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Aug 13

How to Write for Web Pages - Part 9 - Write for Your Calendar

Posted by Bill Anderton

In the previous installments of this tutorial, I have written about the techniques best-practices of writing and the editorial process of that put stories onto web pages.

People typically think of writing only in the context of developing traditional web pages.

However, there are other ways that you can harness the ability to write in order to accrue additional benefits for your church.

In this installment, I will be writing about an almost totally overlooked area of church websites that offer great opportunities for writing: writing for your calendar!

The Opportunity

To write about writing for calendars, I must first set up the premise and provide the background because this will be new thinking for many.

The statement, “Write for Your Calendar” likely raises a few eyebrows. It naturally begs two similar questions, “What’s to write; aren’t calendars composed of a grid with just short entries of few words?” and “Why would I ever need to write for a calendar?”

Please understand that when I say, “Write for your calendar page!” I’m not talking about only crafting better name for your events that appear in traditional monthly grids. I’m talking about something much larger and something much more significant.

To answer the first question: no, they don’t have to be. Great online calendar systems may present a short entry of a few words in the event name that appears in traditional weekly or monthly calendar grids, but these words are URL links to full web pages. In other words, the traditional grid presentation is only the tip of the iceberg. From the top-level grids of many few-word event-name entries, you can drill down into an unlimited set of potentially content-rich web pages. Calendar web pages can contain all of the same elements as a normal web page such as text, pictures, videos and navigation.

As a set of full web page, calendar detail pages become canvases on which you can paint any type of editorial content that is largely driven by the writing; words placed on web pages.

To answer the second question: because church calendars carried on church websites can be exceptionally popular and account for a lot of traffic. Also, the type of traffic that calendars draw is very desirable. Not only do calendars draw people inside the church, they draw large number of people from outside the church. As such, they are worthy of a full editorial process just like any web page with the same goal of attracting visitors, holding their interest and informing them.

Now I fully understand the comments made above about using calendar pages as an editorial platform might be somewhat startling to many church webmasters. Using a calendar as anything more than a monthly grid like a wall calendar is new thinking.

Church Calendars

I work with a church that has a set of large wall-size whiteboards in the church secretary’s office. The grids are ruled onto the whiteboards. The church secretary keeps track of all of the events going on or being planned in the church. Each event lists the appropriate date on the whiteboard. Lists do not provide details, just the name of the event, its date and time. Periodically, the information on the whiteboard gets transferred onto the church’s paper-based newsletter calendar and a similarly-simple grid on the church’s web calendar.

No additional information gets provided in the traditional calendars themselves. Only the name of the event, its date and time are shown.

The paper-based newsletter and web pages might independently provide additional information as separate items, but details aren’t linked to the calendar.

For example, a fellowship lunch after church on Sunday will be listed in the both the newsletter and web calendars. Both the newsletter and the website will separately carry stories about the event that provide the details of the lunch. However, these are disparate pieces of information. The various pieces of information do not get linked together and are asynchronous to each other.

The major improvement of online calendar systems is that they link pieces of information, so they are no longer disparate. Web calendars are web resources and are hypermedia. Linking disparate information in intelligent ways are what hypermedia is about.

Online calendars are big databases of information, and the traditional monthly- or weekly-grid presentations are merely elegant top-level navigation systems that allow people to move around among the hyperlinked information in a familiar calendar construct that is very human-friendly.

New Capabilities Yield New Opportunities

Online, calendars are new opportunities for editorial coverage within the life and ministry of churches that can attract a lot of web visitors.

Although the information is all stored in a database, the well-designed online calendar systems present the information as ordinary web pages that can be fully crawled by the search engine spiders just like other web pages. To the search engines, web calendars should look just a big set of pages to crawl.

Think for a minute on the impact of a crawlable calendar for churches.

As I have said in previous installments of this tutorial, churches are content-rich environments. Even in small churches, there are lots of things happening. Most of the things can be defined as events, happening on certain dates and times. The life of the church is in its calendar.

Online calendars can provide not only the top-level calendar grid, but they can also provide rich detail pages. All are crawlable by the search engines. Therefore, use your calendar system to create a lot of pages and thereby increase your church’s footprint in the search engines’ index by hundreds or thousands of web pages.

The databases of online calendars are typically populated by filling out online web forms. Simply fill out the fields in the web form and click the submit button. The information is committed to the database where it waits to be called by a calendar page. A visitor (or search engine spider) calls a grid page, say August’s calendar page. The grid for August gets populated by all of the events occurring in August. Each event is, in turned, linked to deeper details of each event listed. Visitors (or, again, search engine spiders) can click on any event shown in the grid. When clicked, the visitor see rich details on the event, each on a dedicated web page.

All of these pages are produced automatically without further human intervention other than filling out the original web form.

Even small churches do dozens of events per month; large churches do hundreds. With an online calendar, this can mean dozens and hundreds of new web pages per month for you church website. Each of these web pages gets found, crawled and indexed by the search engines.

Further, past events continue to be maintained in the calendar database and displayed on demand. Even an old long-over event might attract someone to visit your website. Although old events happened in the past, the calendar’s pages contain navigation to link visitors quickly to more-current information. Your old events still can be productive by bringing new visitors into your website via the search engines.

Transition from Static to Dynamic Websites

Readers of my blogs know that I strongly advocate that churches operate content-rich dynamic websites because of their superior abilities to reach people both inside and outside the church and for their ability to build online relationships with visitors.

Unfortunately, too many churches have static brochure-type information that doesn’t change for months or year at a time. While churches with static websites can claim to have a website, they rarely are very productive or effective and, in truth, are not much more than containers for the church’s address and phone number.

Many churches have no choice, but to settle for static websites. I have previous blog posting called “The Plan-B Formulation” that discusses these situations.

The dominate reason for static websites for churches is the lack of a webmaster or a web team, and I am very sympathetic to these situations. These churches get caught in lack-of-resources cycles that are difficult to break.

Excitingly, online calendars provide a way out of these situations.

Online calendars provide the opportunity for churches with static websites to make a very big step forward. A static website with a large highly dynamic web calendar can truthfully be declared a dynamic website and produce many of the positive results one would expect. The web calendar can quickly become hundreds of pages and move toward thousands of pages.

Since web calendar systems make their pages in a highly automated way, without the web programmers or even a web team, they are very friendly to churches that want more effective websites but need to move forward in small steps.

Small churches that add calendars systems to their websites do indeed have to build writer teams to write the content, but they don’t have to build a full web team. The low barrier to entry makes calendars a very viable first step for churches that want to do better on the web.

The Need for Words

As described above, online calendars for churches are great things for churches in several ways. However, one critical element MUST be carefully integrated for calendars to be successful: the events’ detail pages describing the event must contain well-written text!

A calendar that only conveys the minimum text of a traditional paper calendar is minimally productive. Merely putting a paper calendar online doesn’t make it effective. However, an online calendar with rich detail pages is massively productive. The only difference is the rich information that appears on the detail pages.

Calendar events need stories! In turn, stories have to be well written.

The stories for online calendars can be straight news stories or feature stories. They can be long or short. In addition to text, they can also contain pictures, links and multimedia. Each event in your calendar should contain some details written as text. A couple of hundred words on each event is better than nothing.

Yes, more text is better. Remember, search engine index all of the text on the page. The more words that you put on the page, the greater the opportunity for matching users’ queries exists.

If you have rich content on your pages, the search engines will reward you with higher rankings for quality content on your calendar detail pages.

Writing for Calendars

Now with the opportunity explained, I’ll talk about writing for calendars.

Everything posted to the calendar is an event by definition. Since events happen at a date, time and place; they are also inherently newsworthy. They are worthy of posting to your website and worthy of having some text written about the event.

Each and every event listed in your calendar should have a story written and posted to each event’s detail page.

Achieving this enhancement to your calendar will require a certain amount of writing. However, the story idea is pretty well laid out by the event, and the leaders of the event can be good sources. In other words, writing for calendar pages doesn’t have to be particularly challenging. In fact, writing for calendars can be an entry-level position on your writing team for your cub reporters.

Having an entry level position for on-the-job-training for new writers is a tried-and-true technique even in newspapers. In the old days of newspapers, cub writers often spent months doing nothing but writing obituaries as training. In churches, the same training can be provided by writing calendar stories.

If you write the calendar item as a news story, it should have a very strong lead. If you write the item as a feature story, have a strong nut graf after your narrative lead. The objective is to draw the reader into the story quickly.

Personally, I believe that most of your calendar stories will be straight news stories that answer the 4Ws and an H questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. Inherently, the “when” question is answered in the date and time functions of the calendar. It won’t hurt to expand on the when-answer in your story, but get all of the other questions answered in the story. Determine which of the questions to answer in the direct lead and the others in the balance of the story.

Please note that I don’t rule out writing full long-form feature stories for calendars, but I do think they will be exceptions reserved for only the big events in your church.

There are no special issues when writing straight news or feature stories for your calendar pages. You should write your story exactly the same way as you would for a free-standing web page.

The only critical issue is to simply writing something!

Decks or Short Descriptions

The event name that appears in the calendar grid is often augmented by writing what is called a “deck” in journalism slang. Most-sophisticated online calendar systems allow a “short description” of the event along with a long description. Writers can use a short description field in the online calendar to write a news deck.

The term “deck” refers to placing a short sentence phrase near the title of the article. The purpose of the deck is to provide the reader with an idea content that will come in the full detail or full description.

In online calendar systems, a short description or deck has two possible uses. The first is a sub-headline used between the name of the event acting as a headline and the lead of the story. In this case, it provides a bit more descriptive information to draw the visitor’s attention. The second use is in weekly views of the calendar. Most-sophisticated online calendars allow the user to toggle between the traditional monthly grid (month-at-a-time) as well as weekly grids (week-at-a-time).

The weekly option provides more space in the top-level grid, so the event name gets displayed along with its deck. The additional information provided by the deck makes the weekly-view option very useful and popular among visitors.

Photos and Multimedia

Any photos and multimedia (audio and video) are great also to include on your detail pages. Any content that enriches the pages is a plus.

Yes, words are needed to provide information and for the search engines to index, but also enrich your calendar pages with photos and media when possible.

For the best results, you should embed the photos, audio players and video players into your web pages. Do not link to external media files, only embed. Also, your embedded audio and video players should contain an appropriate preview image to attract attention to the embedded media.

Category: (08-14) August 2014   Tag:

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