Creating a good first impression with your website
Have you ever watched someone get ready for a first date? They probably cleaned up more than usual, put on fancier clothes, and made sure their breath was just right. Why? Because first impressions are really important. The same is true in the digital world. That’s why I want to give you a few simple tips to ‘spiff up’ your digital impression, because it matters to this millennial generation. These easily implementable ideas can help you build that “first date worthy” digital impression.
Keep the address simple
One thing that can deter people from finding out more about your event or ministry is a complicated, long-winded website address (or universal resource locator: URL). A website address containing an off-putting string of dots, dashes, or random numbers is not going to encourage people to check out your website, let alone revisit it.
Many websites exist because Internet service providers (ISPs) offer them as freebies to new customers. The problem is that the website is buried at the end of wherever the ISP decided to let people put websites (for example, www.internetserviceprovidername.yoursitename).
So what’s the solution? You need your own domain name. Thankfully, it is not difficult. Google, GoDaddy, WordPress, DreamHost, and many other hosting companies offer ways for website builders to purchase a personal domain name, often for less than US$10 a year. Having your own domain name not only makes it easier for people to get to you, but it also allows you to interact with those people in new ways. It opens the door to a lot of other useful digital resources like your own email addresses, subdomains, etc. It’s a great first step toward creating a better digital impression.
Beware of freebies
Free is not always better. Just because your ISP lets you host a website for free does not always mean they will provide you with real services. Often they put a lot of ads on sites, and who knows what ad will show up—they don’t always give the impression you want people to get when visiting a ministry-related website. Another snag is what happens to all your content if you switch ISPs? Having your content tied up with an ISP can leave you with little to show for all the work you put into a website when you switch hosting companies. Sites hosted this way may have many other limitations: you may not be able to change the theme, stop the advertisements, make sites mobile friendly or multilingual, or get your own domain name.
You need data
The greatest problem with free sites provided by ISPs is that they don’t give you access to the most valuable tool for improving your site—data. Data (or analytics) includes information such as when people visit, where they are when they look at your site, what pages they access on your site and for how long. Having a site and not seeing data is like going on a blind date blind. Digital analytics have moved way beyond the page hit counter you may still have collecting dust at the bottom of your page. Today, powerful analytics give you information that helps you quickly build a picture of who is checking out your site. They can also be an encouragement because it lets you gauge the effectiveness of your website and the interest people are showing in your ministry. Tie this information-gathering with the outreaches you do and it can often give you a good idea of which neighborhoods in your city are showing the most interest. That can help you see who you are and are not reaching.
If you are just starting from scratch and want to get something off the ground easily and without cost but with enough features and information to assist you in the long run, I recommend Blogger.com or a Facebook page for your ministry. Both have well-developed social systems and data gathering and will be there if you forget to pay your Internet bill. They can also serve as a framework for a more robust website in the future as your ministry continues to grow.
I hope these tips serve you and your ministry well. If there’s ever anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to write to me at email@example.com.