The heart and soul of every website is content. Church websites are no different. For most Churches, sermons/messages/teachings/talks (however your Church refers to them), make up the bulk of that content.
… and for good reason. The teaching of God’s Word should be one of the primary missions of any Biblically based Church.
If you ask most Churches what the primary goal of their website is, publishing sermons is probably at the very top of that list. We want to get those sermons in as many people’s hands as possible. We want people to be able to easily find a message they are looking for, easily consume it and then save it for later, share it with someone or even respond to it by taking some kind of action.
Let’s boil down a few goals that can help guide our thinking when it comes to improving or creating our sermon pages…
Goals For Publishing Sermons Online:
User Experience & Accessibility
Site visitors should have a positive experience when trying to view sermons. This means that they shouldn’t be difficult to find, should be organized in a logical way, and shouldn’t take lots of navigation, scrolling or searching to find.
Make Sharing an Easy & Natural Process
Reach Maximum Potential Audience
Ultimately, this should be the goal for every sermon page. Get more eye balls! This is the one I’m the most passionate about… if your sermon pages aren’t able to be indexed by search engines, you’re losing the ability to reach a massive potential audience. As I mentioned above, one of the most important things you can do for your sermon pages is to make sure that they have their own URL (page). This will not only allow easier sharing, but it will let the search engine find each sermon and display them in the search results.
So with those goals laid as our framework, lets take a look at a mockup of a sermon page and go through some of the various elements and why each one of them is important. See below for the accompanying sermon page wireframe.
This seems like one of the most simple elements of a sermon page but be careful… this title is extremely important. For one thing, for most websites, the title of the page will become the meta title tag which means it’s extremely important for SEO. You want keyword phrases that people will be searching for to find the page so make them relevant… not “sermon series message #1”, “sermon series message #2” etc… do your best to give each sermon a unique title. The title you choose will likely be the same keywords people type in to find the page in search engines or on a website search. See the wireframe below for an example.
Categories & Tags
Every website is different, but most good platforms will have multiple ways to organize content. One of the reasons why I love WordPress for most Church websites is because this database functionality is already baked in. The pitfall here is that if you rush to make a decision on how to classify and organize sermons early on and then want to make a change later, it could become pretty time consuming.
In my wireframe I chose 4 category classes (speaker, book of the Bible, Occasion & series). I also added a topic section (tags) where you could get a lot more descriptive about the actual content of the message. Most Churches don’t teach 20 minute sermons on a singular topic so tags might be helpful to help describe sub-topics within a sermon. For example: your Church might be doing a 20 part teaching through the book of Romans. Each message has an over arching theme but there might be multiple applications throughout that might be helpful. Without calling attention to that sub-topic, people may never know that they can find it under the Romans series category.
I realize that every Church may not have invested in taking video recordings of sermons yet, but even if you haven’t hopefully this will help you plan for the future. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog post, I highly recommend using a 3rd party video hosting service for your media instead of trying to host it yourself. You will get better performance, cheaper storage, more up-time, and a vast number of potential features. If you’re trying to go cheap, Vimeo is a great option. You can embed the videos anywhere and the quality and sharing options are both very good for the price. If you have a larger site and can pay a little more, I can’t recommend Wistia enough. It’s hands down the best video serving platform on the web. Spend some time on their site and you’ll see why.
If you’re looking at other providers, be careful. Here are some of the features you’ll want: html5 compatibility, responsive website & mobile browser compatibility, share-ability, analytics, customizability, ad-free, etc… in short, I wouldn’t go with YouTube. It’s not a scalable or very flexible solution. Vimeo or Wistia should work for about 99% of the Church sites out there.
Lastly, if you are able to, provide a small code snippet that lets people embed the video on their own site. This is a tremendous way to get a video more visibility. It’s also a great way to build links and traffic back to your site.
Sharing things online tends to happen pretty naturally. When there is good content, people will like it, share it, tweet it, wuphf it, etc. But study after study has shown that making social posting simple and accessible on pages can really increase the number of people that share it. In the below example, there is a simple sharing link for Facebook and Twitter as well as a shortened URL that people can use to email it to a friend or share anywhere. As I mentioned above, social sharing only works well when you give each sermon it’s own dedicated page on your Church site. Wireframe Link
This is pretty straightforward. Each sermon page should have an audio player that allows people to listen directly from the page. Even if you have video on the page, I would still recommend an audio streaming version just to give visitors multiple options. If your website is on WordPress there are a number of options out there, but these plugins will help you get started. Wireframe Link
There are so many possible features that you could add on a sermon page. I did my best to capture all the most useful ones in the wireframe below and the random ones that didn’t find another home ended up in this misc box. 🙂
All 4 of these are important but I’d say the most important one (and easiest to implement) would be the podcast subscription. This allows people to subscribe to all of your audio messages and download them on their own schedule on whatever device they choose. iTunes is the most obvious choice for this and you can read their tutorial on how to get started here.
Message Notes – This is pretty straightforward. If the Pastor is willing to supply his notes, get them into a pdf form and let people download them. One note: if you don’t plan on including a transcript on the page (more details in #7 below) the notes might be a great option for this. If that is the case, you wouldn’t want to put the notes in pdf form. Make sure they are just text on the page.
MP3 Download & CD Ordering – Even though you stream the MP3, it might be helpful for some people to allow them to download the raw file so they can do whatever they want with it. Not everyone has an iPod/iPhone and there will definitely be people that appreciate this. Lastly, ordering a CD may not be possible if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle the demand, but at a minimum you could like a visitor to a contact form where they could request one. Wireframe Link
Transcript & Recap
Text is the only thing search engines can see. That is important because without text, the search engine doesn’t have any way to discover what the page is all about and therefore won’t display it in the search results. That is an overly simplistic way to explain it but hopefully you get the point. No text, no search engine traffic.
There are a number of different ways you can approach this. Here are 3 options:
1) Full transcript – There are services out there (my favorite is SpeechPad) that will take an audio file and turn it into text. This is the ideal option. It may cost around $25-$75 per message for a professional transcription, but it’s so worth it in the long run. From the examples I’ve seen, a full transcript can increase traffic to a sermon page by 100%-1,000%!
2) Sermon notes – If your teaching pastor(s) use sermon notes that are in an organized format and are willing to make them public, this is a very easy and free way to get text on the page that is relevant to the message.
3) Sermon recap – This method is probably the most time consuming but can potentially provide the best user experience and give the search engines a decent amount of text to crawl. This would basically be an outline of the sermon that highlights the key points and even provides helpful links to resources throughout. It could include images, quotes, etc. It could potentially be a lot of work but the benefits may be worth it. Wireframe Link
As I mentioned in #2, sermon organization is pretty key and can be really helpful for visitors when it comes time to find a sermon they are looking for. In the wireframe example below I used drop downs to display the most popular categories but there are multiple ways to help aid navigation to the sermons. The most important part is getting everything into multiple categories and/or use a tagging system. Then when it comes time to create these navigation aids, you’ll have multiple options.
My favorite example of great sermon organization is on the DesiringGod.org website. Amazingly, they organize by date, topic, series, scripture, author, occasion and language. Such a comprehensive organizational structure may seem like overkill, but when you publish 1-2 sermons per week for multiple years, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed by the task of organization. Key takeaway: Plan Ahead! Wireframe Link
Last but not least… providing static hyperlinks to pages where people can browse large lists of sermons is important. It may not seem like the best user experience to take people to a page called “2013 sermons” that simply has a list of links to all the sermons, but you’d be surprised how many people will choose to navigate this way. Also, this will provide an easy aid for the search engines to find all the sermon pages and index them.
Pro Tip: You should be able to navigate to every sermon on the Church website within 3 clicks from the home page. Any deeper and the search engine may not crawl the page or may assign it a low quality score because of it’s distance from the home page. Wireframe Link
The Example Sermon Page
Sharing is Caring
This is the point in the post where I ask you to share this article with your Pastor, Church/Ministry webmaster, creative director, and just about anyone you know that manages a Christian website. I believe that there are massive opportunities being missed because of a lack of understanding of SEO. No hidden agenda here. Just want to be a helpful free resources for Churches and ministries. Thanks for your support.
Leave a comment if you have any questions or need help implementing what I described above.
Grace & Peace,