Darris McNeely speaks with website content editor Melanie Morris about the updated UCG.org website and her role in the project.
[Darris McNeely] Welcome to another edition of Inside United Podcasts. I’m Darris McNeely, with you today, and in the studio with me is Melanie Morris, one of our web content editors here in the United Church of God Media Department. Melanie, glad you’re with us today for this edition of Inside United.
[Melanie Morris] Thanks for having me.
[Darris] You have been working with us since last August on the web content and helping with a number of different projects. Why don’t you just give us a little bit of a rundown as to what you’ve been doing in that time?
[Melanie] Okay. Well, primarily, the bulk of my time has been spent working on migrating the local congregation websites from their older sites into new sites. The reason for this is that they’re mobile-friendly, they’re integrated with the main site. There’s a lot of work in getting those ready, making sure that the sermons are all formatted properly, making sure that the local maintainers are trained, the sites are ready to go.
[Darris] And so, you’re migrating right now content from a lot of the local congregation sites out there into this larger, newly-designed site.
[Melanie] That’s correct.
[Darris] Okay. And so, what are the advantages to a congregation having their content, primarily sermon content, on the ucg.org site?
[Melanie] Well, one of the things that is nice about these newer sites is that they are fully integrated with the main UCG site. As soon as someone in a local congregation posts a sermon that was given that Sabbath, it will then appear in the “Sermons” tab on the main UCG page. And so this puts content more quickly into the hands of a larger audience.
[Darris] More eyes on it, more people being exposed to it.
[Melanie] Well, we want to get the right content to the right people, just at the time when they need it.
[Darris] I can see the advantages to that. How is it going? Where are you in the migration process?
[Melanie] Right now, about a third of the congregations have migrated over and folks are actively using those. There’s about two hundred congregations in the U.S. Right now, we are starting with the U.S.-based congregations. We’re pretty close to about 9,000 sermons migrated, so that would put us somewhere between a third and a half –
[Darris] That’s a lot of sermons to listen to.
[Melanie] Exactly. It’ll keep you busy for a long time.
[Darris] Are there any tangible successes from these changes that have taken place with the website, anything that we can see that – increase of traffic, requests – what’s happened there?
[Melanie] Absolutely. Well, on a local level, whenever a congregation moves over to their new website, they do tend to see an increase in traffic to that website. For example, Cincinnati East’s local congregation website saw 40% increase in traffic from the old site to the new site, and I think a big part of that is the fact that the local congregation sites as well as the main site are mobile-friendly. Google changed its search algorithm last year to preferentially show, if you’re on a mobile device, results that are mobile-friendly. And so since about half of the traffic on ucg.org is coming from a mobile device, that will help those local congregation sites to show up higher in the search rankings whenever you’re looking for a congregation near you. That’s another one of the increases that we’ve noticed, is about a 500% increase in the number of people who are looking for a congregation near them, and this is one of the things that I’m very excited about, is for those that God is calling, for them to be able to find a congregation near them and join those people for worship services.
[Darris] 500%? Quite a big jump.
[Melanie] We’re very happy to see that.
[Darris] Yeah. So what are some of the features that our members in congregations will find to be helpful when they go to the website?
[Melanie] One of the features that I’m most excited about is this concept of an online community. Each local congregation website has a community area, and this is intended primarily for the folks who attend that congregation or who have ties to that congregation. People can go and join that online community, and then they will have access to private sermons and announcements, but they’ll also be signed up for a couple of emails that will be really helpful to them in terms of staying in communication with the pastor, staying in touch with what’s going on in their local congregation. One of those is the – let’s say services may need to be cancelled for snow. They can post an emergency alert, which will then automatically email everyone in that congregation’s online community with the information in that alert. So information that services are cancelled or maybe they’re delayed. Another communication tool is a congregation digest email. That’ll go out on Friday evenings. This will have maybe a note for the pastor, if the pastor’s written some Sabbath greetings. We’ll have a listing of all of the new content that has been added to that local congregation’s website that week, so any new sermons that have been posted, any new announcements, things on the calendar. And then it will also give you a list of – “Here are all of the events that are coming up in the next week” – so a reminder about when Sabbath services are, if there’s Sabbath school, a potluck, which is everybody’s favorite –
[Darris] Bible Study or basketball game, volleyball game, something like that.
[Darris] How is it helping draw the church together and move the Church toward the vision that we have for it?
[Melanie] I see this as a reflection of the concept of one body with many members. All of these websites are integrated with the main website, so each of these websites could be seen as a member of the body. The information from these local websites do feed back into the main website. You could actually go onto the main website and in the “search” box that’s up toward the right-hand corner, type in “potluck” and see all the congregations that are having a potluck this week.
[Darris] Oh, you can make the rounds, then!
[Melanie] So I think that this will facilitate communication within a congregation and between congregations. It makes it a lot easier to see what your neighboring congregations are doing for social events, so that you can more easily join them. If someone is looking for a congregation in their area, maybe because they’re new or maybe because they’re travelling, the address and the directions are right there on the first page of the local congregation’s website.
[Darris] I can see why the increased traffic should also lead to increased interest.
[Melanie] I absolutely believe so. God is still calling people, and the website actually had a large part in God calling me into the church. One of my friends pointed me to the UCG website, and there I was able to get a lot of questions answered, learn a lot of things that I didn’t know before. And I’m excited to be able to give back to that same resource.
[Darris] Good. All right, I appreciate that. Help for today and hope for tomorrow. Well, it’s been very helpful to have you explain some of these things that far, really being done that the office, on a daily basis – that – don’t – are not always understood by people. But they are bearing a – some significant fruit in terms of just the amount people we’re able to reach with the limited human and financial resources that we have, so appreciate your being with us today and coming into the studio for Inside United . That you for listening to use all, and we will look forward to having you back with us. Tune in again next time for Inside United Podcast.