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Snappy writing: five tips for your church website

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People scan website text so keep your writing short and sweet. Photo by quinn.anya on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

So you’re responsible for writing your church’s website text. Bless you. Here are some quick tips for making that web text functional.

1. Keep it short and sweet. People don’t read web text. They scan, because it’s harder to read online. One study found that people read about 20% of text on the average page. This may be depressing for us wordsmiths, but it’s a reality and we can cope.

Write your essential points, and then trim your text to half the length. Get a smart friend to edit it. Cut, cut, and cut some more.

2. Break up long text with subtitles. Let’s say you have a 750-word essay on the history of your church, from the 1898 land purchase by Ebenezer Meriwether to the 2010 establishment of your Messy Church program. Sounds like good stuff. But no one likes to hack through a long block of text.

Help your readers out by adding a couple of subtitles so they can hop to the part that interests them most. They may just stay for other sections as well.

You can also break up long, text-heavy pages with photos and short paragraphs. White space and variety will keep your readers happy and hanging out on your page.

3. Write content that lasts. Your website loses credibility when it promotes stale content. You should have several main sections with solid, static content, then a section with time-sensitive pieces (often news or calendar items) that need to be cycled through.

An editorial calendar can help you keep track of these pieces. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Use a Google calendar, an Excel spreadsheet, or scrawl it out on your office whiteboard.

If you don’t have resources to update your website frequently, focus on building good static content. For most churches this means a description of who you are, a description of your ministries, basic leadership information, contact information, and permanent service times. (Beware the Advent service listing that languishes until Lent.)

4. Explain your church in one sentence. Readers will come to your website in a bunch of ways—from a Google search, by following links, or by directly typing in your address. You need to let them know where they are.

Write a tight sentence that describes your church and put it close to the top of the homepage. This could be your church’s mission statement, or an edited version of it.

I like how they do it at st. benedict’s table in Winnipeg or even at The Church of St. John the Evangelist in Hamilton, Ont. Both have quickie descriptions of who they are but they focus on different things based (presumably) on the needs of the community. One is conceptual and one focuses on location.

5. Write active hyperlinks. Readers are more likely to click through a link if it promises something. Short, specific sentences work best. Consider the difference between “Click here” and “Listen to our Maundy Thursday homily.”

I’ll be posting other tips here in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the forum: what works and what’s frustrating when you’re writing web text?

Ali Symons

About Ali Symons

Ali formerly served as senior editor at the Anglican Church of Canada. Her work included writing news articles, producing multimedia pieces, and helping people figure out how to tell their stories. "Zoom in: I fix em dashes. Zoom out: I help share the Good News."
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