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How to market to your online community

By Kelly Meeneghan

Enhance your church website with e-commerce functionality and mobile optimization.

The immeasurable growth of the Internet has presented new opportunities for churches and other faith-based organizations to reach out even further into their communities. Church websites, just like those for any business or organization, need to be professional and effective.

A user-friendly design, relevant text and relatable photos are some features that help achieve these goals. To generate a loyal following, e-commerce functionality and mobile optimization are two tactics that take a website to the next level.

While a church is not a business in the traditional sense, there is still a financial piece to consider. Much of the funding is usually from public contributions. Donations during church services help sustain the organization. However, with a set service schedule for example, members of the community may miss the chance to support their church.

Consider this: while sometimes the church doors may be closed, your website never is. Provide your congregation with the ability to donate online. If they cannot attend Sunday’s service one week, they will still have the option to give back to the church any time most convenient for them.

Giving made easy
This online channel provides people who are not regular church attenders to contribute and become more involved in your mission. Perhaps you want to shed light on why the church is raising money for the hungry or the homeless. This is a great opportunity to explain important efforts and how people can help.

Make it clear and easy for people to donate to your church on your website. It may help to create a separate page on the site titled “Giving” or “Donations” as a way to centralize all options for giving. Explain the different causes, projects or initiatives of your church and ask your website visitors to be involved.

Explore what e-commerce options your Web hosting provider offers you. Some provide the ability to conduct monetary transactions through PayPal, which is often considered one of the safest and most secure methods. You may be surprised to learn that such a feature may already be included in your current hosting package at no extra cost.

Enhancing your website is a great way to increase accessibility to the public. Taking it a step further, the rising popularity of mobile phones is creating a need for churches to optimize their websites for multiple viewing platforms.

Make website viewable
Between January 2011 and January 2012, mobile Internet usage nearly doubled globally, according to StatCounter’s 2012 research. Once dominated by the younger generations, smartphones are now adopted by people of all ages. It is becoming the norm for conducting daily activities like e-mail, social networking, shopping and Web surfing.

Even if a website is not technically optimized for mobile viewing, it may still be viewable; however, the site will be minuscule with a distorted, dysfunctional layout. Visitors who have such a negative experience can become disengaged.

Depending on the technology behind the website, some require detailed coding and technical processes in order to optimize a website for mobile viewing. However, there are design packages where only one click is needed to enable mobile optimization.

Internet technology and mobile devices have created many opportunities for churches to enhance relationships with their members and the general public. E-commerce, though not a new idea is often overlooked by churches, but when used effectively can help encourage people to contribute. Additionally, a website that is viewable by everyone creates positive experiences and can in turn do great things for the church.

Kelly Meeneghan is a spokesperson for 1&1 Internet Inc., Chesterbrook, PA. www.1and1.com

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