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web hosting upgrades

3 Ways We Are Improving Web Hosting

On the morning of Wednesday, May 30, we received an email from one of our long-time customers stating her site was down.

After confirming that, yes, it was down for us too (sometimes people just get locked out due to misbehaving browsers or too many failed login attempts), we tested a couple other sites. Two out of three sites we tested showed an “internal server error 500” which is tech jargon for “we don’t know what’s wrong but something is really wrong.”

We immediately called the datacenter where it was revealed a virtual memory shortage had taken down a majority of our customers’ websites. We believe the issue was corrected within 15-30 minutes for most customers.

While we’ve been hosting websites a long time, we’ve never run across this one.

The immediate fix was to simply raise the virtual memory allocations over the default 1GB for the affected sites whereby they were able to load.

Still, how to keep this from happening in the future? More on what the long-term fixes look like in a moment.

First, a brief-yet-morbid snapshot of three other oh-man moments we’ve seen in past years:

  1. We once had a server administrator attempt to adjust user permissions on a single website, however he accidently blew out user permissions across an entire server. All sites went down. I can still remember the last keystroke before the moment of silence punctuated with a quiet, “Oh no.” Permissions had to be reconstructed by hand, taking the entire night and halfway into the next day to restore. To make timing worse, the client who had the unfortunate honor of being “patient zero” had a paid ad campaign funneling traffic to their extinct site, making the temperature in the server room a few degrees hotter. No pressure.
  2. Our datacenter once had an internal router go down within their network. Fortunately, they had a backup router waiting in the wings for just such a moment. Unfortunately, the routing table on the replacement router was out-of-date, which wreaked havoc on that segment of the network. Fortunately, the issue was corrected within a few hours and procedures have been put into place to ensure routing tables are kept current.
  3. A client called once about slow web performance. When we tested our sites, we found indeed, sites were slow to respond; really slow. Turns out one of the datacenter’s major telco carriers was under a massive DDoS attack (I believe it was AT&T under fire at the time.) The only reason sites were able to load at all was because the datacenter also had two other fiber optic connections to two other carriers leading into their facility. (More carriers have been added since.)

This is all to say we know the unforeseen happens. It’s kind of an occupational hazard in the web hosting industry.

Now, about those long-term fixes..

Fix #1: Site Monitoring

It’s never a good feeling to find out a client’s site is down, but it’s even worse when the client is the first to notice. In fact, it’s an awful feeling.

Servers can send out email notifications to raise the alarm when services stop working, however there are no server-side monitors to report whether webpages are actually being served.

Seems like a big gap, right? It is.

logo site uptime

To counter this, we are partnering with site monitoring company, SiteUptime, to monitor all Platinum (now marketed as Revelation) web hosting plans. Customers on smaller hosting accounts benefit by proxy since server-wide problems experienced by their larger neighbors will alert us on their behalf.

Of course, a problem experienced by one site doesn’t mean a problem will be experienced by all sites, but this goes a long way toward ensuring a fire in town is noticed quickly.

Smaller accounts have the option of having site monitoring added for an extra $2.00/month.

Fix #2: Offsite Backups

As our web hosting customer, you’ve always had a pretty robust backup routine supporting you, whether you knew it or not. We have nightly, weekly and monthly backup routines for every web hosting account we carry. The next level in maintaining your data integrity is to ensure a higher degree of safety for those backups.

95% of the time, your current backups are enough, but if the whole server died in some dramatic, fiery way, you (and we) would be sorely out of luck. Such destruction is rare, but the potential exists.

By next week, we will have an additional layer of redundancy in place. That extra protection is called Guardian Backup & Recovery. Essentially, additional snapshots of the server are made and securely stored at a completely different datacenter facility.

We figure this should close the risk gap another 4%, leaving the last 1% up to catastrophic acts of God and nuclear strikes. If these events happen, we have other things to worry about besides our websites.

Fix #3: Server Upgrade

This is probably the most attractive, most meaningful adjustment we’re making. While the server affected by this outage was only four years old, that’s something like 28 years old in tech years.

Sparing you the techno-babble specifics, suffice it to say we’re moving to solid-state drives (really fast) and quadrupling the memory (really, really fast) while upgrading the entire server to something more current and cutting-edge.

With this server upgrade, we should also be able to safely double the virtual memory limits for all sites.

Sorry

So, this has been a long way of saying, “Sorry about that.” Again, it never feels good to get those “site down” calls and I hope you can accept my personal apology.

It is my hope and plan that this extra investment in infrastructure will ensure solid, steady performance for your digital marketing storefront for many years moving forward.

P.S. There will be no increase in your regular hosting bill as a result of these advancements—in case you were wondering. (We’ll just need to adopt a few additional hosting customers, that’s all.)

Please contact us if you have any questions.

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digital evangelism

Digital Evangelism: Tips for Extending Your Church’s Digital Outreach

If you’re a church pastor, chances are you use a computer on a daily basis. There’s also a 39% chance you access the Internet with that computer. (After all, how else would you be reading this?)

But you’re not the only one that needs a digital presence; your church needs a solid digital presence in this modern world too. Your church needs to do more than reach people by announcing church events, listing prayer requests and providing an online worship experience.

These days you must also consider appealing to the younger generation within your congregation. But you need to balance any shifts in culture against the older generation who may be comfortable with the way things are.

And then there’s the youth ministry.

Juggling all this sounds simple, right?

Well, maybe not.

It’s not as easy as opening a bunch of social media accounts. Fruit from this effort takes both prayer and meticulous planning; kinda like your last road trip!

The strategies you use in your digital outreach program are as important as plugging in proper coordinates before you begin any road trip. It may feel daunting at first (and maybe a little technical too) but I assure you; it’s much easier than it looks. Mostly.

Am I prophesin’ or prophe-lyin’? You be the judge. A few tips to get you on your way:

Decide What You Want Out of Your Digital Evangelism

Everything has a purpose (in theory). A church that decides to dive into the Internet and establish a digital presence is trying to solve a problem. Are you trying to broaden communication with your existing congregation? Are you trying to extend your church’s reach to the wider community, e.g. millennials?

A well-defined purpose will help anchor you when you run into hurdles later on, reminding you about why you started. It also helps to actually write those goals down. Your digital strategy bears as much importance as other kinds of business at your church and writing your purpose down helps to cement the commitment you are making.

In other words, before you engage in any church web design, stand up a single social media channel or contact a Christian web hosting service, make sure you have a solid reason to start.

Remember, not every church requires a digital presence. If your church is a small church in a small community, it might not be a priority to have strong digital presence just yet. Maybe using a Facebook Page would be enough?

On the other hand, a larger church (or one that is rapidly growing) will benefit immensely from having an online presence. For the moment, let’s assume this means you..

Pick Your Web Channels Carefully

There’s a lot more to your church’s Internet marketing than just setting up a Facebook channel and letting the office manager give it a go. You need to have a clear idea what kind of audience you’re dealing with and what kind of engagement they would prefer from their church.

For most of us, social media has become a major part of our lives (a blessing and a curse!) So, at first blush, it might seem like a good idea to have an account for your church on all the major social media platforms. (Yes, even Instagram.)

However, this can be counter-productive in the long run. For starters, you might not have the bandwidth or manpower to manage all of those accounts effectively.

Second, your congregation might not even want to engage with their church on social media. They might simply prefer regular emails through the church email service, or even a blog they can read from time to time.

Survey Your Flock

There’s no magic bullet here; you’ll have to conduct a survey of your congregation to figure out what usage demographic makes up the majority. Are they a Facebook crowd or a Pinterest crowd? Are they willing to share their email addresses with their church? What age demographic are you targeting? If you’re targeting millennials in the wider community, you’ll need to understand what kind of digital outreach they engage with most.

Your Spiritual Cornerstone is Jesus. Your Digital Cornerstone is Your Website.

When laying your digital evangelism foundation, the best place to start is a simple website. Unlike using a Facebook Page or some other social media channel, this is actually Internet real estate you control. The best church websites are not an intrusion but an extension of what’s already on the ground.

From your church website, you can post sermon transcripts, a church calendar and run a regular blog where you post spiritually-edifying Christian material. For the camera-brave, you may also test the YouTube waters by posting videos of your sermons and impromptu lessons on hot topics in today’s culture.

If the response is good, you can advance your marketing blitz from there and create accounts on social media channels relevant to your audience (and—now that you’ve surveyed them—you know what those channels will be.)

Have Growth Goals

How do you know if your church’s digital outreach efforts are successful? Is the number of visitors to your website growing? Are you gaining followers and seeing more engagement on your social media accounts? You need to set clear goals to know where your strategy is working and where it needs improvement.

Don’t worry about getting great results at first. There’s no need to set lofty goals in the beginning. If you’re new to cyberspace, I recommend you just start small by looking at the engagement you get on social media and the visits you get to your website, and then set greater goals as you develop your voice and content.

Oh.. about that content..

Content Jesus is King

It doesn’t matter whether you are a church or a corporation, content is still king (lowercase “k”). This is as true for a church’s digital evangelism as it is for anyone else.

As you begin developing and posting your content, you’ll notice some content will do far better than other content. You’ll see some social media posts get more engagement; more likes, comments, and attention. Maybe you’ll notice you have certain blog articles accounting for a majority of your traffic.

This is the content you should study closely. You may want to regularly rinse and repeat this type of content to strike a chord with your audience.

Remember, different people are looking for different things in their church, especially when they’re considering the prospect of joining a new church.

Promoting Your Content

When it comes to SEO for churches, it helps to categorize your content. (SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is a practice of positioning content to show up in search results.)

Categorizing your content will give you a better idea about your audience’s interests: church matters, Scripture teaching, youth ministry, general announcements, spiritual advice, etc. Clear categories will give you insight into what is working and what isn’t.

Tip: Once you’ve developed a reliable cheat sheet of content topics, you’ll find it much easier to generate well-performing content on a regular basis.

Deliberately Delegate Digital Evangelism Duties

While it may be tempting to give away the keys to the Kingdom and have everyone on your staff submit articles, you may want to reconsider. What you’ll likely end up with is a mess: Lots of different writing styles, conflicting answers to audience questions, and a badly coordinated digital marketing campaign.

Recommendation: Have a single point person (or a small team of people) managing your digital outreach. Meet with them and tell them and document your expectations (remember those goals you settled at the beginning of this article?)

Since you have your digital outreach strategy documented already (ehem), provide it to your team for their feedback.

With planning and prayer, your entire online presence will be consistent and your work in advancing the Gospel beyond the digital divide will bear Kingdom fruit.

Go forth and conquer.

In support of your efforts,

matt signature

Matthew

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local listings

5 Tips to Boost Your Church’s Local SEO

Are you a church looking for good local SEO tips?

There are currently 27.9 million small businesses in the U.S., and yes, if you’re a church, you’re counted in that mix. 70% of local spiritual seekers use the Internet to find information about local churches–and they all use search engines.  That means, local SEO one of the bigger factors in your church’s exposure to the local community.

So here are five things you can do to optimize your website and attract local seekers.

1. Claim your listing profile

It’s as simple as logging into Yelp, YellowPages, Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local and claiming (or creating from scratch) your business listing. Yes, you’re a church. You’re also in the business of connecting the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do it today. Follow instructions through the verification steps, which might include phone calls or some sort of address verification.

2. Ask for reviews

Most listings sites encourage listing owners to tell their communities to review your organization. So practice it constantly. Do it on an everyday basis. The more reviews you have (whether good or bad, but hopefully more good than bad) will make your organization more visible to future seekers.

Tip: On your business cards, exit door posters, receipts, thank you pages, invoices, or email newsletters, make a note and say “Hey we’d appreciate it so much if you gave us a review on YellowPages / Google / Bing / Yahoo [whatever].”

3. Upload pictures

All local listings have picture featured for your organization’s profile. Take advantage of this. To ensure they see great pictures, upload your own. You don’t have to hire a professional to take photos, but make sure the photos you upload are solid and represent your church properly.

4. Have a full mailing address in text

Your email address is important and it should be in plain text. Some organizations seen on listing sites have placed their email address in an image–which doesn’t work so well with church-seekers wanting to easily reach out. It’s a small barrier, sure.

Tip: If you have the option, just leave your email address off your listing but make sure your website’s address is offered. If a shy seeker needs to email you, they can at least email you through the contact form on your website.

5. Concentrate on local location keywords

Say you operate a local Baptist church. Instead of just promoting your organization as a “Baptist church”–try local keywords instead, e.g.:

  • Baptist church Denver
  • Baptist Denver
  • Denver Baptist church services
  • church Denver

As you’ve already noticed, these keywords won’t serve your purposes if you’re wanting to connect with someone looking for a church in New York. But Denver citizens are looking for good, Bible-believing Baptist church? So try inserting your geographical location along with your keywords.

Go forth and conquer

So there you have it: five local SEO tips to further you along on your journey to cast a wider net. Follow these tips and you will grow in community visibility and reach more people.

Don’t forget: if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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nonprofit seo case study

Joshua Memorial Foundation: SEO Case Study

Client: Joshua Memorial Foundation
Product: Nonprofit that teaches water safety awareness and supports other nonprofits in the same.
Campaign: Web development, web design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing

Background

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states the number one cause of accidental death for children 1 to 4 years of age is drowning. The Joshua Memorial site provides information about water safety and drowning prevention. The foundation’s main objective is to prevent drowning accidents through early childhood education and the promotion of infant and toddler water safety training courses.

Challenge

What do you do when you’re a nonprofit just starting out and have a great new website but not enough online traffic? We can tell you what the Joshua Memorial Foundation, a Nebraska-based nonprofit specializing in water safety courses, water safety literature and drowning prevention awareness did. They asked for help with their search engine optimization.

Their site was fairly optimized when their SEO campaign began. Since we had designed and developed their Joomla-based web site, we knew it had been built to be “search engine friendly” and wouldn’t run into the roadblocks of a poorly developed web site. Still, their web site had the following issues:

  • Low link popularity and search engine saturation (pages indexed in the search engines)
  • Not enough conversion points
  • Low or no rankings for keywords that searchers might use to find their site

SEO Strategy

Over several months of optimizing their web site, we now see dramatic results. We targeted their web pages to go after local search terms like “water safety courses nebraska” and “water safety nebraska”. We also completed a link building campaign, which improved the site’s link popularity (or “votes”) for the site which results in more traffic and higher rankings. Use of social media, blog posts and article marketing has also been part of our strategy.

Results

The search engines are now referring half of the overall traffic to the site. Take a look at the numbers:

  • Unique Visitors +33%
  • Number of Visits +182%
  • Repeat Visitors +56%
  • Total Page Views +100%

Keyword: water safety courses nebraska
Google Ranking (before SEO): Not in Top 50
Page in Google (after SEO): 1
Google Ranking (after SEO): position 5 & 6 (out of 289,000 results)

Keyword: water safety nebraska
Google Ranking (before SEO): Not in Top 50
Page in Google (after SEO): 1
Google Ranking (after SEO): position 3 & 4 (out of 281,000 results)

Keyword:  water safety book
Google Ranking (before SEO): Not in Top 50
Page in Google (after SEO): 1
Google Ranking (after SEO): position 6 (out of 9,880,000 million broad results!)

Keyword: child water safety nebraska
Google Ranking (before SEO): Not in Top 50
Page in Google (after SEO): 1
Google Ranking (after SEO): position 4 (out of 137,000 results)

Interested in seeing how we can help drive more qualified traffic to your website?

More SEO case studies here! »

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What the Best Church Websites Have in Common

The web is a crowded place. There are billions of websites, with more coming online every day. Even in smaller niches such as church websites, it can be difficult to stand out. But, some sites do a better job than others of attracting visitors and accomplishing their mission. All of the best websites for churches and faith-based groups have at least four things in common. If you can take these common traits and bring them to your church website you can create a powerful tool to serve not just your community, but also the entire world.

1. Frequently updated content

Church websites that are attracting a lot of visitors and successfully serving congregations are always putting out new content. Web content comes in many different forms. It can be anything from blog posts to videos. The key is to be regularly releasing new information that is inspiring and educational.

Content does several things for a website. One, it gives search engines more ways to index the site. Because web searches on sites like Google are the most common way for new people to find out about your site, it is important to continuously be putting out new content for the search engines to present to people looking for answers.

The second thing that frequently updating content on your church website does is that it increases the engagement with your congregation. Your members know where they can go to get inspired or to find out the latest happenings in the community.

When designing your church website make sure to choose a platform that makes it easy to update your content.

2. Designed for mobile devices

Smartphones are taking over the world. Increasingly people are not going to your site from a desktop computer. Instead, they are visiting it from their tablet or smartphone. If your site is not designed to look nice and work well on mobile devices, you are going to have a harder time attracting visitors and engaging your community.

Website platforms like WordPress make it easy to create church websites that are fully functional on desktops and mobile devices. You don’t want a poorly designed website to limit people’s access to your message. The best church websites are easy to use, no matter what device you are using.

3. Gathers people

The appearance and tone of your website matter to your visitors. Great church websites are welcoming. Everything from the color scheme to the words on the screen are designed to gather people in. Just as many churches have an enthusiastic and friendly greeter by the doors before services and during activities, your homepage is greeting and welcoming people to your online community.

Part of gathering is having a website that loads quickly, is easy to navigate, and makes visitors feel positive and loved.

church website banner ad

4. Hub for digital evangelism

The best church websites are not only an online gathering place for the faithful, but are also hubs for digital evangelism. Information technology has made it possible to spread the word faster and farther than ever before in human history.

A great site allows people to learn more about the faith. It answers common questions and helps shepherd people along the path towards discipleship. Being a hub for digital evangelism means being integrated with social media. It means having shareable content that inspires and teaches.

Part of creating a hub is thinking about the types of questions those searching for spiritual light are asking. It also means creating a place online that people are comfortable sharing with friends and family members who are struggling or curious.

The moral of our story

The best church websites are a careful blend of both technical techniques and shareable spiritual truths. If you want your church site to be both a gathering place for your congregation and a light on the hill to lead people to the safety of the gospel, you need a website that both looks great and makes people feel great when they land on it.

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church pastor

How to Launch and Run Your Church Website From the Cloud

Mobile technology has become a major part of running a church or nonprofit. In fact, two-thirds of organization operators now use a smartphone or tablet or use mobile-oriented technology, according to a Constant Contact survey. Survey respondents reported using mobile technology for everything from social media and email marketing to running mobile point-of-sale transactions and managing operations such as accounting. You can actually run your entire operation from the cloud using your smartphone, whether you’re a for-profit company or a church or other nonprofit. Here are some steps to get your business set up and running on the cloud from your mobile device.

Setting up your business

Before you set up your website, there are a few basic steps you should take. One is obtaining a mailbox you can use for your business address when filling out forms. You will also need to register your business with your state and get your federal employer identification number (EIN), which you can do by going to your state department of revenue’s website and to the IRS website. If you’re a church, be sure to select your type of entity as “church or church-controlled organization” or “other nonprofit entity” on your form SS-4 when applying for your EIN, the IRS advises. One other basic set-up step is getting a business bank account, which you can apply for online from financial providers.

Getting a domain

After getting your business set up, the next step is getting a domain. Choosing a good domain name can improve your marketing and SEO performance. You should select a domain name that is easy to type, short and uses keywords relevant to your target audience.

Getting your website online

To get your domain online, you will need to get a hosting service provider. For a nonprofit website, look for a hosting option suitable for your purposes, such as a package with a virtual private network or regular backups.

Getting a business email address

Most hosting packages provide some space you can use to set up email accounts, which you can use to create a business email address using your site’s domain. Another option is to set up a business email with a service provider such as Zoho and customize your email address to use your domain. Using your own domain looks more professional than using a domain that displays a generic email service such as Gmail.

Designing your website

With your hosting service in place, you can start building the design of your site. One way to do this is by using a website builder that lets you build your own site without much technical knowledge, such as Wix and Weebly. Another option is to hire a designer to build a customized site for you. Levaire positions its Carpenter’s Path sites to be more robust than the Wix and Weebly’s of the world and considerably less costly (we call it the “mission rate”) than hiring a custom designer.

Protect yourself

Security is an essential part of running a website. One of the most important steps for securing your site is to regularly create backup copies of your site that can be used to recover your files if you lose access to it due to a technical problem, natural disaster or cyber attack. An enterprise quality cloud-based backup service can let you schedule secure online backups so that you will always be able to recover your site in the event of emergency.

Promoting your website online

With your website online and secure, you’re ready to start promoting your site. One of the most efficient ways to promote your site from your smartphone is using social media to share content that engages your audience. Pro Church Tools recommends that you prioritize Facebook, Instagram and Twitter when starting your social media outreach. Share stories and comment on newsworthy events to generate audience interest, and follow up by responding to comments in order to engage your audience.

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