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Redesigning Your Church Website – Part 2:  Defining Your Audiences

May 23, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Do You Really Need a Redesign - Part 2.png

So you’ve decide to build a new church website, in spite of all the perfectly good reasons not to do so.  Before you rush off to buy a new copy of Frontpage and start working, there’s a few steps before we start actually building a site.  A little bit of time now will save you a ton of pain and suffering later. 

Any good communication plan starts with an audience analysis.  While it’s tempting to start by asking, “What do I want to say?”, it’s precisely the wrong question.  It’s far better to start with, “Who do I want to speak to and what do they need to hear from me for them to make the choices I hope they will?”  That feels a little manipulative at the outset, but it’s the real question behind most communication.  We tell people what time worship is in the hopes that they’ll show up.  We announce the potluck in the hopes that people come and eat.  We never force, and we generally don’t use guilt to persuade, but we communicate with a purpose.  Anything that gets in the way of unleashing the right response is noise for our purposes.  (For a brilliant presentation on this, see Kem Meyer’s presentation)

So how do we eliminate noise from our web content?  By first deciding who we’re talking to.  This is probably easiest to see by walking through a case study.

A Web Site Redesigned

When we began to redesign the seminary website, our first meeting involved setting out a list of everyone who presently visited our website and what they came there looking for.  I’m sure we weren’t exhaustive, but I’d bet we hit 90% of our audience.  From there we looked to see if there were natural groupings to begin to define audiences:

Audiences

What are they looking for?

Students

Announcements, registration, links to student systems

Prospective Students

Information on applications, programs, etc

Faculty

Announcements, links to faculty systems

Staff

Announcements

Supporters

Ways to help support the seminary

Alumni

Resources for parish use, ways to support the seminary

Other Pastors

Resources for parish use, ways to support the seminary

Congregations

Resources for parish use, ways to support the seminary

Daily Chapel Viewers

Daily chapel

Event Attenders

Event info and registrations


We immediately realized that nine audiences was too much for any single communication medium, so we  decided early in the process to split the audiences into internal and external communication and to group several similar groups by the content they were consuming:

Internal

External

Students

Future Students

Faculty

Supporters

Staff

Resource Seekers

 

Daily Chapel Viewers

 

Event Attenders

 

Armed with this structure, we mapped out the content which would go on our internal site, which would require a seminary login to enter and which content would go on the main website.  Here we resisted the urge to simply take all of the old content and lump it by internal/external audience.  We knew that we had important information that wasn’t on the website, and we knew that we had pages that had been out of date since the time of the Apostle Paul, indicating that the information they contained might not have been frequently used. 

Instead we visited each key stakeholder (in our case, campus departments) to discuss which of these audiences they communicated with in a regular way and what each audience needed to hear from them.  For each audience we determined the content we already had and which content would need to be written or rewritten.  Because we also wished to unify the seminary’s branding, we also made note of which logos were in use by the stakeholders and which would need to be created to fit the new, simpler look of the seminary logo. 

Potential Challenges

The most common challenge you’ll encounter in this process is when your stakeholders don’t have a clear view of their target audience, or when their target isn’t one that you’ve initially identified.  At this point we need to ask these questions:

  • whether this is a legitimate website audience which we haven’t considered and which may need to be refactored into our categories

  • whether this is an audience that just doesn’t exist

  • whether there’s just some information that doesn’t get included on the website. 

An example of the former category would be the need for alumni to be able to order transcripts.  We’d initially put all of the registrar functions on the internal site, but here we had a very clear case of a need for registrar content for those who aren’t immediately a part of the current campus community.  Fortunately, it fit (sort of) under resources, so we made a subsection of our resources for alumni which included the transcript request. 

The second category, content without an audience, were some of the harder conversations to have.  If an audience wasn’t one of our targeted ones, we had to weight the clutter of too many audiences vs. the ease with which other ways of communication might suffice (or even be better) for that audience.  In some cases that meant helping folks develop a separate web presence and in others it meant just simply not having the content on the page.  Be sensitive as you have these conversations.  The information is important!  It may just be that the website isn’t the right place to communicate it.

Next Steps

Once you have your target audience and a beginning of your content tree, it’s time to select a platform.  We’ll take a look at that next time!  Remember, we’re walking through ADDIE:

  • Analyze
    • Defining Your Audience and Message
  • Design
    • Choosing a Platform
    • Understanding Basic HTML
    • Understanding Basic CSS
    • Understanding Basic JavaScript
    • Finding Your Way Around Navigation
    • Picking Good Colors
  • Develop
    • Writing Good Code
    • Writing Good Content
  • Implements
    • Testing Your Site and Why It Matters
    • Getting Noticed
  • Evaluate
    • Analyzing Your Analytics
    • Feeding the Beast

See you next time!


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Rev. Bill Johnson

Written by Rev. Bill Johnson

Rev. Bill Johnson serves as the Director of Educational Technology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. He’s passionate about finding effective ways to share the Gospel with emerging generations and new ways to use technology to form the next generation of servants for the Church. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and three teenage daughters. Please pray for him.

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