Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.

Over on Twit­ter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):

seo - Google SearchTo trans­late, SEO is “search engine opti­miza­tion,” the often-huckersterish art of trick­ing Google to dis­play your web­site higher than your com­peti­tors in search results. “Usabil­ity” is the catch-all term for mak­ing your web­site easy to nav­i­gate and invit­ing to vis­i­tors. Com­pa­nies with deep pock­ets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solu­tion to rank­ing high with search engines is to pro­vide vis­i­tors with good rea­sons to visit your site. What if we applied these prin­ci­ples to our churches and meet­ing­houses and swapped the terms?

Out­reach gets peo­ple to your meet­ing­house /
Hos­pi­tal­ity keeps peo­ple returning.

A lot of Quaker meet­ing­houses have pretty good “nat­ural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the mid­dle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few his­tor­i­cal mark­ers of notable Quak­ers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meet­ings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is cov­ered. Although we do get the occa­sional “aren’t you all Amish?” com­ments, we have a much wider rep­u­ta­tion that our num­bers would nec­es­sar­ily war­rant. We rank pretty high.

But what are the lessons of hos­pi­tal­ity we could work on? Do we pro­vide places where spir­i­tual seek­ers can both grow per­son­ally and engage in the impor­tant ques­tions of the faith in the mod­ern world? Are we invi­ta­tional, bring­ing peo­ple into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?

In my free­lance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of sta­tis­ti­cal reports and redesigned some under­per­form­ing pages, but then turned my atten­tion to the client’s con­tent. It was in this realm that my great­est quan­tifi­able suc­cesses occurred. At the heart of the con­tent work was ask­ing how could the site could more fully engage with first-time vis­i­tors. The “usabil­ity con­sid­er­a­tions” on the Wikipedia page on usabil­ity could be eas­ily adapted as queries:

Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ gen­eral back­ground? What is the users’ con­text for work­ing? What must be left to the machine? Can users eas­ily accom­plish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much train­ing do users need? What doc­u­men­ta­tion or other sup­port­ing mate­ri­als are avail­able to help the user?

I’d love to see Friends con­sider this more. FGC’s “New Meet­ings Tool­box” has a sec­tion on wel­com­ing new­com­ers. But I’d love to hear more sto­ries about how we’re work­ing on the “usabil­ity” of our spir­i­tual communities.

  • Julie

    I liked this. One thing struck me, though, about 15 min­utes after read­ing it. I was think­ing of the first thing peo­ple ask me or have asked me after I drop the “Q” word, about 99 per­cent of the time. “What do Quak­ers believe?” And there’s your fun­da­men­tal prob­lem. Even if hospitality’s done right, lib­eral Friends, unless they change sig­nif­i­cantly, will con­tinue to have a lack of “stay­ing power” because, ulti­mately, new­com­ers will want to know, “what Quak­ers believe,” and they will want some­thing they can sink their teeth into.