Design Trends

5 Ways to Amp up your Web Design

We live in a digital age where people are constantly immersed in the digital media that exists all around them, especially in the palm of their hands. Your online presence (or lack thereof) says more about you than you think. Having a website makes you look up-to-date, legitimate, and credible. How you present yourself initially to a viewer will make or break their perception of you. People expect fast, modern-looking sites, and they are easily turned off by a site that doesn’t appeal to their standards. If they feel that your website is dated, not relatable, difficult to navigate, or boring, then chances are that they will move on to the next search result until they find one that seems more promising. After all, if you haven’t updated your website since 2003, how can they really be sure you will even answer your email or return a phone call?

So, in this two-part series, we’re going to explore a few of the top design trends to consider when evaluating your current website or planning to launch a freshly-developed one.

1. Responsive Design

The fact of the matter is that most people now access the internet first and foremost (or even solely) from a mobile device. The days of static web design—a design that is built to fit only one type of screen size—are over. Now, it is not only standard, but crucial practice to utilize a responsive layout that will adapt appropriately to fit different monitor sizes or devices.

Investing in a mobile responsive website will allow users to easily visit your site from their phone verses a desktop computer. Nothing is going to turn off your page’s visitors like trying to view a desktop site from a mobile device. Nobody likes the inconvenience of having to try to zoom or click buttons too small for the tip of a finger to press. The more difficult you make this for the visitors to your page, the less time they will be willing to spend there. From a potentially dedicated new follower to somebody else’s client or congregant, your site’s inability to respond to mobile devices could send people straight back to Google to look for someone who understands today’s technology standards.

2. Authentic, High-Quality Photography and Video

As the average user experiences increasingly fast internet speeds, it is more and more possible to support large, high-quality photo and video without significantly impacting page load time, which had been an issue in years past. Now that you don’t have to wrestle between speed and content, eye-catching and creative photography and videography is a great tool to draw people into your site and make them want to spend time there.

High quality photos and video are key. Nothing makes a site look more outdated than blurry iPhone photos on your website. If your organization doesn’t have access to a high-quality camera, consider hiring a photographer for a few events or if purse strings are tight, a photography student may be willing to help you to expand their portfolio.

To maximize the potential of images and video, make them visible in the header area of your website and as background elements. This not only makes you look professional, it also calls upon the strongest human sense to capture the attention of users and engage them in your website’s content. If you really want to “wow” people, great photography and videography is a crucial element to pay attention to.

Make sure, though, that the images and video interact well with the overall message and purpose of your site. If these glossy elements clash with what you mean to represent, you may turn people away at the door. An image of a wide expanse of nature may be beautiful, but it may play against you if your church or business is city-based. Try to keep in mind what you think your visitor wants to see in those attention-grabbing pieces of media. Those pieces need to add up to an accurate image of what you represent.

3. Flat, Minimal Design

The appeal of flat, minimal design was probably inspired by branding introduced by Apple, Inc. Think of the clean look Apple presents the world: lots of open space on the page with a few sharp, clear images. This has become the preferred look across the web now, and users will reward you when they see it.

In an added benefit to the “cool” factor, a flat, minimal web design keeps your website from looking cluttered and focuses on quality content and information (along with those eye-catching images and videos mentioned above) that users find pertinent without the unnecessary, distracting bells and whistles.

While it can be tempting to throw all of the clever tricks you and your web designer know onto the page, keeping things simple and neat keeps users from having to constantly dig for what they are interested in on your website. As another nice bonus, it translates better into mobile-friendly layouts.

A word of caution, though. Minimal design reinforces the need for quality content with carefully chosen colors, use of white space, and intriguing photography to effectively engage and inform users. With fewer distractions, the quality of your content shows through—like everything else—much more clearly.

The flat, minimal design is key to any site that wants to look like it was made today and not 1996. But it’s not as simple as copying Apple’s use of space. There are a number of smaller elements required to really make the site’s design come together.

4. Bold, Strong Typography and Iconography

Larger, simpler type usage and fonts on websites has the double benefit of being trendy and also eye-catching. It aids in the process of developing a minimal design and allows designers to place emphasis and call-outs on a site in a clean, catchy way. Plus, with more font resources than ever, designers are able to call on more fonts for usage, allowing many designers to get creative.

The use of icons as a design is on the rise as well. Icons are easy to remember graphics that quickly convey ideas. Icons create simplified visual interest in conjunction with headline text or as stand-alone items. As with photographs, icons help encapsulate your identity at a glance in a way text simply isn’t able to. Although you want to avoid cluttering the page with too much, a few choice icons can save a lot of space and make the text you do use stand out more.

5. Hover States

A hover state is an action that occurs when a user puts their cursor over a particular item. A common example is with navigation menu entries: when moused over, the color of the menu item changes.
But, hover states can be so much more. Examples of these include size changes upon roll over, icon swaps, or images fading and blurring. This is becoming a popular way to engage users in conjunction with minimal design framework. Hover states make things “pop.” These simple animations add areas of interest and creativity to a website without being distracting or gaudy.

These are only a couple simple trends in the world of site building. Design trends are constantly changing as new innovative ideas change how we experience the internet every day. As you can see, at the current moment, it is imperative to adapt to the fact that most websites are accessed via mobile devices.

At the same time, users now expect to see a clean, minimalistic design that delivers information in a heavily visual fashion. Even if you don’t personally care about these things in your online experience, it is important to stand out and avoid falling behind in website trends because many people judge a business or ministry from that first impression. Having a site that looks modern and interacts in the way users expect it to can make all the difference between a user sticking around to learn all about you and drifting off to the next link on Google. Make sure, based on their web experience with you, that they don’t need to search any further.

3 Tips to Target Millennials in Your Church

3 Tips to Target Millennials in Your Church

It’s the demographic everyone is after: young men and women. Whether it is soda, cinema, or salvation, all our society’s advertising efforts are directed towards the Millennial generation. But with all that inundation of advertising, all that claim on young people’s time, how can you and your church stand out?

Here are three tips to get your message in front of young eyes and bring the young flock back into the church.

1. Don’t be Condescending

It’s easy to think of Millennials as internet obsessed and flighty. But don’t underestimate them. Millennials are the most educated generation yet. When you interact with millennials, be it in person or online, it’s best to treat them like adults.

Mutual respect goes a long way with this generation, and they’re more willing to learn from you if you prove to them that you’re respectful. Maybe you’ll learn something, too!

2. Be upfront with the direct generation

Millennials are tired of being targeted by advertisers looking to sell. At this point, they’ve seen all the tricks in the book. They’ve been raised on colorful commercials for sugary cereal and have come of age in a world of viral marketing. But the thing that works best and cuts through the new century’s cynicism is genuineness. People like John Green, who specialize in being genuine and upfront, develop huge followings. And those followings remain loyal.

By refusing to play the game of salesmanship with your church and instead putting forward an open, concise, and honest message of what you stand for, you will get much more attention than all the flash you could think up would have brought.

3. Let technology be your friend

This is perhaps the most obvious point, but one well worth remembering. Most of life for young people is lived online. Be prepared to meet Millennials in their preferred world of communication. That means not just Facebook and Twitter but Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat, among others. Always be ready to jump into new technology. You’ll have much more success if you bring your church to them than if you expect them to come to church.

All this can seem a little hard to handle for people already busy trying to keep God in the lives of every person in their community. Next time you are looking to spread the Word to the next generation, remember these helpful tips.

Women in Ministry: Following God’s Path

Women in Ministry: Following God’s Path

Galatians 3:28
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It’s not always easy for women to find a place in ministry. Even in our modern times, there can be an imbalance when it comes to leadership opportunities extended and available to men and women in ministry. Whether attempting to join the staff of a local church in a specific position, becoming a pastor of a pre-established church, or starting a new ministry, challenges may arise. Building a ministry is difficult for anyone, but even more so for women.

Fortunately, with a little creativity and God’s guidance, there is a path forward for anyone who is strong and determined enough to follow it. Here are some of the steps to follow to fulfill your purpose in ministry.

Be a Minister First

Often, women going into ministry become pigeonholed as a token women in their roles. In other words, you aren’t taken seriously. It’s quite common for women to be shepherded into “women-only” ministries that cover “women-only” issues. While those concerns are important, that shouldn’t be the limit of what you have to say about God.

There can be pressure to tailor your ministry directly to women. That may be your goal, which is perfectly fine, but if you wish to reach everyone, be sure to avoid the trap of speaking only to the concerns related to your sex. Bringing God into everyday experiences can be a way to invigorate faith, but try to avoid speaking only about stereotypically female topics. Broadening your approach to include everyone in the community will not only open the doors to a larger congregation, it will also demonstrate your ability to relate on a level beyond your gender.

Once a community begins to respect your voice as a minister, you will quickly be seen not just as a woman, but as a dedicated, faithful messenger of the Gospel.

Prove You Have the Mind and the Faith for Ministry

You may need to demonstrate your skill. For a man entering the holiest trade, basic credentials can suffice to prove his competence, but you may have to display more prominently your knowledge of God and scripture. Getting published and finding respected ministers to sponsor you will go a long way to assuage any fears that you don’t belong.

Turn the Other Cheek But be Bold in Your Convictions

No matter how hard you work to portray yourself as a respectable member of the ministry, there is always going to be criticism. The best way to deal with negative comments is to show Christian compassion even when it is hard. Try to understand the difficulty that some people have in accepting a woman guiding their spiritual lives, and return mistrust and dislike with kindness. By allowing those who struggle with your ministry to graciously return to the fold when they are ready, and to do so without stigma, you leave the doors open for reconciliation after a short period. You also de-escalate any disagreements and allow yourself to represent the more mature, godly side of the argument. Fighting back too hard can end up creating a fracture in the congregation.

Take Inspiration from those who Came Before

When the struggle becomes too much, look to those who came before to find the strength to keep going. The history of Christianity is full of women who have testified to God’s holy truth. From Christ’s mother to the early female martyrs, Christianity’s founding is full of powerful women who stood up and spread the Word of God.

Christianity could have never grown as far and quickly as it did if not for these women.

Use their stories to strengthen your faith and resolve in the face of opposition. Whatever you face ahead, there have been women who faced greater odds, and through the power of Christ, overcame them.

Raising SEO Ranking

Raising SEO Ranking

Let’s be honest: we all want to see our church’s posts rank at the top of Google’s search results. But it’s hard to get noticed in the unending world of online content. Even if your church has a lot to say, it often gets drowned out by the biggest voices online. It can be frustrating to get people to pay attention or even see your content.

Part of the difficulty is due to how Google ranks content. The world’s most popular search engine can be a hard place to get noticed. If you don’t publish for one of those already established sites that are already popular and already heavily trafficked, it can feel like there’s simply no way to get your words (or the Word) in front of new eyes.

That’s where SEO comes in, or search engine optimization. These are techniques that can move your content up Google’s rankings and get your site noticed.

Unfortunately, like so much involved in modern technology, SEO can be complicated. But to help ease the burden, we’ve put together a guide with a few tips to get Google to help lift your message higher and bring new eyes to your page.

1. Keywords are Still Key

Keywords are the crucial set of words and phrases that define what you’re talking about. If you are in the baseball card business, for instance, “baseball,” “card,” “trade” or “sale” would probably be key to any topic you cover, while “Babe Ruth” and “Hank Aaron” might be key to a particular article.

If you were involved in SEO in the 1990’s or early 2000’s, you may know that having lots of keywords in your content was very important for high page rankings. However, since search engines now use a number of ways to determine where a page is placed in a search, keywords are not the only way to get a page to move up.

That doesn’t mean that keywords don’t still serve a purpose. So, putting the right words in your page title, for instance, can still improve how relevant Google considers your article to the most common searches.

If you are writing about activities in your community around Christmas, be sure to put those main concepts in the page title or first few sentences of the first paragraph. “[Cincinnati] Christmas Activities” will net a far higher ranking than “What you can do around [Cincinnati] at Christmas.” This can take a little time to adjust yourself to, since the latter may seem more intuitive.

Using those words again (and/or synonyms) in the article will further reinforce the exact niche your article fits into. In our above example, starting your article with a sentence like, “The local Christmas activities for [Cincinnati] will include:” with a keyword-rich list of events, would help Google sort your article into its proper place.

A word of warning, though. If you try to stuff too many keywords and too much keyword repetition into your article, Google may actually penalize you. So, tread with some care here, and make sure your keywords read like a natural word selection in every instance.

If you’re struggling to come up with keywords, consult authoritative sources like Google Adwords to generate some ideas.

2. Keep the URL Short

It’s easy with all the effort going into building your church’s presence online (Using Social Media to Promote Your Church & Crafting a Church Marketing Plan) to forget the little things that Google seems to cherish above all else.
One of those is right there above this article: the URL.

If your URL is short and keyword rich, Google is more likely to notice it. With such an obvious and simple trick, you might think this would go without saying as you click “publish” on that next post, but not every site-building platform will naturally create short URLs. Unnecessary information like the date or sorting categories connected to your site layout or even a seemingly arbitrary set of numbers and letters can clutter the address and will cost you when Google comes scanning your page for relevance.

For optimal results, keep the URL short and to the point, ideally with just your main site address and the keyword-rich article title.

3. Go Long

Despite the common assumption these days that no one knows how to pay attention anymore, Google is a big fan of long articles. If brevity is the soul of wit, verbosity is the essence of ranking.

While the exact word count Google looks for isn’t known, the search engine does seem to prefer content with more than a thousand words.
So, don’t be afraid to add a few more points to your post or an anecdote or two. If there’s another story that might make your point stronger, add it with all its requisite detail.

While it will do no good to jabber on if your point is already made (Google measures how long and how far down the page visitors read), and simply adding nonsense to extend your page length will immediately be noticed as spam, the general rule should be this: if you have the ability to elaborate on a subject then do so.

4. Keep it Quick

Fast and responsive websites also rank higher for Google, and that makes a lot of sense. How often have you clicked a link and grown frustrated waiting for the page to open? If you do that, and every other user does that, imagine how frustrated Google must get with that extra half-second it takes to reach your information.

This point goes well-beyond just SEO. This is just basic online courtesy.
Think of it like this: if your church has greeters at the door on Sunday who hold the doors and welcome people in, how do you think a prospective new congregant would feel if it takes forever to get a greeter’s attention and get the door opened to enter. Would that person wait around, or would they decide this church really isn’t for them?

Basically, if you want others to come to your church, and if you want Google to help you, you have to show some speediness in holding their interest. Take the time to time your site and make sure everything is loading with consistent, blazing speed. Google prizes this so highly, it has revealed publicly that this is an important factor in its ranking system. Google has also provided a site that can tell you how fast your site is and what you can do to improve.

5. Link link link

Google loves links. Connecting content makes Google’s job easier and creates a more cohesive experience for those searching through topics. But while most links are good, some links are more worthwhile than others.

Internal links are links made to your own content on your site. These are less weighty than external links that lead to and from other sites, but they still serve the purpose of getting more eyes on your past posts. The longer users spend on your site, the more Google will be willing to raise your site up in the rankings. These internal links also merge your material and identity into a cohesive whole. Feel free to link within your articles to your church’s statement of faith or previous articles. You’d be surprised how many people will click to learn a little more about what you’re about.

But external links are where your Google ranking can really start taking off. That’s because Google has become very interested in what it calls “authority,” a somewhat ambiguous concept attached to sites that people trust and frequent. Authoritative sites tend to be the major news outlets, government sites, educational sites, and similar prestigious institutions.

To really get Google’s notice, you would need one of these sites to link back to you, thus lending you some of that precious authority. But peppering your pages with authoritative links does show to Google that you consult trusted sources and present accurate information, which is a major concern for the search engine.

A word of warning, though: just like keywords, overusing links can get your posts labeled as spam. With every link, make sure it is germane to the topic and that the link works. Even more, don’t start buying links from other sites. Google has become very good at sniffing out which links are authentic and which are bought.

One way to get genuine links can be through guest posts from another authority in the field. Have a fellow pastor from another church write a few posts and then share links between the two sites. Creating such connections will bring more visitors to your site and strengthen your own authority in the field.

6. Share Everything

Perhaps this goes without saying, but social media is simply the way of the world these days. According to Pew Research, 62% of Americans get their news from social media at least some of the time. Avoiding Facebook and Twitter is quickly becoming an impossibility for businesses and churches alike.
But it isn’t just a matter of setting up the page and occasionally posting a verse from Scripture. To really use social media effectively, you need to post and share content regularly. That’s the only way to ensure that your content is going to get out there.

Just like Google, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what news gets in front of its users every time they log in. If you post rarely and those posts aren’t shared, it’s hard to convince Facebook to place your latest article at the top of the page, unless you want to pay them. To avoid this, simply get into the habit of sharing. Share posts from other churches that you think will speak to your congregation as well. Share photos from recent church events. Share stories about congregants and about yourself. Preview next Sunday’s sermon. Then, make it easy for others to share for you as well. Make those Facebook and Twitter icons on the page easy to identify. By giving your readers the option to share the post easily, much of the work can be done for you, which brings more viewers, more external links, and a higher ranking on Google.

SEO is a vast topic, and these tips are only the tip of the iceberg. But if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be well on the way to making sure your church is the first stop for anyone in search of an answer.