Reaching Women in Need of Crisis Pregnancy Services
Is Your Center Plugged-In?
Every crisis pregnancy center can benefit from an Internet presence because teens and young adults are increasingly making use of the web to find information. Young people will look for something online long before they will consider opening a phone book. A center without a site is at a severe disadvantage and cannot adequately serve its community.
Is Your Site Effective?
Anyone can put something on the Internet and call a it website, but an effective site is another matter entirely. The most critical aspects of a good site include the following:
- Attractive: A website is your face to the world and must be clean, attractive, and professional in appearance. Avoid slow-loading graphics, large video clips, music (especially without a mute button), and excessive animation.
- Easy to Use: The site should be well-organized with information that is easy to find. Menu should be intuitive and simple to navigate. We have on staff an expert in human factors and usability to ensure website ease of use.
- Client Centered: Remember your audience. Clients don't want to hear about your center's last banquet and they certainly don't want to be asked for money. They are looking for help and need to see something that indicates they are in the right place.
- Quality Content: Information should be well-written, well-documented, and relevant. Avoid glaring religious messages as these can scare away the very women most in need of non-judgmental assistance. Back up all educational information with reputable scientific sources.
- Easy to Find: If your clients can't find your site, they don't know you exist. The site developer needs to make sure keywords are relevant and the site is listed in major search engines. Your services, city, state, and organization's name should appear prominently in your site's keywords.
- Well Maintained: Continued updates are needed to make sure links work and information is current.
- Legal: Make sure that the information on your site is not copied without permission and/or proper credits. Make sure that all images are public domain or have been properly purchased and licensed for web use. Organizations have been successfully sued for not attending to these issues.
A website is an essential means of informing the community about center services, as well as an effective counseling aid and educational resource. Websites must be thoughtfully designed and regularly maintained, but the effort and cost are well worth it.
- M. Terwilliger, Focus on the Family's Heartlink Newsletter,
Using the Internet to Reach Women in Need of Crisis Pregnancy Services
Volunteer or Professional Web Development?
Anyone can make a website, but bad site will make your center look seedy or outdated, scaring clients away. The initial cost can be a bit daunting, but many developers and hosting services will give discounts to non-profit organizations. Should you let your eighteen year-old nephew design your site for free? Absolutely not. Hire a professional. We have seen many centers that have turned over their website design or maintenance to volunteers, only to cause irreparable harm. Here are but a few examples; we could list many more.
- True Story #1: Our staff developed a $10,000 high-impact website for a mid-Atlantic pregnancy center that became a major resource for adolescents seeking information about sexual issues and relationships. After a year, a new center director decided to let a volunteer maintain the site to save money. The volunteer was not knowledgeable enough to edit and update the site properly, and the site became increasingly dysfunctional and unattractive. Eventually, the center had to close down the site because they no longer had the resources to maintain or restore it. They now have a small, mediocre site, designed by an amateur service.
- True Story #2: Thanks to the hard work of our staff and graphic artists, a major metropolitan center had an extremely popular site, with several top ranked pages under fetal development, STDs, and abortion. The pregnancy center decided to have the husband of a local volunteer redesign their website at no charge. This person had great technical knowledge but little artistic talent. Once the site was reworked, people stopped visiting and other centers stopped linking to the site. The top search engine rankings plummeted, never again to recover.
- True Story #3: A small California pregnancy center thought they would save money by switching to a free hosting service for their website. Within 12 months, they lost their domain name when the hosting service failed to renew their domain name or notify the center that it had expired. The new domain name owner would not release the name back to the center, even when offered cash. They said, "I'm asking $6,700 for this domain, but I'm willing to discuss price with you, so please make me a better offer." The center ended up losing their email addresses and had to reprint all their ads, cards and stationary when they could not recover the lost URL.
A quality website can become a true community resource. One reason so many of the sites we develop become popular is because they contain useful medical information, presented in a professional manner. In turn, many other sites link to these pages, including other centers, universities, and even medical schools.
Search Engine Ranking
We work hard to make sure that search engine terms are featured prevalently on each page to increase ranking. Any information of general interest can be a draw for visitors from many sources, boosting the center's exposure and clientele. The more popular the site, the more people will link to it, boosting the search engine rank even more.
Attracting many visitors has advantages in addition to drawing clients. Several of our sites have online bookstores, where they list many of their favorite titles. The bookstore is both a resource and generates enough income to make the website self-supporting (which is sure to make any board of directors very happy indeed). Many sites also receive online donations and frequent email inquiries from prospective volunteers.
With the proper set-up, a web site can also be an effective medium for crisis counseling. Clients appreciate the ability to communicate via email and bulletin boards under complete anonymity. Visiting a center requires transportation — a problem for many teens — and enough courage to reveal potentially embarrassing information to a stranger. Often it's easier to express fears behind the veil of the computer screen. Young people who connect to a caring person online are more likely to feel comfortable visiting a center to meet their counselor in person.
The World Wide Web
To remain effective we must think beyond the borders of our own cities and towns. A website is an essential means of informing the community about center services but also an effective counseling aid and educational resource for women worldwide. Websites must be thoughtfully designed and regularly maintained, but the effort and cost are well worth it.
Adapted from: M. Terwilliger. "Using the Internet to Reach Women in Need of Crisis Pregnancy Services," Heart Link: An Outreach to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Focus on the Family, Volume 7, No. 7, 2000. Content updated 2/19/2008.