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Research on Church of God Websites in Virginia
The Online Landscape
Building and maintaining a website is a delicate operation. The set-it-and-forget-it attitude does not (and can not) apply in the evolving online landscape. To survive and thrive on the internet takes careful maintenance and a watchful eye on creative design trends. Treating a website like a stuffed bird doomed to the Ron Popeil slow roaster will ensure its hasty demise. This is why it’s so important, especially today, to envelop your message with a quality online backdrop. We were curious to see how many Virginian congregations in the Church Of God adhered to a digitally sage approach. How many websites were eye-catching without being over-the-top? How many pages were easily navigated without succumbing to patronizing simplicity? How many websites could be located on Google without snorkeling to the murky depths of pages two to infinity?
Our data was gathered from the April-June statistic pages in the Fall issue of the Virginian. Using this data, we started with a simple standard: churches who had one hundred or more attending morning worship would be included in our study. Fifty one churches emerged out of the pile to meet this standard. Each church was input into a spreadsheet and the search for individual websites began.
A surprising 30% of these churches did not even have a website. Even fewer out of that group had an online presence altogether (usually a Facebook page). Without a proper website these churches could go no further in potentially meeting three set criteria we established in determining a site’s merit.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization or (SEO) is a term that basically describes how well your site fares on search engines, namely Google. The idea of SEO is to be organically visible, that is (optimally) ranking high on the first page without the help of paid advertisement. It can be easily argued, and agreed upon from personal experience, that if a website is not on the first page it is essentially invisible. When a website achieves a high ranking on a Google search its traffic increases. With increased traffic comes a boost in the site’s overall relevance and ability to reach new people.
The search-ability of a website may be the single deciding factor of its existence in the mind of the public. Word of mouth is sluggish, printed directories have atrophied and mail won’t reach a wide audience. If you want your message to be noticed it can’t just be online, it has to be at the top of the online pile, and Google is the go-to powerhouse that assembles that information pile.
The websites at our disposal were taken and put through the search engine ringer. Where did they rank on the results page? How far down did they appear? Were they on the first page at all? After searching each website carefully we came up with a result.
A whopping 65% of websites were not SEO savvy. Even more intriguing, some websites did not appear at all even after venturing to the twentieth page. Which is the first (and probably last) time we’ll ever go so far into that digital abyss. More than half of the websites go unseen by the searching eye. For those who want their message to effortlessly find its way to the public, this can pose a real problem.
Everyone is on their phone. Constantly. Since this is exceedingly true across all generations it would only make sense to tailor a website that fits the dimensions of the phone’s screen. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A website is normally built with the personal computer in mind. Text can be smaller because the screen is larger and navigation tools can be tucked in the corner easily reached by the click of a mouse. Simply put there is more room to work with because the tool accessing the site is considerably larger than a phone.
When a site is not mobile friendly, problems arise. Text is too small and requires the user to zoom in, thus making it comparable to reading a newspaper with a spyglass. Navigation can be a frustrating time-consumer due to buttons and links not being touch screen friendly. Most of the time people will give up, click out and comb the internet for a site more friendly to their eyes and fingers.
How did the our websites do?
Again, not great.
60% of websites researched were not mobile friendly. This means, for the on-the-go mobile crowd, more than half of the websites would have been ignored or eventually abandoned.
Aesthetics and Usability
We humans are predominantly visual. A website may have a great message, but if it looks like an local car commercial filmed in front of a wall made of birthday confetti it won’t be taken seriously. So, in keeping with this theme, let’s keep it brief.
We gave each website a grade from one to ten. One being the worst and ten being the absolute best. Included in this grade was the website’s aesthetics. Did the site look modern, sleek, and attractive, or was it an ugly duck? Usability was also considered in the grading process. Was the site easy to navigate? Could a person sail through each page with relative ease, or was it a jumbled, busy mess?
84% scored below a grade of five. Almost all websites did not meet an agreeable standard. Most websites fell victim to the outdated look which, with its antiquated graphics and design, rendered it entirely off-putting and unappealing. Unappealing can unfortunately lead people to viewing the site as untrustworthy, or at best not worth their time. In short- looks matter.
We will conclude on a more positive note with the top five church websites. These were the ones that rose to the top of the stack with number one being most favorable.
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