This page about building a Lodge website is based on information that was first given in two podcast featuring Nigel Harris-Cooksley, Secretary of North Harrow (6557) in the Province of Middlesex.
It is strongly recommended you listen to these podcasts:
Another podcast is planned for using social media to drive traffic to your website. You can subscribe to In The Chair on iTunes so you don’t miss it.
Nigel puts the success of attracting new members down to his Lodge’s website: www.northharrowlodge.org. Before working on social media and gaining traffic you need to have a good website. The website is a central hub where you will be directing traffic, and it is the ‘shop front’ to your Lodge.
Domains and hosting can be purchased from many companies and it pays to look around. I use www.123-reg.co.uk. Ensure you purchase a hosting package that includes a MySQL database, or features “one click WordPress Install”. Domains and hosting cost somewhere around £50 per year.
WordPress lets you give your website an overall Theme (template your content sits in) which you can customise. Although you will want a theme that looks good on your computer screen, bear in mind that many users will be using tablets and mobile devices to view the website.. This means they will have screens that are a lot smaller. You therefore need to ensure the theme you choose is ‘responsive’. Responsive themes will adapt to the screen size, ensuring text is legible and menus can be accessed.
The easiest way to check a theme is responsive is to view the website, then narrow the browser window and see if things move. If they do then the theme is responsive, though checking on a variety of iPhones, iPads and other tablets is advised. Fortunately many themes on WordPress are responsive (especially those created in the last few years).
You can then add Pages and Posts (blog/news entries). You can then customise your website further by adding Plug-Ins.
You also need to have good content on the website. This content is not only to be read by people visiting the site, but also by Google and other search engines. Search engines scan the site and look for keywords and phrases, then when someone puts a query into the search field it looks for comparisons and shows relevant sites. If your website is rich in those keywords it will show higher up the list, and therefore get more traffic. This technique is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
If using WordPress you can install a plug-in called Yoast SEO, which gives you advice to optimise each of your pages.
The biggest thing that makes a difference is to ensure the website content is directed to people interested in finding out about Freemasonry – not for existing Freemasons. Most Lodge websites ask the reader if they want to join their Lodge, but the North Harrow Lodge website attempts to answer the questions a reader will want answered.
By answering questions (and keeping this towards the top of the website) you need to think what people are likely to ask the search engine and what words and phrases they’ll use, and put these towards the top of the website. One of these is the cost of Freemasonry, which North Harrow’s website tackles head on.
Make these questions – or variations of – the names of the pages. This helps both the user and Google index these questions and make it prominent in search results.
Although blogs, news and calendar are a good idea for all users (included other Freemasons who may wish to visit), it is important to keep them up to date. If a new users sees calendars or news is out of date it can be off putting and they may think the other information is out of date. Constantly updating also helps with SEO.
You can keep track of the visitors to your website, and what they do by using Google Analytics, JetPack or Statcounter. These can be added as Plug-Ins or by putting a snippet of code directly into the source code of an HTML website.
Using this data is important as it enables you to see what pages people are visiting, how they are finding the site and how long they remain on for. This means you can continually adjust the website to give your users what they want, and remove the parts that don’t.
Remember, just having a website does not guarantee success – it must be opitmised. It also takes time for changes to show tangible results.
If you have questions about setting up websites, or questions for Nigel about using social media for a future podcast please comment or email [email protected].
Integrating booking and contact forms can be added using www.wufoo.com. Once the form is created to copy a piece of code and past it to the “text” part of your website page. When someone completes the form you are immediately emailed with the information. Easy!
North Harrow Lodge’s Twitter: twitter.com/harrowfreemason
North Harrow Lodge, 6557 Website
In The Chair Podcast’s Twitter: twitter.com/masonicpodcast
Kennet Lodge, 4414 (My Lodge) Website
Masonic books available on Amazon