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Online Ministries Community Blog

May 30

Evangelism by Search Engine – Part 8 – An Ecology of Content

Posted by Bill Anderton

In this series “Evangelism by Search Engine,” I hope you have seen that websites are not monoliths or hierarchies. Information on the pages in your website does not exist in isolation. There is an “ecology of content” where visitors interact with web pages within the environment of your website. Everything is interlinked; each page is an individual unit but is also interdependent with other pages and creates synergy among the whole! The resulting ecosystem of content is a gestalt of wholeness in form, but one that is made up of freestanding piece parts of hypermedia. Visitors, as they flow from page to page, aggregate the values of individual behaviors and interactions.

enter_evangelism_by_seach_engine_400w.jpgIf you do things correctly, the whole body of your content becomes emergent as it first comes into the awareness of your visitors and then becomes prominent in their thinking.

For those new to all of this, it is sometimes difficult to grasp the full power of the hypermedia concept, and it is easy to fall back into thinking in linear hierarchies. While hypermedia can accommodate hierarchies, hypermedia is non-linear and relational in concept; pieces of content can be linked in many ways and herein is lots of strengths for making your website fulfill its mission.

It is easy to lapse into hierarchical thinking where your websites spring from the home page at the top of the hierarchy and moves down in layers. It is easy to think this way, and it does make such a pretty diagram! However, hierarchical thinking is problematical because it can lead one to believe that it is the way people will interact with your website; entering your website through the home page and moving down the hierarchy measured steps. Any such hierarchical structure is abstract and artificial; it doesn’t reflect the real world and how people will interact with your website and its content.

Every page listed in the search engines’ indexes is a potential entry page that visitors can use to land into your site. You cannot assume that people will enter through your home page. In fact, a large majority of your visitors will NOT land first into your home page. This is why hieratical thinking is dangerous to the success of your website. You have to ask yourself if people land in a page that is NOT your home page; does the actual real-world landing page make sense? Each page has to be able to standalone and not expect (or require) that the visitor viewed previous pages in order for the page to make sense.

Flows among your content will be determined solely by your visitors. Visitors are funny animals that cannot be controlled. They can be influenced but any control is illusionary and tenuous at best. Any resulting relational structures and flows among content are, in reality, created by users’ behaviors as they move around in the content of websites. Any page can be the point of entry into a website and, if your users click to another page at all, it is rarely done in a linear, orderly hierarchical fashion. People inherently jump around in websites a lot!

Nowhere is this truer than when working with search engine traffic. If you optimize your site for search engine discovery and gain some rankings for your pages, people can come in from anywhere and land in just about any page you have. Each and every page on your website that is indexed by the search engines is potential an entry point into your site. Your home page will not likely be the first page your visitors see, and they might not even see it at all!

You will want to present your content in an engaging way that holds the attention of the visitor and gets them to stay in the site for a while and click into many of its pages in order to see a large part of your ecosystem of content. However, this does take some thought about how you put your site and its content together. Even if you have good content, you can still present it the wrong way, make it difficult for people to find things or difficult to move through your site. The resulting impact will be that your visitor will click out of you site and go to the next listing in the SERPs.

The search engines will present thousands of potential sites that a searcher can visit. Searchers have a wealth of sites to choose from. In other words, your visitor has lots of alternatives to your website, and you have to earn your visitor’s participation with your content. Your SEO job isn’t finished when somebody lands into your page; it is just beginning!

Be aware (and beware) of the use of the “back” button on browsers. Visitors will take quick looks at your pages, and you have seconds to engage them. If you don’t, they will click the back button on their web browser, leave your site and return to the SERPs to look for another place to visit.

If you use analytics (and I strongly recommend you do), keep an eye on the “bounce rate” of your visitors. The bounce rate is the percentage of your visitors who come into your site, look at one page and then bounce out within seconds, leaving your site. Visitors’ behavior will tell you how well you are doing; those that you don’t engage will “vote with their feet” and leave your site. If your bounce rate is too high, make adjustments to bring it down.

When you build content, particularly for its use in search engines, think this through. To fully interact with the ecology of content that is in your website, you have to first get the visitor engaged. Your previous work in search engine optimization will get them to your site but you then have to get them to stay for a while. Therefore, each and every page of your public website has a basic mission to fulfill:

  • Engage your visitor – You have a couple of seconds to engage your visitor when they land in your site; landing in any page, remember. Your visitors will NOT dig for information. They will NOT scroll down in the page (yet) to find what is important. Also, remember that you made an implied promise about the content on your page in its title and page description that was shown in the SERPs (search engine results page). Those are what caused the visitor to click on your link in the SERPs and come into your site in the first place. Therefore, your visitors arrive in your pages with certain expectations; so fulfill them immediately. Don’t bury the lead or make the user hunt for it. Boldly fulfill your visitors’ expectation and do it quickly.
  • Capture their interest – If you can engage your visitors so they don’t bounce out of your site after a couple of seconds, you can now begin to capture their interest to see more of your page and, perhaps, more of your site. If you can get them to read your primary headline and the lead in the first paragraph, you are almost there. Learn to write in newspaper style of the “inverted pyramid” putting the most important information at the top of the page and the least important at the bottom of the page. As the user begins reading, you are using your strongest information first to capture their interest as they go down the page. Don’t be surprised when you learn that most first-time visitors to your site will NOT read the whole page; they may read less than half. Make sure your most important information on the page is near the top of your story. Pictures and other graphics help by drawing the eye of the visitor. Make the picture support the text. Also, the generous use of subheads in longer pages helps too.
  • Make it easy for your visitors to move around to other pages in your site – Once you have engaged and captured the interest of your visitor, you want to make is very easy for people to find additional information contained in you site and move to it. This is where the concept of hypermedia has major advantages. Offer lots of places your visitors can click to get more information. You can do this by embedding links within the text of the page and by creating structured navigation systems on the page. Both are very important in continuing to hold the attention of your visitor.  It is my experience that if you can get them to click once, they will click a lot! Assuming, of course, you have very good navigation systems that let your visitors move around in the site easily.

The first two items on the list above relate to how you write and present your content. Don’t write it just any old way. Learn the inverted pyramid style of writing. This is very important. Fortunately, this writing style is well documented. Study the style and learn to write this way.


Also, keep your audience in mind. You are NOT writing for your congregation but, instead, for the stranger who is searching for something. Too often, churches write their public web pages like they are writing to their congregation in their newsletters. Don’t! Write for the stranger; someone who may not know your traditions or even church-type jargon. If you do use church jargon, make them into hyperlinks that land on pages that explain terms like “liturgy” or “praise worship” or “communion.”

Step back and view your writing through the lenses of your visitors who will be strangers. Ask yourself if your page truly communicates your message. Are you being friendly and open to them; are you inviting?

Also, another common mistake is trying to put too much information onto a single page. Instead, stick with only one major thought per page and a couple of supporting points. The page shouldn’t have too little text or too much. If you are writing about Sunday worship services, stick to that idea. Don’t add another 300 words about you child-care facility or an additional 400 words about fellowship after services. Yes, both of these might be important concepts to communicate but focus on the worship service. Mention your nursery and/or fellowship in phrase or sentence each and make them hyperlinks to pages dedicated to your child-care or fellowship. Put your 300 words (or more) on these dedicated pages. If the visitor is interested in these aspects of your story, they will click the links. You will also be encouraging the desirable behavior of clicking on something. Remember, if they click once, they will click a lot!

The third item on the list is related to your navigation systems. These methods of encouraging people to click around in your site should not be taken lightly! They are hugely important and doubly so when traffic begins landing into your site all over the place.

Navigation systems refer to the process of providing links to set of information resources in websites. The navigations on web pages provide user interfaces for your visitors to move in and around your site. One of the prime goals of the design of navigation systems is to maximize usability. Another prime goal is to surface or expose otherwise hidden pages that are important for your visitors to see.

As I wrote in Part 5 of this series, you can create some very effective strategies and tactics to target specific groups of people to land into your site directly into a specific messaging and positioning that can be important to your church. If you drive traffic to these special entry pages in your site with the strong support for the pages with top-ranking of important keywords that match your messaging, you can have a very intelligent and strong position. However, this strategy requires strong navigation systems to move visitors to other portions of your website.

Regardless of where visitors land in your website, do your navigation systems make it easy for your visitors to find other things of interest and click into additional pages?

Navigation begins with embedding links into the main body text of each page. You should have two to three links in the text of every page; one of them should be in the first two paragraphs. These links should support the main text of the story and should link to other pages in your site.

If you need to link to a page in a third-party website, be sure to set the target of the URL so the page opens in a new browser page. Do not send your visitor to someone else’s website in a way that closes your page because you won’t get all of them back. If you at least keep your page open, your visitor may come back to your material and pick up where they left off.

Next, make sure you have strong primary, secondary and tertiary navigation methods to help the user browse other important parts of your website. Each click is valuable and is important. Your visitors will tend to become impatient if they have to dig for information. Make it easy and intuitive for your visitors to find what they want and get there with the fewest clicks possible.

All of these aspects of the design and operations of your website enhance your content ecosystem. The better you do these things, the better and deeper you can tell your story to your visitors. You can tell more complex stores and be far more effective.

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