Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki wasn’t the only makeover that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee saw this year. Just days before he arrived to lead the Catholic community of southeastern Wisconsin, the archdiocesan Web site received a makeover of its own.
“We launched it just in time for Archbishop Listecki’s installation so that we could have a fresh site,” said Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, in an interview with your Catholic Herald. “We expected a lot of traffic to the site at the time, and that did indeed happen, so a lot of people were introduced not only to Archbishop Listecki at the first of the year, but also to our new Web site, which we feel is much more attractive and, most importantly, much more user-friendly.”
Launched on Jan. 1, the second www.archmil.org Web site upgrade was ready to better provide people with information and news about the archdiocese and educate people about the faith, which Wolf said has been its goal since the beginning. But the new site, which had about 45,000 visitors during May, with 18,000 of them unique, has changed from the original site that was in place when Mark Barthel, Webmaster/coordinator of electronic communications, came to the archdiocese in 1997 to create a better system. “The very first site that was here when I started was a very static Web site. It probably had 20 or 30 pages was all that was there, with some real basic information about the archdiocese,” he explained in an interview with your Catholic Herald.
Barthel said the infrastructure of the site from the first upgrade he made in August of 1999, was dated.
“It got to the point where the infrastructure that we were using from 12 years ago was getting kind of limiting in what we wanted to do,” Barthel said, explaining that changes to the site involved costly custom work, which led to the implementation of a more flexible system.
With the help of Northwoods Software Development Inc., in Brown Deer, Barthel said the archdiocese has a new content management system that allows improved communication with schools and parishes, data collection through online forms and content sharing among the four additional sites managed within the archdiocesan system – Catholic Charities, the John Paul II Center, Catholic schools and Living Our Faith. “Where appropriate, we can share information between the sites and we don’t have to recreate it; it just kind of automatically happens, which is a big time-(saver),” Barthel said of the archdiocesan site that averages more than 45,000 visitors a month, with 52 percent of the site’s traffic coming from people typing the URL directly; 32 percent from search engines; and 16 percent from referring sites like parishes, schools and other links.
The site’s search engine was also improved to help people find what they want when they search the site, which, according to Barthel, has been one of the main challenges they have encountered in the past.
“It’s not uncommon for people to just come to us for anything Catholic and hope that they find it. …we’ve dramatically upgraded our search engine on the Web site and we can, now, kind of monitor what people are looking for so that in effect we can even manage those results,” he said.
The “find a confession” feature is one way that the site became more user friendly, according to Wolf, who said it’s the same click-and-locate search as the “find a parish,” “find a school” and “find a Mass” searches. The next search Wolf said the archdiocese is working to add is one that allows people to locate euchartistic adoration locations.
“We’re just trying to adjust to the needs of people in the community by adding these functions to our Web site,” she said.
Other features new to the site include the faith blog, which Wolf said is important because of the way it allows people involved in the church to discuss a topic on which people can then comment.
“It says to people in the diocese that we’re listening,” Wolf said. “Not only do we want to share information through the blog, but we want to kind of start a conversation about some of the topics that are important to Catholics in our diocese.”
To reach a younger demographic and keep up with constantly changing social media, Wolf said the archdiocese has also been more active in utilizing Facebook and Twitter. “They’re not reading their e-mails like we do, people in my age group. …” Wolf said. “If we want to truly reach a younger demographic in the Catholic Church and stay connected, you have to use the technology that they’re using.”
Gillian Lester-George, assistant director of the communications office for the archdiocese, sends tweets using 144 characters or less about information like the archbishop’s installation, links to news stories or articles on the site and, for fun, does a trivia question each week.
“We found that we’ve received great response from people just getting information through Twitter and that, in turn, leads them back to one of those two Web sites (archmil.org; LivingOurFaith.net) in a lot of cases,” she said of the more than 390 people following the archdiocese on Twitter.
Lester-George also updates the archdiocesan Facebook page where she said the more than 740 “fans” who follow the archdiocesan page ask questions, voice their opinions and share things with each other.
“It’s kind of gotten to be like a little community where people talk about their different activities that are going on at their parishes, and it’s a quick way for them to let people know (about events) without people having to go to each parish site or post a formal event listing out on the archmil site,” Lester-George said.
Barthel said he plans to refine the site, teaching people at parishes and schools how to use the new system through Webinars and online meetings, and working to incorporate more video and audio into the site. And he said there’s more to come.
“I think that’s the most important piece of helping people find you is to be out there, to have a Web presence, to use a lot of these new technologies … it’s important for us to communicate about what we’re doing in hopes that people find the information that they want, drive people to church on Sunday and back to the sacraments,” Barthel said.
“We’re trying to work smarter and not harder with (the) decrease in staff and our budgets,” Wolf said of the importance for the archdiocese to keep up to date on the Web. “We’re just trying to do more with less and you can do that with electronic media.”