I recently visited Hope Lutheran Church and Hope Lutheran School in Shawnee, Kansas. Literally and figuratively. I was in Shawnee, thinking about relocating to the Kansas City suburb, so I visited the church and school. Figuratively, I visited the locations online well before I made the drive from Milwaukee. In all senses, Hope Lutheran Shawnee passes the tests, housing a great school and a very nice church, but this website is about websites, so I'll be talking about Hope Lutheran's web presence so that your church can benefit from their achievements in the figurative world of the internet.
Honestly, it's almost as if Hope had read my book on website design. Vibrant, mobile-friendly WordPress themes with lots of content. I can't say that Luthernet would have made many choices differently, though we do use more of the cool hover images that are currently all the rage. The point is that these are good looking websites that get the job done through continuously updated content. From top to bottom (the way I wrote my book), the websites work. From the favicon to the footer, it's all there. I can't sell something to church that does not need anything, so if you don't want me to bother you, emulate Hope Lutheran.
With websites, however, there's usually still something that could use improvement, even if I cannot see enough need to warrant a contact based on trying to get new business. Therefore, I will offer a few free tips to Hope so that they can see where they can go from here. Your church, whether you have a top-notch website or an old, forgotten digital footprint, can also benefit from Luthernet's assessment of Hope Lutheran.
Actually, the main problems with the two websites are very much related. Contact in. Contact out is great. Both church and school do have Directions links (missed them at first). The church's link appears to be a menu heading instead of a link, which confused me, as it would likely confuse someone looking for a location to attend a wedding or service. Both maps are zoomed all the way in, which gives the viewer no perspective, and I wouldn't bury the location in a megamenu, but it still mostly works.
The other problem with the contact in is the email addresses being posted on the school site. I know LCMS posts emails, and that's a practice that results in tons of spam, but a school with its own email system should be shielding its employees from Canadian pharmaceutical ads. The church uses a form for contacts, and the school should do the same. Once someone emails with the form, THEN send that person a response if communication is to continue. Both people can then save email addresses.
The other issues Hope has in getting word out there about its great school in Shawnee has everything to do with other websites, not their own. While I'd revisit the number of mega-menu items needed once it a while, everything else on the website proper is pretty darn good. However, when I look for reviews of the school, I don't see enough. If I'm someone looking for a school for my kids, I want to see other parents who are willing to pay tuition AND who want to tell me about why this is a great school. This is as important as fundraisers for private schools. I'd have a spring open house with one session set aside in the computer lab and links to all the school review websites. People who are disappointed with a school or business find the time on their own to write reviews, but the majority are perfectly happy and do not feel the need to write anything. Ask them to.
When I search for Hope Lutheran Shawnee using Google Images or Videos, I don't find nearly enough content. Images will show up from a website if indexed properly, but videos need to be uploaded to Youtube or Vimeo. I'm not talking about a parent putting up basketball game highlights, though. If the church or school does something in the community, there should be searchable photos and images. Whether people are searching for the church or school itself or just other keywords that have to do with the community or even other schools and churches, Hope should be there, too. The same conscious effort that Hope has for creating content for the website itself should be extended to adding the right images to the website, as well as videos hosted elsewhere. For example, the third video on Google was about vandalism to the church in 2009. And only about half of the Youtube videos in the top ten were even about Hope Lutheran in any way. Whether it's one video a month or even one a year, every church and school can and should benefit from the power of online videos.
I know that Hope Lutheran School is adding a photography class, and that's a perfect opportunity to add photos that can be indexed with Google. Our church paid an overpriced production company to ask people what they liked about the church and school. Why not just have a church member do the same for your church and school? Or hire Luthernet. Upload, keywords, index, promote, and done.
In the future, I can see educator pages, whether using Google Sites or another free site or even as subpages in the current Wordpress site, but those pages are often not that important to all teachers, so it's not a priority. I'm also not sure how well Wordpress can do this compared to the teaching pages I've created using Joomla. Of course, if your school is in need of an update and wants teacher pages for all staff, Luthernet can handle it.
And for the final marketing piece (half in jest) that I realized when I was using Google Maps to tour the Kansas City area: satellite advertising. Hope has a very large building and a large parking lot. From above, Google Maps can clearly see "Sprint Center" draped over the roof of the Sprint Center. It would also be able to see HOPE either on the roof or painted in the parking lot. Like the following images (but with straight lines):
OK, that might be a stretch. But your goal as a church and school is to be visible. You might choose a neon cross or some other display, but when the seekers look, make sure there's something to find.
As far as content, what we should learn from this article is that it's easy to make sure a lot of the content is controlled by the organization. I posted this article in the morning, added some links to it by noon, got it listed in the top 10 of Google for the search I wanted by 1 pm, and got two of the photos on this pages indexed in the top 12 of Google Images within the same time frame. Give my other articles and links a few days, and I will have created a saturation of the available content in my favor, without needing all of the white paint necessary to make the parking lot show up in outer space. The key is to diversify your message, even if you have a perfect main website. Look at your top 20 in Google, and you'll see only a couple of the sites are yours, but you can change that. Luthernet can show you how it works (and keeps working).
I also just learned something new when it comes to Google Maps. I had added a couple of photos for Hope Lutheran, and I hope to add more in the near future, but it's not just about making sure there are photos on your Google Maps page (which is your default Google+ page and another discussion). What I realized was that when you search Google Maps for "shawnee kansas schools," Hope Lutheran School does not show up. I provided feedback, meaning I contacted Google with this information, adding that many local Catholic schools DO show up in the search. This could be because there is not a separate entry for the school and church, and that might hurt both. I believe Hope Lutheran should be added as one of the schools soon, but here's the image as of 2016-04-27:
It's funny to me that certain other landmarks show up in the school search, like the Shawnee Village Shopping Center, which is across the street from Hope Lutheran School. And the Sherwin Williams Paint Store. Kind of weird.
Here's another article that discusses Hope Lutheran Shawnee a bit more: http://satisfamily.com/resources/people-and-places/300-hope-lutheran-school-in-shawnee-kansas