Cross-posted on the USCJ Blog
Most congregations don’t think of their website as their most influential marketing tool, but those that do are onto something big. Within seconds of landing on a website, snap-judgment decisions are made. Interest in an organization is either solidified or dismissed. Think of your website as akin to the role curbside appeal plays in selling a home. It doesn’t directly sell the house, but it encourages people to give the house a chance. A great synagogue website inspires visitors to imagine themselves becoming a part of your congregation. It has the power to help your Jewish community grow and thrive. Consider the following two scenarios.
Picture a family with young children – recent arrivals in your area. Curious to learn more about local opportunities for Jewish engagement, they head online and stumble across your synagogue’s website. The design is fresh and bright. The site is easy to navigate and it’s simple for the family to discover your different programs and opportunities for participation. Attractive images showcase members of all ages actively participating in Jewish life. The family likes what they see and as they continue to explore your site, they start to envision themselves as a part of your congregation. Eager to learn more, they plan a visit, give you a call, or decide to attend the next Shabbat service.
Now, let’s imagine another scenario. The same family comes across your synagogue online. The design feels uninviting. The site isn’t current (Purim is around the corner, but the homepage is still promoting Hanukkah). Even worse, the photos are blurry and show empty sanctuaries or lonely buildings. Once again, action is taken. But, this time, it’s a response no congregation wants. The family clicks the back button on the browser and moves on.
The first scenario illustrates the role a great website plays in new member outreach, and the second shows how a lousy website turns off prospective members. The family doesn’t make that call or visit. It’s a missed opportunity, and counteracting their negative first impression will be a big hurdle to overcome. So, how can you ensure your website presents visitors with a positive impression? Here are four ways to get started.
It’s important to note that Conservative synagogues often feel stymied by this suggestion because they cannot photograph during Shabbat or other holidays, but this should not stop you from including compelling images on your website. In fact, the kind of images that you want aren’t those of packed sanctuaries or other religious moments. Photographs that communicate feelings of warmth, family, friendship, and community are perfect. For example, a photo showing a small group of students actively engaged in class, a picture of the Rabbi smiling while chatting with a congregant, or one of a few cheerful kids upside down on the playground are just right.
Be cognizant to select photos that reflect the ages, genders, races, and ethnicities of your congregants. Celebrating different stages of life and experiences are also important. Too many images of young kids may turn off those without children. An abundance of photos featuring older adults may give the impression that your congregation isn’t right for a young family.
Old information does more than make your website feel stale. An out-of-date website diminishes the likelihood of your members using it as their go-to source for information. The best way to keep your website current is to ensure that someone is actively updating the site consistently. Determining whose responsibility it is to maintain the site is a solid first step in improvement.
Repeat after me: your website is more than an online bulletin board. It’s very easy for events to monopolize your homepage. However, your website must balance the needs of current and prospective congregants. Some events only appeal to a small audience; they simply aren’t relevant to the bulk of website visitors. Upcoming events still have a place on your homepage, but the focus should shift to celebrating your congregation. Center your homepage on community building, education, and Judaism.
Understanding how visitors interact in an online environment is critical in building a great synagogue website. Readers are skimming for key information. They are not interested in reading lengthy paragraphs. Instead, they are using your headlines and images to guide them. Think of your homepage as a jumping off place for people to learn more. It’s there to generate interest and excitement. Visitors see something that interests them or speaks to them and then they click to learn more.
The connection between member growth and a great synagogue website is proportional and direct. Synagogues ignore this link at their peril. Websites get people interacting with you. And sometimes, that’s all that is needed for new member growth. A great synagogue website is not only something that your congregation deserves, but it’s also something that you can easily achieve
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