. It is with good intention that this friendly helper starts down the path. You must understand that the bells and whistles require effort to create and even more effort to keep updated. Don’t ask (or allow) someone to build tools that you won’t (or can’t) keep up to date.

Before taking responsibility for a website the volunteer and the rest of the team needs to clarify who can and will help with the web site. Here are a few questions to ask:

Do you have the basics covered? Make sure the essentials are covered first. Get the content for the foundation defined an in place before adding the fancy website features. Include Service Times and Locations. Explain the church beliefs. Add simple Contact information. Create a simple list of the different Ministries.

Do you want a Pastor Blog? Does the pastor like to write? How often and in what format. A pastor blog on a website is a great idea, but only if the pastor likes to write and has the time to write. A stale blog with an update every few months is OK, but everyone needs to know this is the plan (especially the readers).

Do you want an online events list? Does the office staff create the weekly bulletin with events and announcements? Who will be responsible for the various events? Will the events be provided by each small group leader? Will a single person enter it all? Will a single person gather it all? Are there “submission” deadlines to get into the weekly bulletin? How much more work would it be to add this information to the website if you use a particular program to create the bulletin? Would it be better to simply add it to the website and print the web page?

Obviously, it all depends on your church. If you have a church full of iPhone and blackberry junkies a web version of the bulletin may be OK. The church members may have read the information before church starts if it is posted online the day before (think of RSS feeds). On the other hand, if your church members generally enjoy carrying a piece of paper tucked in their bibles you may want to focus on the nice printouts and skip the constant web updates.

What about audio or video downloads? Is the web team also the audio and video team? Will mp3 files be available online? Do you sell CD’s and is this revenue necessary? If the Audio files are coming from a different person, do all the “handlers” have the right software to manipulate the files?

Communication – Often and Early!

The bottom line is to identify who does what and make sure they understand what is expected. Don’t let a single person sign up for everything — they may burn out and leave a proprietary mess. Start small and try to minimize sending all the files and information through a single person. Your webmaster should be in a position to help the rest of the church share information online.

Why a Church Needs a Simple Website

In my constant review of Church websites I continue to notice a trend. Sadly, I see so many church web sites that are outdated and full of blank “coming soon” pages. Yes, there are the exceptions, but most times these exceptions are larger churches with a web staff (of dedicated people). Many of the volunteer-driven church sites take off with great starts but quickly go stale.

If you are planning to build a site for your Church (you are the volunteer) think about where the site will be in a few months or a few years. Will YOU be satisfied creating, begging for, and cut-n-pasting content on a weekly basis? You must take this continued task into consideration before you make the plunge. You could spend hours design a sweet, up-to-the-minute, dynamic, streaming church website only to find that it becomes a mess and has nothing new and exciting to entice people to return on a regular basis. Even worse, it might cause confusion with old event and service times and old addresses.

If you are the church asking for a volunteer’s help (rarely the case), are you relying on the volunteer to do all of the work? Will you regularly provide fresh content to your web volunteer to keep the site current?

A website does not need to be a lot of work, but you need to determine what you want on a site before you choose to publish one.

Here are a couple considerations in choosing a direction for your website:

  • Do you want a fresh dynamic site with regular updates? If you design a site intending to publish a weekly audio file (podcast), video file, pastor blog, events, etc. then you must be prepared to continue down that path. If the path is overwhelming and too much work then the content will not be available. Visitors will see your site and notice that it has inactive areas.
  • Do you want a clean simple site that provides the basics? If you choose a site that is more like a brochure you might find the site is more fitting and manageable. The content will require infrequent updates and should require minimal maintenance. This site could be static HTML pages with some pleasant graphics and pictures. A simple static church website may serve your purpose now, but you need to consider the chance of growth in the future.

WordPress and Joomla are great tools to get you started. There are numerous free templates and themes readily available. The community support structures are well established and very friendly. While both WordPress and Joomla are powerful, you can easily setup a simple site with either one. Your simple site will become the foundation you can build on in the future.

If you would like some help getting your web foundation in place, please let me know. I’d love to help you through the process.

Adding Large Files to Sermon Browser

Many web servers have a file size upload limit. If you have large audio or video files you may need to upload your files using FTP.

Before you begin you will need the following:

  • Your FTP server: ftp.example.com
  • FTP username: yourName
  • FTP user password: example4Pass1w0rd
  • Location of the large file(s) on your hard drive. These files should NOT have spaces or special characters. I think it is a good practice, avoids potential problems, and simplifies troubleshooting.

Upload the files using FTP:

  1. Launch your favorite FTP client and log into your FTP server.
  2. Navigate to the Sermon Browser Upload folder. The default folder is wp-content/uploads/sermons/
    • Note: For most of my customers I set the base FTP directory as the Sermon directory. This means that you will not need to locate the sermons folder (you are already in it).
  3. Locate the file(s) on your hard drive.
  4. Upload the file(s) and wait for the upload to complete.

Verify the files are found in the Sermon Browser:

This verification step is not mandatory, but it is a good idea to check that you can see the files in the Uploads area.

    1. Log into your WordPress site
    2. Click on Sermons on the lower right part of the page
    3. Click on Uploads underneath Sermons.
    4. The files should be listed as Unlinked files

      Add a Sermon and choose the file. This step is the same as adding a sermon the regular way but you choose an existing file rather than upload one.

      Add a Sermon using WordPress Sermon Browser

      Adding a sermon using the WordPress Sermon Browser plugin is pretty straight forward. There is additional help available from the Sermon Browser administrator area too.

      1. Log into your WordPress site
      2. Click on Sermons on the lower right part of the page
      3. Click on Add Sermon. From the
      4. Enter the sermon Title.
      5. Select the Preacher or select Create new preacher from the drop down.
      6. Enter the sermon Date.
      7. Select the Service or select Create new service from the drop down.
      8. Enter the Time the sermon was preached.
      9. Enter some Tags. Tags are simply descriptive keywords for your sermon. These are free form and help users find related sermons. For example, if you have several sermons that mention the resurrection this might be a good tag.
      10. Select the sermon Series or select Create new series from the drop down.
      11. Add the Bible passage(s):
        1. Select the book of the bible and enter the first chapter and verse.
        2. If the bible passage is more than one verse, select the ending book, chapter and verse.
        3. If you have multiple bible passages add more
      12. Add the sermon Attachments. You can add more than one attachment using multiple formats. You can add a PDF, Word Document, PowerPoint Presentation, audio files and/or video files. Files may be added in multiple ways:
        1. Choose existing file: Use this option if you already uploaded a file. This is handy for large files that you added using FTP.
        2. Upload a new one: If you file is under the server size limit you can upload the file now.
        3. Enter a URL: If the file exists on the web already, you can enter the file URL.
        4. Enter embed code: This is handy for YouTube files and other services that have embed codes.

      Calendar Plugins for WordPress

      There are several calendar plugins for WordPress. You can find most of these plugins using the WordPress Plugin Directory Calendar tag.

      Events Manager

      This event manager attracted my attention with a few cool features. It has Google maps integration, an RSVP mechanism and recurring events.

      Events Calendar

      This calendar has a nice look, but it is lacking recurring events. It is hard to convince churches that Sunday Service needs to be added to the calendar each week. Of course, one could argue that if it is truly a standard weekly event it may not need to be on a calendar. I don’t know which way I fall yet…I can argue both ways.

      ICS Calendar

      I like this calendar because it can use a Google Calendar. I don’t always convince users that Google Aps is the way to go, but when I do this is a great option. For those using a different calendar program, this plugin works with most common calendar programs.

      Directory Plugins for WordPress

      There are several Link Directory or Business Directory plugins for WordPress. As a long-time Joomla user I really like to use SOBI on my Joomla sites. In my adventures in WordPress I started to search something similar to SOBI. So far, I haven’t had a lot of luck. I did give each of following a good test run and started a comparison. There is hope in this area and I have patience. Each time I try one again I will update this page…and if you have some notable information to add to the comparison, please let me know!

      WordPress Link Directory

      This is the first directory plugin that I installed and the first one I put into production (see the Pet Directory). It configures simply and works great. It has a nice landing page that shows all of the link categories. The only catch is that you have to trick it a bit to make permalinks work. Creating a custom style sheet took less than two minutes and I haven’t hit any errors yet.

      Notable Features:

      • Nice Directory landing page.
      • Automatic Page Rank Checking.
      • Featured listing option. Make some revenue from your link directory.
      • Reciprocal link checking that can be configured based on page rank.

      Wp-Directory-List

      This Directory plugin is OK. It appears that the version that I downloaded didn’t populate the directory page and the submit form layout. This just meant I had to create the submission form and layout page manually. It would have been nice to have a default page created. This is not a big deal, but it does take several minutes to setup. The configuration is well organized. Links can be added through the admin pages, but each link must be activated — no matter who enters the link.

      Notable Features:

      • Captcha enabled
      • Collects address information, but only displays it — doesn’t do anything with it yet.
      • Shrink the Web Image enabled

      Business Directory

      There is not much functionality available in the administrator area. At first glance it is confusing as the installation requires going to the developer website.  You need to manually create two pages, one page for the directory and a second one for the submission form. There is not any configuration available through the admin area. To add a link, go to the submission form on the front end of the site. There are quite a few fields including: Name, email, org name, org description, keywords, org website, org email, phone and address. After submitting the entry, you can review, approve or delete the listing in the admin area. The new entry appears in the directory. The address information does not appear to do anything at this point in time.

      Notable Features:

      • Address information is collected, but not used. I’d expect a future update to activate this.
      • The layout is clean, but it links directly to the site rather than a secondary information page.

      WP-Business Directory

      I was not able to make this one work.

      zeList

      For an internet directory this should become a good option. When I first tried this plugin it seemed to be buggy. It is not ready for use, but looks like the developer is packing it full of features. The author is definitely making progress with this plugin.  I like how the links were part of the standard WordPress links. The part that initially confused me was finding it there. All of the other link directories had their own area for links and I was just “trained” to look in a different area.  It also did not have a nice landing page showing all the link categories, but the revision created a list at the top of the directory page. There is some styling necessary to clean it up, but this is still a young plugin. I expect some great things from this link directory.

      Notable Features:

      • Features include checking for dead links — Nice!
      • Allows creation of link tags

      Open Links Directory

      This is a simple directory with a nice layout. It took me a couple of minutes to figure it out and it did not produce any errors. I submitted a site and it took a little time to figure out how to  make it appear in the directory. This one has some potential and I plan to look at it again in the future.

      Notable Features:

      • Nice Directory landing page
      • Page rank checker

      Which WordPress directory plugin do you use and for what purpose?

      Editing a product in a WP e-commerce shop

      After creating a store product, editing the product in your WP e-commerce store is pretty simple. Here are the basic instructions. If you find you are in need of more details, please ask.

      1. Log into your WordPress website.
      2. From the Dashboard, click e-Commerce to expand it.
      3. Click on Products.
      4. Click on the title of the product you want to edit.
      5. Update the fields you wish to add or change.
      6. Click on the Edit Product button at the bottom of the page.

      That’s all it takes.

      Note, if you add a new image, it replaces the original image. Presently, you cannot add multiple images to a product when using the free version. To upgrade to the Gold Cart there is a fee — but the fee is very reasonable and worth it if you need a lot more “power.”

      Adding a product to WP e-commerce shop

      Adding a product your WP Shopping Cart is pretty simple. Here are the basic instructions. If you find you are in need of more details, please ask.

      1. Log into your WordPress website
      2. From the Dashboard, click e-Commerce to expand it.
      3. Click on Products
      4. Click on the Add Product link at top of page
      5. Fill in the Product Details with all of your product information. The Product Details section contains the following fields:
        • Title
        • Stock Keeping Unit or SKU (optional) – this should be a unique identifier for this particular product.
        • Price
        • Description
        • Additional Description (optional)
      6. Fill in the Categories and Tags. The Categories and Tags section contains the following fields:
        • Groups – Groups are necessary to organize your store. See Adding Groups to your WordPress e-commerce to learn more.
        • Product Tags
      7. Select the Price and Stock Control options (optional)
      8. Fill in the Shipping Details (optional)
      9. Select the Product Variations.
        • If you have product options select the appropriate options. This might include t-shirt sizes or product colors. See Adding Variations to your WordPress e-commerce for more details.
      10. Fill in the Advanced Options (optional)
      11. Add Product Images (optional – but highly recommended!)
      12. Add the Product Download (optional)
        • If this is an electronic purchase add a file that customers can download.
      13. Click the Add Product button at the bottom of the page to save all of your hard work.

      Go to your site and see how it looks. If you see that you need to make changes you can edit your WP Shopping Cart Product.

      Your products are published by default.  Presently I do not see how to add an unpushished product. The only way to hide it is to delete it completly.