Have you ever seen an application with no user interface? Many of you have used them without even knowing it. They only need us to speak. The spectrum ranges from automated phone directories, to the Apple’s Siri. The next question is “how does this relate to my church?” The problem arises when those zero UI application cannot find information about your church. Without properly encoded data, you make programs work harder to know about your church.
Programs that have a zero UI front end need data, and lots of it. They often have applications called spiders that automatically scour the Internet for information. These programs ignore many of the things we see. Images mean nothing. Fancy fonts are irrelevant. They do not see the perfect color palette you selected. What matters is textual data. This means posting phone numbers, addresses, names, service times, and email addresses. Think about the questions you are most often asked about your church. Then make sure that data is published on the web.
Data is great, but if it varies across many sites, it becomes a race to see what wins. Remove this confusion and take an inventory of the many places you have put your data. Your website pages, social media, and online business listings are all likely places. Make sure everything matches up. Then say a prayer for those multi-site churches. They have much more work than a traditional church.
What is the more important than the text on a web page? In case you did not know, it is the text surrounded by the title tag. Next are the various heading tags. These add structure to your pages, just like how sections and chapters add structure to a book. Think about the most important book for your church, the Bible. We use books, chapters, and verses to quickly identify lines of scripture. Do not rob your website of these semantic structures. They help boost your search engine rankings as well as assist users with screen readers.
Semantics identify the structure of the page. But schemas tell robots exactly what data they are ingesting. I covered aspects of this in an article I wrote three years ago. The good thing is that more attention has been given to churches. There is a schema dedicated to churches at Schema.org. These schemas are just extra HTML code that surrounds the text on your website. They remove the room for improper interpretation. For example, what time does a weekly Bible study occur? Is it “Thursdays 8:00 PM”? Or is it “Thur. 8:00pm”? What about “Thu. 2000 hrs”? By adding semantic markup to your text, you can express it any way you want for your users. The markup ensures that computers know exactly what you mean.
There is a way to understand how your semantically tagged data sources perform. You test them. The most difficult part will be rounding up the various zero UI applications. This means getting time with an Amazon’s Echo, iOS’ Siri, Android’s OK Google, and Windows’ Cortana. This is the list as of 2016, but more are sure to come. Regardless, ask these interfaces questions about your church. See if what you ask for is what you get.
Start preparing for this new way of web browsing now. You might be scrambling to catch up with the mobile revolution. Do not let this one pass you by either. First, have your communications team find and standardize all your data. Next talk with your tech team and ask if they can add this extra markup to your code. Then, have owners of various zero UI devices test different scenarios. Then as new devices and services come on board, test them as well. Lastly, add the audit of your digital properties to your calendar. Every six months, check for consistency, and test the latest lineup of devices. You might even want to have your pastor do a live demonstration of how a zero UI device can find information about your church!