DIS & FWS Blog

Posted on September 19th, 2014

You are not alone!

by Lisa Gutknecht

A post by Mike Vander Berg, Partner, Dynamic Internet Solutions

Mike opening the 2013 SCS conference in Dyer

Mike opening the 2013 SCS conference in Dyer

Strengthening Christian Schools is here for you…You are not alone!

The purpose of the Strengthening Christian Schools (SCS) concept is to build a community of experts in a range of fields, all of whom are passionate about getting every Christian school to the next level.

We know Christian school leaders are facing a lonely day-to-day struggle to stay on top of things. As a result, we’re connecting with, and bringing you into community with, some of the top names in Christian education. We recruit and vet our session leaders based not only on their reputations and unique expertise and thought leadership… but just as important, on their willingness to invest of their time and themselves in you and your schools’ needs after our conferences.

Our goal is simple … whether you have 100 students or 1000, we want to provide the help and support to make the most of the time and resources at your disposal … and take your school to the next level. That’s why we’ve gone out of our way to make our conferences affordable for any and every school. It’s just $100 per attendee… plus, we’re so passionate that you’re on the same page as your school community that you can bring a board member for free for each paid attendee.

With our SCS Conference, you will leave with support – leave with ideas– and leave with an action plan – as part of an ongoing community committed to strengthening your school. At these conferences, we make time to digest and reflect on what you’ve learned. And that plan will be vetted not only with session leaders … but also your colleagues and peers as you build mutual understanding and community.

Posted on September 16th, 2014

Church Websites and Front Doors: Part 2

by Molly Parker

In Church Websites and Front Doors: Part 1, we posed some questions and offered a few examples of how you can use your website to make that same great first impression that you do with your front door.

When you work with DIS | Faithwebsites on a new design or design upgrade, we encourage you to take time to think about the content of your website, in addition to the overall design.  Here are some of the top content tips that every church should consider:

  • What to expect. Do you have a “what to expect” type of paragraph or page on your site? This content would include the style of your worship services, your worship schedule, before or after services (receptions, fellowships, greetings), language interpretations, nursery / small child care, handicap accessibility, etc. You can put your service schedules on this page, or have a link to the page where your service schedules are defined.
  • Sunday School and/or Small Children / Youth programs. If you want to welcome families, this content is a must.
  • Avoid using program names for link names. If your church has specific program names, such as “Adventurers”, “Greenhouse”, “Club Kids”, don’t use those exact terms as the navigation link names. Instead, label your links with a term a new visitor would understand, such as Youth, Kids, Nursery, etc. The page titles, however, can be your unique name for the program – just be sure that you are clear who the program is for.
  • Regular attendees and members do not need prime “real estate” on your website. What we mean by “real estate” is the space on a web page. The home page is the most sought after real estate, but it should be dedicated to visitors and the audience you wish to reach out to. For your members, think of ways to create buttons and quick hops to the content they need without taking up a large amount of space that should be reserved for newcomers.
  • Images are just as important as text these days. Is there a photographer in your congregation? Chances are someone is blessed with talent behind a lens. Tap into that resource, and ask them to shoot some photos of events, the church service, interaction between people. Tell them its for the website, so shoot wide / horizontal. Keep your website fresh and real with images of the people that make up your congregation.

Do you feel that your church website provides a great first impression? Do you have tips for how you manage to update your website? Drop a comment or contact us today – we’d love to hear from you!

Posted on September 15th, 2014

SCS – Get Strengthened!

by Lisa Gutknecht

A post by Jeremy Eisenga, Partner, Dynamic Internet Solutions

As one of the owners of Dynamic Internet Solutions (DIS), I would like to personally invite each and every faith based school leader to get strengthened at this year’s Strengthening Christian Schools (SCS) conference in Dyer, IN on November 13 and 14. I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing over and over again how challenging it is to operate a Christian school in today’s world. The challenges are at times overwhelming. So come to Dyer in November and get strengthened! Not only will you be able to engage with real experts in Admissions, Development, Technology, Leadership and more, but you will also have the opportunity to interact with leaders from other schools. Some of those leaders need to be strengthened by experiences you can share. All the while, you get to be strengthened by the amazing session leaders and by experiences shared by the other attendees.

To top it off, DIS customers will have an additional benefit – networking sessions for the DIS services that you use. Come get strengthened by learning how to better leverage the tools that you already use – tools that help promote your school, organize and map your curriculum, and help you coordinate and manage your fundraising auction. Many of you attended our 2013 conference in Dyer and left great feedback. As a result, we have even more topic based sessions to pick from plus more networking opportunities in case you want to learn more about leveraging the tools that DIS provides to you.

So, please come. SCS has no profit-minded agendas. We’re not holding these conferences in the middle of a big city in an expensive hotel. We are partnering with generous host churches and generous session leaders that are passionate about Christian education. We’re simply holding these conferences to help you get strengthened in doing what you all have a big heart for – leading Christian students.

Jeremy

Jeremy and Mike meeting with Christian School leaders at SCS Dyer 2013

Jeremy and Mike meeting with Christian School leaders at SCS Dyer 2013

Posted on September 12th, 2014

Church Websites and Front Doors: Part 1

by Lisa Gutknecht

Church websites and front doors have the same role. They both serve as the entrance and one of the first impressions of your church. What first impression are you providing? And does your home page on your site look as inviting as your front entrance and church foyer?
lightstock_74946_small_user_5588936

Every church website leaves some kind of impression, but home pages and main navigation will make the biggest impact. Here are the top items we recommend to customers contacting us to update or upgrade your website:

  1. Are you on a current design? (If you haven’t done a redesign in the past 2 years, the answer is most certainly “no”.)
  2. Do you have horizontal main (top) navigation or only left side navigation? Horizontal navigation has been the practice for some time. If you’re not there – ask support for help to make this (free!) change today!
  3. How do you want people to feel about your church? Does your home page portray that? Does your home page offer any current and relevant images that evoke the culture and personality of your congregation?
  4. What information do you have for a first time visitor? How many clicks until they find it? How easy is it to read? How organized is it?
  5. Have you addressed questions for every type of visitor in some fashion on your website?

The top items are a mix of website design, navigation (which is part design, part content planning), and content. Providing a positive user experience and a good impression is to organize your information in simple, clean and easy to find layouts. For example, dedicating an entire web page to a map is a poor use of good visual “real estate”. Instead, consider placing a simple address and link to a map on the right side of the page, and use the main content area for other important information.

Now, back to the front door. I’m guessing that your entrance is an area you pay special attention to. Your church makes sure its clean, neat and welcoming. You might even freshen it up with flower pots and seasonal decor. Greeters open or stand near the doorway ready to shake hands and welcome people. It’s an important part of the ministry of your church, right?

How can you take that same approach with your website? It’s your virtual front door, and your website reaches people you have no idea are visiting, seeking, searching. What about developing a practical approach to your virtual front door? Would you be able to recruit volunteers or assign members to care for your home page in a similar fashion as your service greeters?

I would challenge you to think creatively with how such a real approach to your virtual front door could be accomplished. For starters, is there a photographer or two in your congregation, and if yes, would they be willing to serve in shooting pictures for your website? What other roles could volunteers serve in? With Faithwebsites CMS, you can create a volunteer access to the website and give them sections to keep updated.

However you would like to approach the maintenance of your website, we urge you to really consider the impact your site for first impressions. Stay tuned for Part 2, to learn some practical things to consider when thinking about your church content.

Posted on September 9th, 2014

What Is SCS?

by Lisa Gutknecht

I’ve been asked “what is SCS” by several customers recently, and I’m excited to tell you!

SCS is short for Strengthening Christian Schools. Strengthening Christian Schools is an outreach community and conference series that Dynamic Internet Solutions (DIS) and a partnering company, DB Consulting, started in 2013. It’s all about helping, assisting, building, strengthening Christian schools – in a very real, practical, hands-on, and affordable way. At SCS, educators, board members and school leaders have access to experts in a wide array of topics – from curriculum to enrollment, branding to giving, technology to governance and more.

As we work with many of our school customers, we have come to understand core challenges schools face. When I work with schools, the topics of enrollment, marketing, branding, messaging, technology and even fundraising challenges arise as we discuss content on websites. At DIS, we can only offer limited and focused assistance as it relates to websites, curriculum mapping and auction fundraising. Now, SCS changes that – you can learn from leading experts on all of these subjects and more at an SCS Conference. Get connected with other Christian Schools and find out what they are doing in these areas. Find resources. Come back with an action plan.

Last year, I had the opportunity to sit in for a portion of each session, and I was truly impacted by how each one of these session leaders were passionate about helping the attendees. I spent most of the time in the marketing track and thought that every one of our school customers should be sitting there with me. This was the how-to, the expert guidance, the methods and ideas – the answers to the hundreds of questions that are asked by our website customers.

I visited in the curriculum sessions and the auction fundraising and others, and each time, I heard solutions and ideas that went far beyond any technical tool we provide. Every school customer we have should attend a conference, I knew that then.

SCS is not a brand or another product of DIS, and there is no profit to be made with SCS. As our outreach, the entire team at DIS is involved with SCS in some capacity.

SCS is open to all schools of faith, even if you are not a DIS or DB Consulting customer. For attendees that are customers, this year in Dyer there will be networking sessions for each of our products offered, something that was requested more of last year and we’re happy to bring about this year.

Dyer IN is the next conference, in November 2014. In 2015, we are taking a leap of faith and running a conference in Largo, Florida in February 2015 and Chino/Ontario, California coming June 2015.

If I had a way to knock on every one of our customers doors, I would personally invite you to attend a SCS Conference. The registration cost is low, the conference is open to all leaders, the session topics are powerful this year with even more expanded session leaders. I’m confident you will come away empowered, inspired and strengthened. Learn more at www.scscommunity.com and register for Dyer IN here.

If you have more questions for me or my team about SCS, please contact us. We would love to see you at Dyer in November – will you join us? Tweet or post #scsdyer if you are coming!

Kim from the DIS team, with Session Leader Rick Newberry and conference attendee

Kim from the DIS team, with Session Leader Rick Newberry and conference attendee

Session leader talking with attendee, SCS Dyer 2013

Session leader talking with attendee, SCS Dyer 2013

 Post written by Lisa Gutknecht, DIS | FWS Operations Manager

Posted on June 26th, 2014

Hit by DDoS Attacks

by Lisa Gutknecht

We are writing to update our customers about the recent slowness and outages experienced with all services – our CMS Websites, Auction Trak, Donor Trak and Curriculum Trak applications.

DIS | Faithwebsites has been the victim of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), or Denial of Service Attack. DDoS attacks are when a criminal targets a server or group of servers or network, and then works to overload the server so that it literally grinds to a halt. It is inoperative and sites and applications go down with it.

Starting last Friday (June 20), we experienced what was at first some minor server issues. Our technical teams did some maintenance work and services were quickly restored. That pattern repeated itself through the weekend, with the problem getting far worse on Sunday. On Monday, we began a full out defense against the DDoS attack and we are still fending off what may actually be more than one DoS or DDoS attacker. Each day we thought we had managed to successfully fend off the criminals, only to find out a matter of hours later that they were back with renewed attacks. It is what the engineers refer to as an “intelligent” DoS attack – so the bots and other means the criminals are using is outsmarting the typical steps to remove the attack.

This is why many of you experienced slowness of service and intermittent outages. At times, all sites and applications were running, but slow because the server was getting overwhelmed but still working. At other times, the server gave out and it would take the team time to bring it back up again. Other times, our firewall and other securities were forcing a complete shut-down to physically block the attackers from any more access. Sadly, the attackers are waiting for us, watching for us to come back online and waste no seconds in resuming.

At the time of my writing (Thursday, 11:00 am CT), we have several teams of experts full-out fighting to regain full control and block our DoS attackers. These teams consist not just of our own DIS team, but also of our cloud hosting provider and other third-party resources we’ve reached out to for additional help in fending the attackers.

What you do need to know is that your content – websites, database content, curriculum data, donor data and auction data – all of it – is safe. This is not a hacking type of attack where they work to gain access to your content. And even if that was – the great thing is that our firewall and other securities are in place and working well. And remember, all your data is backed up nightly and that data is moved to a totally different physical storage space, another added security for your data.

We know that this is not the service you expect from DIS and we profoundly apologize. We have securities in place, but as these criminals become more sophisticated in their attack and attack methods, those securities are breached. Ancestry.com, evernote.com, and feedly.com were all under DDoS attacks just in the past week to two weeks. Reports show that DDoS attacks have rapidly increased starting in May 2014 in the U.S.

Below is a screenshot of the top DDoS attacks on June 20th – and you can see the concentration on the U.S. You can view this map live and current at Digital Attack Map.

June 20, 2014, DDoS Map

June 20, 2014, DDoS Map

You may find these links below of interest or informative:

We are still battling the DDoS attack. We will post on our Support Center announcement forum updates as we progress. We value your business, and most of all we value all the words of encouragement and support many of you have extended our way. Each of us here at the DIS team have been working long days (and little sleep!) and your words of prayers and encouragement have richly blessed us. We are honored to serve you and your ministries. May God bless you!

 

Posted on March 13th, 2014

Working with Images

by Molly Parker

006-smallImages are a huge part of your website. They are one of the best ways to draw your audience in, keep their visual interest and make an emotional connection. While not all churches and other organizations may have the budget to hire a photographer and designer to help them put together great images for their website and other materials, there are many ways that you can make the most of what you have.

 

 

How to obtain images:

  1. Understand that Google Images is not your free image library. There are a ton of great images available on the internet, but you must obtain your images legally. Most images that you see on Google Images are copy-righted and are not free for use. You can go to the website where the image is located and see if it lists usage information for the image. If not, contact the website administrator before using.
  2. Instead of grabbing off of Google images, use stock images. Stock images are images which are available for use, although you typically need to pay for them. Here are some sources that we recommend for finding images for your website:
    • Church Visuals has a ton of awesome free downloadable images. Take a few minutes to check out the other awesome resources on their website, too!
    • Creationswap, where we used to advertise, offers both free and for sale graphics. You can find the free ones here.
    • Stockvault and Stock.xchng are both free sources, although their images are not specifically for churches or Christian schools
    • Fotolia is another favorite of ours and one of the most inexpensive stock photo websites.
    • Lastly, check out this great list that Church Relevance has put together of images and other resources.
  3. Look for the talent. Do you have a mom at your school who always seems to be toting her camera around? Is there a guy at the church picnic who always seems to be behind the lens? Ask for their help! Most people are happy to help and this can be a great way to collect the photos that you need on a limited budget.
  4. And don’t forget to take advantage of our free image gallery! We have many images which are ready to be added to your website.  Find the image gallery here.

    fws_freeSlides_2014-001_600x480_weather

    One of our fantastic free images, available in our image gallery.

How to work with what you have:

  1. Crop well. Avoid chopping at the joints, leave negative space for movement or crop tight. Look for an upcoming blog post from us with more tips on cropping!

    Amelia Earhat Statue Cropping example

    On the left, I chopped off Amelia Earhart’s feet, which leaves her looking a bit awkward. On the right, her feet are still intact, which makes the statue look more complete.

  2. Straighten your horizons. This applies not just for horizons, but for any line, such as a door or wall corner which should be straight.
    Crooked morning fog landscape

    Top: Just a quick photo on a fogging morning, which is obviously a bit crooked.

    Straight image of a foggy morning

    Bottom: Now, it has been cropped and straighten just slightly, which gives it a more professional look.

  3. Use a free photo editor to edit, add text and interesting texture to the photos. This is a great way to build some graphics for your website to make an announcement or promote an event. You can take an ordinary photo– some grass, a brick wall, or even the donuts on Sunday morning, and turn it into something interesting by adding textures and text. We have a blog post on our favorite free photo editors here.

    Cup of coffee

    Here’s an picture of a cup of hot chocolate which I quickly edited and added text to in Pic Monkey.

We think this is a great time to give away 6 more free images! You’ll find them them all in our Image Gallery, in the General album.
fws_freeSlides_2014-001_400x250_connectfws_freeSlides_2014-001_400x250_joinUsfws_freeSlides_2014-001_400x250_grow

Posted on February 6th, 2014

SEO Talks: Alt Text, behind the scene for images

by Bekah Van Maanen

Images have become incredibly important for attracting web traffic and improving the experience that people have on a site.  Site Manager even offers a variety of tools to help you create this visual content.  However, there is one little attribute associated with images that often gets overlooked.  This overlooked attribute is called the alt text or alternative text in Site Manager, although you may also see it called alt tag or alt attribute elsewhere. It can be associated with any image placed within a page.

The alt text’s primary function is to provide a short description associated with an image.  This text would only appear on the page if the image was unable to load.  A slow internet connection, a broken image link, a screen reader for the visual impaired are a couple of examples for when an image might not load and the alt text would replace it.  The HTML for an image with an alt text looks something like the following:

<img src=”conference-presenters.jpg” alt=”Strengthening Christian Schools Conference 2013 presenters”>

image with broken link

The src attribute tells the browser where to look for the image, and the “alt” attribute tells the browser what text is associated with that image.  If the example HTML image tag was placed on a page where the link would be broken, the browser would substitute the image with the text from the alt attribute as seen in the image on the left.

However,  the image alt text plays another role in website building. The alt text is used by search engines to know more about the content of the page and index images for search results.  As a result, the alt text is part of good on-page SEO.  While not as important as the other on-page SEO elements, the alt text using a relevant description helps to optimize images and may boost the image up in search results.

When creating the text for the alt attribute, it’s important to follow the following guidelines:

  • Keep it short – less than 25 words
  • Describe the picture using keywords from the content
  • Keep the most relevant text at the beginning of the alt text
  • Do not just list random keywords
  • Do not repeat the same alt text with different images
  • Do not use alt text for images that are intended to be part of the design and aren’t directly related to the content

If you try using alt text to increase your SEO and want to see if they meet Google’s standards, enter your page URL at http://www.feedthebot.com/tools/alt/.  (Note: remember that images that are part of the site’s design should not have alt text)

Site Manager has several ways for associating images with alt text.  Tools that have a graphic upload option for the image will have have separate field for the Alt Text or tools using File Uploads to place images in the content will have the Alternative Text field in the image options pane.

File Uploads Alt Text FieldContent Editor Alt Text Field

While not all churches or schools are not interested in Search Engine Optimization, filling the alt text field for images will help with the user experience for people using slow connections or screen readers.  We highly recommend taking the time to even place a few descriptive words in the alt text field.

If you’d like to learn more and keep some basic SEO practices updated on your site, be sure to join our monthly user group webinars – free to all our customers! Hope to see you then.

 

 

Posted on January 23rd, 2014

The Tool Box: An Introduction & Featuring Prayer Request Tool

by Lisa Gutknecht

Once you’ve built a site, or updated your design, the weekly grind of maintaining the site begins. Websites must be kept fresh – updated – continually. Each organization can define exactly what “continually” means, but for all, bi-weekly is a minimum, and most organizations should create ways to post new content to their website weekly.

Updating your website can be more efficient and less of a chore if you are using the right tool for the job. Our CMS offers a lot more than just a text editor, and there’s a reason for that. DIS designed our Faithwebsites CMS product specifically for churches and Christian schools, and those tools are intended to make the content work for you easier.

laptop_toolboxWe’re going to start a series about our website content management system (CMS) tools, and which ones might be the right tools for your job.  For example, the blog tool can be used for more than just a blog. And while you can do anything in the content editor if you know how to code HTML, perhaps the expand/collapse tool will be a better fit.

Equally important as ease of you building the content is the ease of your users reading the content. Your content needs to be laid out in an inviting and engaging way. Too long of content can be a negative for users; no images may result in a lack of interest; no links leave the user unsure of what to do next… you get the idea. That’s where understanding how to use the tools effectively and in combination with each other comes to play. With a little more how-to power, you’ll be able to create pages users love to read!

Let’s start with a straight forward tool for today’s post — Prayer Request.

The Prayer Request tool is available as a main body tool, and was originally built to assist churches in building on online community, but along the way our Christian school and nonprofit customers told us they love this tool too!

website prayer request toolChoose a page to add your prayer request tool, and in your tool properties you can customize how you want the tool to work.  Take time to carefully set the properties up. By spending some extra time when setting the tool up, you can make this tool do some work for you and help you effectively handle prayer requests! Add in one or more email addresses that should be notified of the prayer requests, and customize the auto-response that users receive after submitting a request. Consider adding a URL in your auto-response to direct users to a support page, contact page, small group page, etc. Or give them contact information to speak with a person in their time of need. By providing this URL, they will automatically have access to some resources without you needing to attend to the request right away.

When users create a request, they are given the choice to request it posted to the web page or not. You are still able to override that choice, controlling what requests show up on your website – or none at all.

Adding a Prayer Request tool on your website could be a valuable way to connect with your members and visitors, build an online community and outreach for your organization. If you would like more information about the Prayer Request tool, just email support.

Posted on January 14th, 2014

Introducing Social Stream Database. CMS + Social Media

by Lisa Gutknecht

The team at DIS is thrilled to be releasing our newest module (tool set) – Social Stream Database. And the first release of this tool is available now!*

Social Stream Database toolWhat is it?

Social Stream Database is a module within Site Manager (your CMS website admin interface), where you can connect your social media with your website. Right now, the module released is for Facebook only, but we are developing for Twitter, and expect the Twitter release to be pushed out in a few months. After Twitter, we will continue to add other popular social media streams.

Social Stream is fully integrated within Site Manager. With just a couple clicks, you’ll be able to add unlimited Facebook Pages accounts. Once added, Social Stream allows you to both pull social content into your website from your social media AND push out from your website to your social media. Yes! You read that correctly — Social Stream Database is two-way – connecting website with social stream both directions.

What can I do with it?

We’re sure that you’ll find even more ways to use Social Stream Database, but for starters, you can:

  • Connect your Blog tool to Facebook so that active posts get automatically posted on your Facebook wall
  • Directly post on your Facebook wall from within Site Manager
  • Build a Content/Resource tool on your website that is connected to Facebook, so that all new items are posted automatically to your wall
  • Add your Facebook posts to any page – using either a Main Body or Right Side tool. Any inside page, wherever you need it, no widget or special programming required

How will it help me?

  1.  Simplicity and Time Saved
  2. Drive traffic to your website, increase retention to both social media and website
  3. Add team members to the social stream posting without becoming Facebook admins

#1. We know that many of you struggle with not having enough time to get all the tasks done. We’ve talked with many of you and heard that adding social media to your plate is just one too many tasks in a week. You’re not even able to update your website like you want to.

Social Stream Database may offer you solutions. You can add a social media account to your existing blog on your website then it automatically pushes a post out to your wall. Every time you post a blog topic live, you have a new social media post. Done. That easy. The same can apply to the Content/Resource list tool. There’s also the direct post right in Site Manager’s admin – so while you’re updating your website, you can put the same update in a Facebook post, submit it in Site Manager and it’s done. You never have to leave Site Manager to get both tasks done!

#2. Social Media is required to have a successful web presence, and for most of our customers, to successfully drive new visitors, build connections, and more. It’s essential, yet it does not replace a website. Websites and Social Media each have a role, and now more than ever they must be combined to reach your audience. Connecting the two sources, and connecting them continually, is a must. The Social Stream Database allows you to simply apply a page level tool to any and all desired pages, adding your feeds to a page. It’s easier than building a widget (and it will look better!), and it’s free – no special programming or design required!

#3. In listening to our customers, we heard something else. Sometimes you have a website admin who probably could – or should – be updating your social media. But whether due to the fact that they don’t personally use Facebook or are intimidated by it, or even that you don’t want to add Facebook admin users with all that control, it just doesn’t happen.

Social Stream Database can solve that easily. Any Site Manager admin user can be given permissions to the tool and then can post to social media from within the site interface! It’s already a familiar interface, and no need to train or add any other users to your social media sources.

How can you start?

*If you have Premier or Enterprise Service plan, Social Stream Database is already available to you! Just turn on the permissions for your account under People. Then head to Tool Databases and start by adding your Facebook Page account. We’re working on creating help articles in the Help Center soon; if you have questions don’t hesitate to email support.

Interested in upgrading to the Premier service plan? You’ll receive the Media Library, Blog, Registration Tool, Social Stream and more. Just email us and we’ll be happy to assist you.