As of June 2022, 167 churches have left the United Methodist Church – with more than 750 more churches scheduled to disaffiliate. While these churches may be focused on changing names, or simply just dropping UMC from their name, it’s important they take the right steps when changing their website – especially if they have a new domain name.
I’m Jeff Higgens, a web developer and digital marketer. I’ve worked with many businesses and organizations who have done rebrands, or changed domain names, while making sure they retain their visibility when people are searching for them. I’ve sadly seen where many organizations spent thousands on a rebrand – but the steps they took in transitioning their website reset their search engine visibility to zero.
I’ve created this free guide that you can go through your web developer or online media team to ensure your website transition goes as smoothly as possible. Although this guide is tailored to churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church, it can be used as a template for any rebrand or domain name transition.
Register your new domain NOW
If you’re planning on keeping the name of your church, or have an idea on what your new name will be, register the domain name now. Domain names, on average, cost $15/year – so it’s a very small upfront cost. If you delay in registering, your church name may be swiped up by someone else. Considering that there are over 1,000 churches scheduled to disaffiliate, you may find your church name exists in another state, so it’s a race on who can reserve the domain name first.
Keep your old domain name
The most common mistake I see when churches change names, even before disaffiliation became a thing, was to shut down and abandon their old domain name. Domain names are generally $15/year, but this decision cost them much more with people discovering where the church is.
Chances are, your domain name has benefitted from links from the United Methodist Church website in their ‘find a church’ directory – so your domain name has authority in Google’s eyes of being an actual church. There’s also a chance that other sites, church directories, etc. have linked to your website. It takes years to create search engine credibility with Google to make sure you’re an actual church. If you want to remain visible when people search “churches near me”, you need to maintain this credibility.
If you abandon a domain name, there are many issues that can occur if someone else claims the domain:
- They can recreate your email addresses – thereby, collecting all emails going to email@example.com, etc.
- They may put malicious, spam, or inappropriate content on your old domain name.
- Your congregation may have bookmarked pages on your old site.
By keeping your domain name (we recommend at least 2 years), you can do the following:
- Forward all emails from your old address to your new address
- Redirect your old domain name to your new domain name
How to Handle Emails
If you have custom email addresses tied to your old domain name, I recommend the following:
- Automatically redirect all emails from your old domain to your new domain
- Example: firstname.lastname@example.org will go to email@example.com
- For all emails sent to your old church domain, send an auto-reply message to the sender
- Example: “Thanks for your email! Please note that this email address will be going away soon – please make sure you send all future emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry, your message has automatically been sent to the new email.”
Website Redirects: The Correct Way
Remember how I talked about earlier that your site is linked from the official United Methodist Church website, as well as other online directories and websites? These are all signals to Google that your website is an actual church, along with other indicators of where your church is located. If you want to maintain that your church remains visible when people type in ‘churches near me’ or even your old church name, setting up a redirect the right way is crucial. Otherwise, potential visitors may be left confused with ‘404 Error’ pages and think your church completely shut down.
Redirects for a new domain name
If you want to maintain the most visibility on Google and other search engines, there’s a right way and wrong way to redirect your old domain name to your new domain name.
The wrong way is to just set up a general redirect:
The right way is to set up a redirect so it goes directly to the same/similar page:
Is your new website designed differently? For example, have you eliminated condensed the about and contact page into one page? If you’re new staff/contact page is condensed to just newdomain.com/contact then you can set up a redirect such as:
Redirects for a site redesign
Do you have a church website that doesn’t have UMC referenced in the domain name, but are still redesigning your website? If you want to maintain the most visibility on Google and other search engines, there’s a right way and wrong way to redirect your old pages to your new pages. Make sure if you rename any pages that you set up redirects.
For example, if you rename /about-us to just /about, set up a redirect:
How long should you keep your old domain?
The shortest amount of time I recommend keeping a domain name is two years – but here is how you know when it’s safe to abandon your domain name:
- No one is emailing your old email addresses connected to your old domain name
- Look at your web analytics to see if people are still typing in your old domain name.
- If people are somehow still finding your old domain after two years, consider performing a business directory audit. A business directory audit can easily go through and update any online listings of your old church website and redirect it to your new domain name.
You may still want to keep your old domain name after 2 years to prevent others from using it for nefarious purposes.
If your church’s communications team has questions, feel free to leave them as a comment below. I’m also available for consultations or to fully work alongside your team through my company at Higgens Media – where I’ve helped over 40 businesses and organizations with web design, web redesigns, and ensuring they remain visible. I can be involved as much or as little as your team like, along with availability to coach your web team on best practices once your new site is up and going. If you have existing programs that your site needs to tie into – such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp, or a live stream provider, I can help handle those logistics as well.
I know how expensive the disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church can be. Hopefully your web transition helps your congregation remain visible online – so rather than trying to rebuild your online presence, you can focus more on serving your community.