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When trying to make a highly functional website at no cost, signing up for a Google account is a must. If you don’t already have a Google account, you will be glad you signed up, trust me.
Once you sign up for your Google account, here are the places you need to go and how to integrate them into your free church website:
When you login to the Webmaster Tools, you will add your web address into the empty field and click “Add.” Then, you will need to:
- Verify your site. Google needs to know that the site you signed up for is actually yours. I suggest using a “meta tag” for your verification method. This is a little snippet of code that you will need to copy and paste into the code of your website. You should paste the code right before your the
</head>tag in your website theme, which can be found in your WordPress backend by going to Appearance–>Editor–>Header (Under “Theme Files” on the right-hand side). Do a search in your web browser (CTRL+F for windows or Command+F for Mac) for the
</head>tag and paste your snippet directly before it. The click “Update File” at the bottom of the page.
- Enter your sitemap. Remember that Google Sitemaps plugin we installed in the last post? It automatically creates a sitemap at yourwebaddress.com/sitemap.xml. Just copy and past that into the sitemap field in the Webmaster Tools to help Google index your site in their search engine.
- After your site has aged a bit, you can go back into here and look at things like how your site ranks for different search terms, who is linking to your site, and other stuff like that.
Google Analytics gives you a free way to get high-quality website statistics. Seriously, there are things in here that I don’t even know how to use. What you really want to concentrate on at first are how many Absolute Unique Visitors your site gets, what pages they are navigating to, and how they are finding your site (search engines, referrals, directly typing in the domain). This will let you know how effective your site is and how valuable of a resource it is to your church. If only 3 people a month are accesing it, then putting a whole lot of time and effort into it doesn’t make sense.
To activate it, just copy the Tracking ID they provide you into the right field in your website’s WordPress backend under Plugins–>Google Analytics. There are instructions there if you get confused.
We have an interactive Google map on our website, which is probably the best way to go for letting people know your location and the best way to get there. If you go to Google Maps, there is a section on the left called “My Maps” where you can create and save your own maps if you have a Google account.
Click “Create new map,” find the location of your church on the map, and then drop a “Pin” at your church’s location (on of the four icons on the top-left of the map). You can assign information to that pin by clicking on it and entering your information in the field. Then save your map.
Click on “Link” in the top-right of your map and then click on “Customize and preview embedded map.” Then adjust the settings to get the map exactly as you would like it to appear on your own website.
Here comes the tricky part. Google will give you a long bit of code that looks like this (I’ve highlighted the parts you need):
<iframe width=”425” height=”350” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=105504803194006098972.000467d720a8780d28e34&ll=37.0625,-95.677068&spn=24.455808,37.353516&z=4&output=embed“></iframe><br /><small>View <a href=”http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=105504803194006098972.000467d720a8780d28e34&ll=37.0625,-95.677068&spn=24.455808,37.353516&z=4&source=embed” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>Untitled</a> in a larger map</small>
WordPress doesn’t like iframes, which is why we installed the iframes plugin in the last post. To make your map appear on your site, go to your WordPress backend and open the editor for the page where you want to map to appear. To make it work, use the following format: [iframe url width height]. Just replace the bolded part with the appropriate values from the Google code, bolded as an example in the long string of code above. Update your page and you should have a nice map on your site.
Google calendar is a pretty good solution for hosting a free online calendar for churches. I’ve tried quite a few over the years, even those specifically for churches, and have decided Google offers the best compromise. The best thing about Google Calendar, in my opinion, is its user-friendliness. Adding an event to the calendar is really easy–there aren’t a bunch of drop down menus, options, and things you can mess up. You can also share it among whoever you want, so one person doesn’t have to do all of the updating.
Getting the Google Calendar on your WordPress website is a little tricky, unfortunately. For some reason, the Google Calendar code to embed the website is not compatible with the iframe plugin we used for the Google Map above. Here’s how I got it to work on our website:
- Get all of the text you want on your church website’s calendar page, exactly how you want it, because going back and changing it later will be a problem.
- Copy the code to embed your calendar by opening your calendar in Google and click the “Settings” link under “My Calendars” on the left-hand side.
- Click on “Calendars” and then the calendar you want to share under the “Sharing” column. Check the box to “make this calendar public” and save.
- Go back to Settings–>Calendars and click on the calendar you want under the left-hand Calendar column.
- There is a section called “Embed this Calendar,” where you need to click the “Customize the color, size, and other options.”
- That will pop up a screen that allows you to format your calendar exactly how you want it to appear on the website.
- Once the calendar is how you want it, copy the code provided and go back to the backend of your WordPress website and go to your calendar page.
- Switch from the Visual Editor to the HTML tab and paste your code wherever you want the calendar to appear on the page.
- Click update page and then never switch back to the visual editor on that page. Whenever you switch back to the Visual Editor, it messes up the code and you will have to go back to Google, get your code, and paste it again. So make sure the page is exactly the way you want it before you paste your calendar code.
- Anytime you update your calendar in Google it will get changed and stay up-to-date on your website automatically.
Here are some other free Google tools that you might want to take advantage of:
- Gmail – Gmail is a great way to do email. You don’t even have to change your email address. Google can import your email from your current email address. If you are getting all sorts of spam, try using Google–their spam filter is great.
- Google Docs – Google docs allows you to upload, create, edit, and share PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Churches might especially be interested in the ability to create a form that you can link to for things like online surveys and registrations. You can learn how to make a form by clicking here.
- Google Feedburner – Feedburner is probably the best way to manage and track your RSS feeds from your website. You can also allow people to sign up for email updates so they get your new posts directly in their inbox.
Those are all of the most important free Google tools that can help extend the functionality of your church website. Did I leave anything out?