ST. FRANCIS — After nine months of labor, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gave birth Dec. 20, 2016 to a revamped website.
According to Amy Grau, archdiocesan communications director, the labor involved “a lot of meetings” with heads of archdiocesan departments and Northwoods Web Solutions. As a result, she and Mark Barthel, webmaster for the archdiocese, developed a site that serves various constituencies.
“We’ve got two distinct audiences. There’s the general populace of Catholics – and non-Catholics, for that matter – who are looking for information,” Barthel said. “Then there are all the forms and manuals that people at parishes and schools need.”
For both audiences, they had one main focus.
“All we care about is getting the message to the person that they want, as fast as we can, and make it as simple and easy and approachable as possible,” Grau said.
“Think about your own habits when you’re surfing the web,” Barthel said. “Typically, you want to make an airline reservation, or you’re looking for a restaurant. You’ve got a goal and you want the quickest route to find that.”
In developing the new site, which was last refreshed in 2009, they did not create a lot of new sections, according to Barthel, but, Grau noted, they cleaned up the old ones which contained a lot of material no longer needed.
“During (the archdiocese’s) bankruptcy, you could not delete anything,” Grau said. “There were thousands of pages we didn’t need any more so it was time to clean house anyway.”
Throughout the process, they created guidelines for archdiocesan departments to aid them in how to best show their work.
“There were certain departments that had three pages of text.… We were teaching them to condense the text, showing them what might work best,” she said.
Determining keywords important
Northwoods analyzed the content of the archdiocesan site and its search engine performance, using tools from Google. They also looked at sites of other archdioceses, e.g., Omaha, St. Louis, St. Paul-Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, to see how they positioned and organized material.
“We listed the keywords we had and then talked about the keywords we wanted. They are not always the same,” Grau said. “We looked at Elmbrook and at the Mormons’ sites, too, getting ideas of how we can create sort of a marketing website over just one that provides information.”
Adding keywords to the site was a challenge.
“The tough part is all of the evangelization stuff. The tricky part is coming up with those keywords,” Barthel said. “Because what we call things as church and what regular folks call things – that’s always the balancing act and that’s the tough part.”
New labeling, according to Grau, was done for “a lot of things that normal people would be searching for.”
“What’s Nazareth Project? People don’t know what the heck that is,” she said. “So we have ‘marriage and family.’ People know what that is. We did that with a good number of different places where they’re going to find it better.”
For Barthel, learning how people use the words “parish” and “church” was an “eye opener.”
“A lot of people look for ‘church fish fries, church festivals. Where can I go to church?’” he said. “We say we use parish. It was overwhelming. There are a lot of people that don’t use the word parish even though it’s such a common word.”
He noted that in creating web pages, he could list “parish fish fries” or “parish festivals,” but then he’d see inquiries from Google analytics saying, “I’m looking for church festivals.”
“Somehow I’ve got to get the word church in there and yet not change what we are, but you do that through the metadata and how you handle those things,” he said.
Barthel said the right language is important, especially in reaching those who may have been away from the church.
“If they’re folks who don’t go to Mass every Sunday and are looking to come back – people we are looking to draw into the site – to find out information to eventually get them to a parish, somehow we have to make that connection so that works,” he said. “Ultimately, you’re trying to help people in our offices get the word out about their ministries and you’re there to help folks find what they need.”
Mobile friendliness a must
Barthel estimated that most of the visitors to archmil.org are between the ages of 35 and 50.
“If you believe what Google tells you, our demographics are pretty common,” he said.
Grau said Peter Burds, the archdiocese’s director of campus ministry, and Margaret Rhody, associate director for evangelization, expressed enthusiasm for the site’s mobile friendliness.
“For their work, they’re dealing with the millennials,” she said. “The mobile friendly automatically makes it approachable.
Barthel added, “It has to be mobile friendly or you’re not going to get them (millennials).”
He noted that the previous site offered only limited access via phone.
“About a third of visitors to our site come via phone or tablet,” Barthel said. “That’s certainly grown; two or three years ago it was about 10 percent. … It’s just become more and more prevalent for people to search that way.”
He said that initial feedback from the site’s users has been “very positive.”
“It certainly looks better, but are people finding what they need, are we making navigation easier for them? I guess that proof is still to come,” Barthel said.
Noting that this is the fifth version since the archdiocese launched its site in 1996, he said, “Look where web development has come in those 20 years. And six months from now, it’ll be something different that we have to adapt to; that’s just the nature of it.”