I started to blog last year, and in it has been one full year of my blogging adventure. Before that I blogged on blogspot.com, but I never invested as much time and resources as I’m doing now. At that time, I wrote whenever I wanted, had no clue about SEO (search engine optimization which helps your discoverability on search engines like Google), and had no interest or knowledge about how to establish my own domain name.
But doing ministry via blogging and taking it seriously both come with their own challenges. For example, in this one year I learned that blogging takes money if you want to establish a no-joke online platform. I learned that you have to protect your website from attacks. So, to kind of celebrate my first year of doing online ministry and trying to build a following, in this post I’m sharing the bare-bones minimum that you’ll need to start an online ministry and make it thrive.
So who is this post for? Well, this post is for beginners. Especially if you want to establish an online platform for your work but don’t have a clue about basic technological and software tools, then this is for you. If you want to have a general overview of how your website, internet, and audience interact, then this is for you. If you want to make your ministry a self-sustaining work, which means it generates some money to offset your expenses, then this post will give you a basic bird’s-eye view.
Below is a diagram that will give you a schematic view of a fully-functioning online platform. None of the elements in that diagram can be dispensed if you want to collect emails addresses, interact with your audience, securely market, sell and receive products, protect your platform, or actually be able to own a piece of space in the online world. A full-fledged online ministry has three major components: 1) Traffic or the people visiting your blog or online platform; 2) Your website or the corner of the internet through which you reach out and interact with your traffic; 3) A communication-marketing system, which is the group of software and sites providing you with the capacity to interact with your followers via email and process transactions.
First Component: Traffic
By traffic I mean flow of visitors to your website. Traffic keeps your ministry going. If you don’t have an audience, then you are just talking to yourself in the vast digital world. The flow of people to and from your website is dynamic and you need to develop it. But that’s not easy because of the millions of ministry websites that compete with you, people’s shorter attention spans, and their differing interests. Traffic comes to you from various sources. In the beginning your website won’t see too many visitors (maybe 10–15 a day if you invest some time into it), and if you don’t cultivate your audience, it may never go beyond 100–200 daily visitors. Since you have limited time, you can’t devote an equal amount of time and energy to traffic sources in order to bring in more traffic. So you have to pick and choose.
In terms of traffic sources, there are two basic strategies: 1) Spreading; or 2) Focusing on one or two sources. All bloggers’ attempts fall somewhere in between. Spreading out means you try to bring in traffic from various sources such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. It means promoting your blog posts in Google+ groups, LinkedIn, Pinterest, reaching out to various people among whom your potential audience thrives. Focusing means you invest more time in one chosen traffic source. For example, if your traffic source is Facebook, it means you announce your blogposts on your Facebook site, create a Facebook page or group, become a member of many Facebook groups where your relevant audience gathers, and participates in their activities. If your focus is on Google, then you invest your time in SEO, trying to get to the first page of Google with certain key words. Both strategies come with their own pros and cons. Focusing on one or two traffic sources makes your attempts more effective, but it also runs the risk of quickly drying up if the authorities or companies that own that source change the way the traffic source works. For example, Google discovers sites based on a certain algorithm. If Google decides to change that, in just one day you could lose significant traffic to your site. Spreading out avoids this danger because if changes in one source cut off that traffic, you have others to fall back on. But spreading out makes your efforts weaker because you have less time and energy to invest in each of them unless you have other people working for you.
Your vision of ideal traffic and the ideal visitor’s profile
The people whom you minister to need to understand you, and you need to understand and empathize with them. No one can accomplish that with a generic, abstract view. So from the get-go, you may want to have a clear vision of your audience. As people visit and interact with you, this vision will change and become adjusted to the reality of your online platform and ministry. For example, when I started to do my online ministry, I thought mostly men would be reading my blog. But now I know it is mostly women of God who read it. When I started, I thought the age group I’d be addressing would be around 30–40. Well, according to Google analytics, it is 40–60. It is our job to be open to our audience because that’s what God puts on your path. You cannot force your audience to change according to your vision (though you can mold it in a limited way), but you can adjust your vision of your audience based on the ministry data.
Moreover, you should develop a profile of your ideal visitor. In the marketing world, they call it an avatar. Simply put, who is the person you want to address? What kind of needs would she have, and how you would fulfill those needs? In the world of ministry, it’s obviously about people’s spiritual needs. You may want to consider age, gender, and other characteristics. Developing a profile of your ideal visitor will help you focus your content and use the language of the audience you appeal to. For example, if you appeal to teenagers, your site, content, and the language in which you express your ministry should be adjusted to them. Developing your vision for the audience you want to serve helps because by addressing everyone you won’t be able to reach out to anyone. You will have difficulty forming a stable and loyal audience.
Building a relationship with your audience
As time passes, your audience will change. So you also have to think about how to bring people back to the site and how to engage them so that they don’t drop out again or disappear entirely. Having a stable group to whom you serve and who value your ministry is necessary to develop a mutual trust, to know people, and to let your audience know you. People do not necessarily come to your website because they can’t find its content somewhere else. They can. They often come out of curiosity, but they return because they find value in the ministry you do, and that value is always connected to yourself. Naturally your audience wants to know who the person behind the screen is who has enough courage to address their needs as a minister. So let people know you, be transparent with dignity, and do not manipulate. Also, to form deeper relationships and develop a mutual trust, you may want to collect email addresses. This will allow you to establish an audience with which you can communicate directly and in a more personal way.
Second Component: Website
Your website is an iceberg, only part of which your visitors see. You, however, have to see and manage every element of the online platform. Every website has four elements. The first one is web hosting, a process of storing and having access to your website. A web host company is a company that provides (sells) you physical space on their machines to host your website. There are various ways of doing it, so for beginners I would advise you to choose shared hosting, which means that the same machine space is shared by many people. It is more affordable. Dedicated hosting means the machine space that hosts your website is solely for your site. It is more expensive, but at least your site won’t go down often. There are gazillions of hosting companies. Some beginners use Bluehost, which provides one of the most affordable hosting services. A web host company also provides you with a control panel through which you can access and manipulate your corner of the internet.
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