It feels like only yesterday that I predicted that churches would transition to responsively designed websites. Why? Because culture was rapidly shifting from a predominately desktop office culture to a mobile work, rest and play anywhere on any device culture. In short, people are now more mobile and use a variety of devices such as smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. As this evolves there will be more and more what I call an “in-between device” to try and grab a new market share of the huge new emerging markets. That means that phones are getting bigger. Tablets are getting smaller. Laptops are becoming both a tablet and laptop. And tablets are becoming laptops. It’s crazy. But that is the reality of the world that we are communicating to online now.
If you are a regular reader of my blog (thank you!) you will have noticed that I haven’t been blogging so much recently. Why? Mainly because I really wanted to get the new iteration of our Crossway website live. I put a personal challenge out to myself that I would blog less until it was live.
We made a decision to switch our site from an existing hosted managed solution to a WordPress based self-hosted solution because we felt that we were ready to make the jump. You can find out the reasons for and against a self-hosted WordPress solution here. This post was basically a verbalisation of the pros and cons in our decision-making process. I also wrote a post ‘6 reasons why a hosted CMS might be right for you’ to try and help you be as informed as possible on what you should consider.
1. Switch timing is everything
Switch from your old website to your new website on your most distraction free day. That meant for us a Friday. Less staff to interrupt what we were doing. We could focus on fixing up any minor hiccups that came along.
We also chose Friday because it was a relatively lower day of traffic on our website. Whatever you do, don’t switch on a Sunday. If your site is like ours, Sunday is your highest traffic day.
2. Be prepared to compromise
The eco-system of WordPress is basically created with the engine of the website at the heart and then many parts of the functionality that is required is added on by cool little tools called Plug-Ins. Unless you can get a plug-in written especially for you, I would recommend that you use an existing plug-in that has many users who already use it. That means that it is probably been tested and used a lot and most bugs will be out of the system which is a bonus for you coming later to the plug-in party.
The downside of plugins are that they are limited in what you can do with them. You have to be prepared to limit yourself to what the plugin can do and how it does it.
3. Choose the right hosting server
Swapping from a hosted solution where we didn’t have to worry about the hosting arrangement to a self-hosted solution wasn’t a big deal. In-fact in the scheme of things it is quite cost-effective.
However, the first self-hosted solution we tried though didn’t work. It was very slow. Because of the complexity of our site we had to switch to another company with a faster server. This was despite going with what was called a business solution the first time around from a leading hosting provider. It was a very simple matter of switching again at a very small cost.
4. Soft launch
We made the decision to not ‘announce’ the launch over all our channels, but to quietly switch over and let the users discover the new site. We did this so that it took the pressure off us in terms of a deadline and also it helped manage expectations from all audiences to enable that we weren’t overselling the site and building the site up into something it wasn’t. It also helped us in fixing any minor bugs once we went live.
5. Be prepared for feedback
The beautiful thing about the web is that the launched site will always grow, change and evolve. Be prepared for anyone and everyone to feedback to you things they like and don’t like. Take it with grace. Smile and thank them. Be teachable. Don’t defend what you have done. Some of the feedback will help your site become a better site.
6. Be prepared to be ‘all in’
I had all my staff ready throughout launch week to jump in and fix any issues that came up. This project was our No.1 priority throughout this week to ensure that the site launched well. On the switch day we were all on standby to quickly follow-up any issues that came up. The issues did come up, but nothing we couldn’t overcome because we were prepared.
7. The real work starts now
Launching your new site is just the beginning and there will be many improvements you will make as it develops. For example, legacy pages can have more design work done over time. Legacy pages are the static pages in your site that don’t change much over time like your staff and history pages. They are worth investing in to bring your story to life. We are starting the next phase of building out our legacy pages to enable us to tell our story more clearly.
Have you switched to a responsive design yet? Have you stayed with two versions? What tips and ideas would you share with a church updating their website? Comment below.