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Web Push: The next phase of permission-based marketing for your church.

Imagine someone calling you up and asking to have a digital sign for your church installed in their family room. You could control what that sign said at all times. Any time they are in their family room you could nudge them with whatever message you choose.

Now, replace “family room” with “computer.” That’s web push.

At the time of this writing, the only web push technology I know of works on Macintosh computers running the latest version of the Operating System, Mavericks. But in my preliminary tests, I am seeing push absolutely crushing the engagement rates I see on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

So what is web push?

It’s the ability for the browser (Safari, Chrome, anything but Internet Explorer, etc) and by extension individual websites to push a notification to the operating system. Here’s what one of those notifications might look like:

The notification pops subtly over whatever I am doing

The notification pops subtly over whatever I am doing

The entire notification is clickable.

The benefits of this are many:

  • It’s 100% controlled by the end user. Users opt in, and can opt out at any time. So, all of the negative associations of pop-ups are gone. They give permission.
  • It’s extremely personal. In some ways it’s more intimate than even an email inbox, which is a bold claim. This is a two-sided coin: people are probably going to have a hair trigger for unsubscribing if you abuse the intimacy, but if you do it right you’ll enjoy wonderful click through rates, and be able to build a relationship with subscribers.
  • It’s still very new technology. Churches aren’t exactly known for riding the cutting edge, but this is such new technology it only exists for Mac users browsing the web with Safari browser. Once it opens up to other browsers and operating systems, this could be HUGE technology. The other perk of the cutting edge is that most users have more grace for early missteps than they do for mistakes with established technology.

Which brings me to your next step: Roost. It’s a company that specializes in giving individual websites the ability access the power of push notifications. And for the purposes of your church website, it’s likely to be absolutely free.

First, using this refer-a-friend link will give Church Web Help more monthly pushes, so do me a solid and use it. That’s the only compensation I’ll receive for this post.

Once you’ve signed up for an account, their handy interface will walk you through how to install the plugin that makes the magic happen. Done!

Here’s a few bonus tips on how I’m thinking through web push, and utilizing the tools Roost gives me.

Bonus #1: Be sure to leverage the welcome message. In the settings tab on the dashboard, there’s an option to toggle on a “Welcome Message.” I am using it on here at Church Web Help to direct people to a post that I think is the most helpful one at CWH, on how to set up a free pornography filter.

Toggle on the welcome message to maximize the benefit of web push

Toggle on the welcome message to maximize the benefit of web push

You want to reward the user immediately for subscribing, so surprise them with something great! For my church, I direct them to a free download of a pdf e-booklet written by one of the elders.

Bonus #2: Real-time, optimized updates work best. While I certainly recommend automatically pushing to your subscribers when new content hits your site, I’ve found a much higher rate of click through by hand-crafting the notification, and doing it at a time when lots of people are at their desk.

One of the sites I’ve seen Roost in action on auto-posts new content very early in the morning, so the push goes out very early. The engagement is much higher in mid-morning. Also, keeping in mind that the character count of 70 for a notification means that just pushing the WordPress title for the post is not going to be optimal. Use the custom text field on each post (just underneath the headline box once you’ve installed the plugin) to craft a clickable notification. Remember: don’t be spammy.

Web push is not a magic bullet. As with all of the recommendations here at Church Web Help, the most important thing is high quality content that is well done. Web push is a great way to give that great content a wider audience!

For more tips and tricks, check out the Church Digital Communications Boot Camp.