Ask 1,000 people what the best church website design should look like, and you’ll get 1,000 different ideas. With hundreds of experts in our industry, it’s tough to filter out the fluff from what actually works to attract visitors and guests.
Today we interview Brandon Cox, a pastor who has a proven track-record of success building church websites to grow the church. You’ll learn how to craft your website to actually bring people to the church, the battles you might face with the design, and how to overcome those objections.
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About Our Guest: Brandon Cox
Brandon has been a pastor for twenty years. He’s served churches of every size, from a small church 35 to being on staff at Saddleback, with over 20,000. He’s now six years into planting Grace Hills Church in Northwest Arkansas and they’ve grown from two families to about 450 regular attendees.
Brandon also has a background in social media and marketing. He has helped to relaunch Pastor Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox and Pastors.com as well as writing a book called Rewired, which is all about how the church can embrace social media to spread the good news further and faster than ever before.
He’s been married to Angie for twenty years and they live with their three kids in Centerton, Arkansas.
You can find more about Brandon and everything he’s doing in his own ministry at brandonacox.com
What Sets The Grace Hills Church Website Design Apart
Brandon started designing church websites back in 1998 (with Macromedia Dreamweaver). Back then the strategy was to fill the website with as much information as you can.
But about 7 or 8 years ago Brandon started learning about user experience design and realized that he was designing church websites for the church…even though that’s not who the church website was for.
Brandon instead focused designing his church website on potential guests and those who are not connected to the church yet.
With this new strategy and some Search Engine Optimization, Grace Hills has been able to climb the Google rankings and the Pro Church Tools, “Best Church Websites” list 2 years in a row.
Search Engine Optimization Alongside Church Website Design
Brandon started designing his church website with popular keyword searches in mind. These are keywords or “phrases” that people in his area actually used to find a church in Google or other search engines. This is not to be confused with keyword stuffing, a practice that will Google will penalize you for.
Filling SEO sections like page titles and meta descriptions gave Grace Hills an edge on ranking higher in search. Brandon doesn’t optimize his site for people searching for “Grace Hills” specifically. Instead, people will search for things like “great kids ministry.” So Brandon focused on keywords, giving his kid’s ministry page the title, “Great Kids Ministry, Arkansas” for example.
To find these popular keywords, Brandon used KW Finder to discover exactly what people were searching for. Finding the most popular keywords allowed him to tailor his church website to show up for the most popular searches.
Another strategy Brandon used is collecting backlinks for the church. Backlinks are essentially links from other sites that lead to the church website. This helps signal to Google that this church website was an important one.
Don’t get overwhelmed with all the SEO strategies. Brandon built his strategy over years, but even he had to start somewhere. So just pick one thing (like page titles) and focus on honing that one item first.
The Visitor-Focused Homepage
Brandon and his leadership had to make a tough decision early on.
Have a church website that impresses the church (and talk about things like discipleship and beliefs)…
or focus on who they really wanted to reach.
Grace Hills does focus on discipleship and they do believe in the Bible, but they focus on using the website to reach people who are not connected to the church…people who might have a more consumer mentality (not to be confused with people who are just looking to exploit the church).
This strategy also lets people know exactly who the church is equipped to serve. So people looking for a more traditional church will know that Grace Hills may not fit their needs.
Church Website Design Battles
Many of Justin’s church website clients like the idea of a visitor-focused webpage, but after getting bombarded by church members’ feedback, they revert back to the “old way” of creating a website that’s for the church instead.
According to Brandon, this needs to be answered with discipleship. The church is a lighthouse or beacon for the lost to discover the church. In fact, at the Grace Hills membership class, before a person becomes a member, Brandon lets his people know that membership means it’s “no longer about you.”
So if you really want your website to focus on being that beacon for the lost to discover your church, that means the membership needs to understand that the website is not for them. They should seek information elsewhere, like a separate membership site, Facebook group, church email, or other communication outlets.
Utilizing A Pastor Blog Inside Of Your Church Website Design
The Grace Hills blog is very unique. Most pastor blogs we see are a platform for a 2nd or 3rd sermon during the week. But Grace Hills is very different.
A church’s blog has the potential to supply great content to people. People share news stories all the time from CNN or Fox News…in the same way we can get our people to share an article from the church to invite others to become part of the church.
Again, the blog is not to feed the church more, it’s to give content and tools to help people share the church more.
If you’re interested in getting into blogging, Brandon definitely suggests you start because you can help extend the lifetime of what you’re already working on. For example, you can take your sermon (that you’re already working on) and break it down into 5 pieces of content to share in the week. You can check out Walk Humble to see how Brandon and his wife practice this mindset and strategy.
Your church website is the new front door for your church. As such, it’s super important you know who will be entering that front door.
Create a website that appeases the church, and only your existing members will come inside.
But if you design a website that appeals to the people you’re trying to reach…then you just might grow.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this interview? Leave a comment below!