by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear
Most of the people you want to talk with today—pastors, donors, missionaries, recruits, etc.—expect to find you on the Web. Not having a Web site today is like a business not having a fax machine a few years ago.
Most of the people you want to talk with today — pastors, donors, missionaries, recruits, etc. — expect to find you on the Web. Not having a Web site today is like a business not having a fax machine a few years ago. It says, I’m not serious about communicating with you. The Web is rapidly becoming the medium of choice to find important information, to start a relationship, and to transact business.
With the coming of the Web a fundamental shift has occurred in how “marketing “ is done. Now, instead of an agency trying to find the right people and spending money to send communications to them, the “right people” are finding the agency and spending money to initiate the communication process themselves.
So, hang out your cyberspace shingle and let them find you. Let them easily learn what they really want to know about you: your heart for ministry, your fields of ministry, your personnel needs, your statement of faith, how they can communicate with the people they care about, even your financial situation.
Here we will walk you through the steps to starting a simple Web site of your own. It’s not hard to get started. Nor is it expensive. Assuming you already have a computer, modem, phone line, and Internet account, you can start your own Web site for practically nothing. Following are the minimal components of a Web site.
Web Authoring Software. Don’t let the fancy name scare you. Essentially, this is a (surprisingly easy to learn) specialized word processor that creates documents in HTML format.1 Current versions of both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator come with simple HTML editors; these can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com and www.netscape.com. Newer word processors have a “Save as HTML” function, so you can, for instance, use Microsoft Word 97 to create a document and then save it in Web format. Cost: free (download).
Initial Content. Start with the text (and optionally, graphics) of your current promotional pieces. Cut and paste them into your Web authoring software. Use a standard “template” to give all your pages a uniform look. Keep your pages (documents) relatively short—people don’t like to wait a long time to download a lengthy document. Cost: only your time.
A Host Computer. You should probably have an outside service “host” your Web site. Web hosting for a small site may come free with your Internet access account. For larger or more complex sites, most commercial Internet service providers provide Web hosting at $15 to $50 per month, depending on site and complexity. There are also several Christian nonprofit providers of web hosting, including Mission Aviation Fellowship (www.maf.org), Gospel Communications (www.gospelcom. net), and GOSHEN (www.goshen. net). Cost: free, or as low as $15 per month.
FTP software. If you are going to be sending your Web files to a remote host computer, you will need simple FTP2 software. Your Web service provider may provide you with FTP software as part of their service; if not, get their recommendation for a package to use. A couple of examples are WS_FTP Pro3 (www.ipswitch.com) and FTP Voyager (www.ftpvoyager. com). Cost: free – $40.
An Internet domain name. Free or very low-cost Web hosting will usually give you a home page address that looks like www.my_provider. com/your_organization. If you want your home page to be www.your_ organization.org, you will need to register a domain name. Your service provider will probably do the domain registration paperwork for you. Cost: $70 for the first year and $35/year thereafter for your own domain name.
A friend. Almost certainly someone near you knows a lot more about the Web than you do and would love to give you some help. Ask him or her for advice and practical assistance; you might be surprised. Cost: probably free; your friend might even pitch in to cover some of the other costs!
Beyond the basic technology, there are a few communications basics to understand. Be clear about the intended audience and primary purpose for your Website, and adjust your style and content accordingly. If you want to recruit Xers, it better sizzle, move fast, grab them, with nothing text-heavy. If your site is for associates in the Two-Thirds World, keep the pages clean and simple so that old browser software can run them and pages can be downloaded quickly (likely via slow, expensive phone lines). Whatever you hope to accomplish through the site—raise funds, sell services, or give your constituency access to inside information—affects your design.
Just as you wouldn’t say to your printer, “Create a brochure for us,” don’t say to your computer people, “Build a Web site for us.” Remember, the Web is primarily a communications thing, not a technology thing; it is simply another medium of communications.
Understand how people read Web pages. “Boring” is a four-letter word on the Web. So is “long” (as in long textual documents you have to read through before finding the bit you are interested in). Web users won’t tolerate waiting a long time for a lengthy document or complicated graphic to download. Display part of the document or a “table of contents” and let the user jump to what he or she wants to see next.
People read Web pages differently than they read books or letters. Most Web users do not read sequentially; they jump around, quickly moving to another place if the content they see on the screen does not immediately interest them. So break your text into small bits, with lots of links offering viewers the ability to go immediately to other content.
Web surfers don’t expect to return to a site sometime later and see the same old stuff. They expect your site to be constantly updated (unless you’re dead). The Web is dynamic, not static, and your users expect you to capitalize on that. So count the time cost before you start. Commit to regularly updating your Web site. Also, commit to regularly verifying that your links to other Web sites are still valid. (Web sites often change addresses or simply die.) Surfers dislike clicking on links that return error messages.
Unlike a book or newsletter, for which you can, if you wish, largely control distribution to your friends, Web sites are more like public billboards. Whatever you put on your Web site can be easily seen, used, and abused by anyone: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” This especially applies to security issues. Please do not put the names and addresses of your missionaries working in sensitive places on your Web site (and ask your supporting churches to exercise the same precaution on their Web sites).
Your site is, of course, of absolutely no value if no one sees it. So you must understand how people find your Web site. This happens primarily through some combination of three ways.
1. Someone (a friend, brochure, article, advertisement, etc.) tells them about your site. So make sure you put your Web address4 on your letterhead, brochure, display booth, donor receipts, etc. Put it everywhere you can.
2. They “jump” to your site by clicking on a link from someone else’s Web site. So think hard about what other sites might be similar to yours in topic, or sites that might serve as natural gateways to your site. Ask, “What other Web sites would people I want to communicate with likely go to?” and ask those sites to include a link to your site. And be sure to include a link to their site on your page.
3. They use a search engine5 to find your site. So learn the basics of how the leading Internet search engines work.6 Put the appropriate key words in your Web documents so people will find you when they use search engines.
Write a good descriptive title and well-articulated opening sentences at the beginning of each Web page. Most search engines will show only this information to the user and will rank pages with keyword “hits” in the title higher in the search results. Also, having found a great site, users often “bookmark” the site. By saving a bookmark pointing to your Web page, the “title” of your Web document is what is automatically saved in the user’sbookmark file, so make sure that title makes sense. Then register your Web pages with the leading search engines or use a service such as Submit It (www.submit-it.com) to automatically register your site with leading search engines for free.
So crank up that Web site; there’s no excuse. It’s too important to put off for another year. It’s affordable, easy to start, and easy to avoid “stupid mistakes.” Remember, it’s not about fancy technology. It’s about communication and relationships. And please, repeatedly on your Web site, give surfers a way to communicate with real people. One idea: Give them opportunities to click on a link to immediately send you a personal e-mail message.
As always, see our Web sites (www.wheaton.edu/Missions/Mislinks or www.gmi.org/research/links.htm) for lots more information on this topic, along with tips and techniques, resources, and examples. Happy cyber-communicating.
1. “htm” or “html” stands for “hypertext markup language”. Web pages are essentially text, with special “markup” codes (or tags) inserted to format the text for the Web.
2. “File Transfer Protocol” software transfers files to and from your host computer.
3. WS_FTP also comes in a limited free version for educational, government, and personal use.
4. A Web page address is technically called a “URL” (Universal Resource Locator).
5. Search engines allow the user to search the Web by specifying key words of interest. See our “Finding a needle in a haystack” in the October, 1998, issue.
6. A great place to learn search engine basics is on the Web (naturally). For starters, try Webstep Top 100’s site.
A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and chair of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is www.wheaton.edu/intr
Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Majority World. He also serves as Lausanne senior associate for information technology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and the GMI web address is www.gmi.org
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 204-207. Copyright © 1999 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.