(With apologies to Carly Simon.)

“We want to reach young families.”

I was doing a website discernment interview with a church. They had a website, but it wasn’t attracting much of an audience, and the few visitors they did get weren’t responding as the church had hoped.

“Ok,” I said. “Let’s take a look at what you currently have on your website.”

What Message Does Your Website Send?

As we scanned over the pages of their site together we noticed that most of the material on their site fell into three categories:

  1. Elderly people eating dinner or drinking coffee,
  2. Pictures of their building and it’s history, and
  3. Pictures of people sitting around tables at committee meetings.

There was an occasional picture of a couple kids coloring in a Sunday School class. And sometimes, they seemed to have moved their coffee time out onto the church lawn. But these few exceptions were notable because they were exceptions.

I’m sure these were all lovely people. And their stained glass was indeed beautiful. But as we scanned their website it was clear why the site wasn’t attracting any visitors.

This church wanted to reach young families, but their content was geared toward seniors, historians and parliamentarians.

It’s the same mistake I’ve seen, not just on church websites, but on many other kinds of nonprofit sites:

They thought their website was all about them.

While a good website will provide information about the organization that’s behind it,

An effective website isn’t about your organization. It’s about the people you want to reach.

Yes, those people will eventually want to know more about you. But initially, they want to know what you have to offer them.

Whether you’re a church, an association providing services to the deaf, a service club or a national movement for worker’s rights, your website will be much more effective if you’ll simply put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to reach.

“Walk a Mile In My Shoes” — Elvis

When people come to your website, they need to know right away whether you understand them. What do they need? What are their hopes? What are their greatest challenges and fears? Do you understand their experience? How have you walked with, worked with, succeeded and failed with people like them?

To reach your website’s intended audience, you need first and foremost to show them that you know them.

Are they donors? Show them that you’re grateful and that their gifts are making great work possible.

Are they volunteers? Show them how awesome their experience will be.

Are they young families? Show them you understand what it’s like to balance school, multiple jobs, sports practice, unannounced visits from the inlaws and an incontinent family pet.

An effective website starts and ends with the people you want to reach.

Take a Fresh Look at Your Website

Who is your website about? Is it about you, or is it about the people you want to reach? And if it’s about you, how will you start making the transition to reaching your real audience?

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives