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Church websites and conducting site visits

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Web analysts from all types of corporate backgrounds sometimes conduct "site visits" to glean more knowledge about the company and the customers they serve. So it follows that church website developers could lead similar types of visits, to see how congregation members interact with the site, what they wish to learn, etc.

The notion of a web analyst's "site visit" does not refer to visiting a web site. On the contrary, it is more often described as a "follow-me-home" study (Kaushik, 2007). In other words, a web analyst team physically travels to the customer's world, whether it is a store, office, home, or church.

Take, for example, a major car sales website which is subscribed to by a variety of car dealerships. It is one thing to look at the site and try to figure out its strengths and weaknesses. A “site visit” would mean driving to several dealerships and observing the car salesmen working through the site. They may be trying to update company information, replying to their own customers’ feedback, or removing cars from the online inventory. As they interact with the website, some processes may go smoothly while others might slow the users down.

How to Prepare for a Site Visit
Preparing for a site visit takes a bit of time on the front end, but makes the actual visit much more valuable. Sometimes people are resistant to someone watching them work on a computer. Similarly, teachers do not like students reading over their shoulder when typing. A person’s potential reaction to being watched may make him or her nervous and make mistakes, which could potentially skew the analyst’s data.

Therefore, to best prepare for a site visit, spend time identifying with the panel of attendees or church officials. Set expectations early and clearly, communicate openly to understand their needs, recruit key players, and identify critical tasks and participants. In addition, decide before arriving on time who will perform which role of moderator, note taker, videographer, etc.

Conducting the Site Visit
When actually conducting the site visit, be patient so as not to lead customers to a particular result. About 80% of the analyst team’s time should be spent observing. Ask customers to show their typical day’s routine, and have them show how they problem solve when problems arise. While observing and listening, formulate strategies about how you could help them the best. The other 20% of the time can be used to ask a few questions and document observations. (Kaushik, 2007).

Analyzing the Data
Finally, upon returning from the site visit, it is time to analyze the data. Have a meeting of all parties who had a role in the visit as soon as possible to capture their thoughts while their memory is fresh. Make sure to take lots of notes and assimilate particular observations into overarching themes. Include specific examples as much as possible. Be sure to note any surprises that customers tended to do repeatedly.

After having a list of themes break each down to identify what the root cause was for customer failure. These will be the problems to address, so developing and recommending an action plan to target each issue will be very valuable to the company. Prioritizing the recommendations, and assigning who is in charge of which aspect, are also important.
Lastly, the analyst team should create a plan for after the recommendations are made. This will check how constructive the recommendations were. This includes such ideas as more site visits, website testing, a change in marketing procedures, or following up with additional customers.

All in all, site visits could truly help church communities better understand the needs of their congregation as it pertains to utilizing a website in this modern era. The focused research-based visit asks the important question of “why” they do what they do on the site. Site visits help identify new and different ways of meeting people's needs and shows them first-hand that the church administration cares about improving their site to best meet those needs.

Kaushik, A. (2007). Web Analytics an hour a day. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc.