for Church Webmasters
Issue 7 11/16/01
14 Ways to Ruin Your Website
There are a lot of ways to ruin a good website. Here are some of my nits. In no particular order...
Newbies and people in a rush to get something done often overlook the basics. The following are items that everyone should get right on their site.
It is flat out amazing how many sites that I have been to that I can't find a way to contact someone. What is the point in having a website if you don't want to be contacted? In the case of churches, you must have a way for someone to contact the church (preferably email, but at least a phone number) AND clear directions (maybe even a map) to the church. Do not assume that everyone knows you. One of my favorite examples is a church website that doesn't even tell what state it is in. It's got a local map, but I have no idea what city and state that map goes with.
Spelling and grammar
Proof read, use your spell checker, wait a few days and proof read again, THEN get someone else to proof read it. This is a hard one for me, I am not a good speller and I make a lot of mistakes when typing, But on a webpage that is available for the entire world to see, you have to take a little time and get it correct. If your denomination has a particular way of spelling or capitalizing their name - get it right. (Just for the record, this is the correct way to write Seventh-day Adventist.)
Get some. Try to organize your content into some order. Remember that not everything has to be on the main page. This is a problem I am currently having with my website. As it has grown, the structure I gave it is not working as well as I would like. That's ok, it's a good problem to have (too much content). The lesson is as things change on your site, don't be afraid to dive in now and again and rework something.
The design is a very important part of the website. A frustrating design or navigation scheme can make your site unusable. Here are some of the biggies.
We have talked about colors before. Use some restraint. Get a consistent color scheme. Consistent means it doesn't changes on every page. In church website's the one exception might be the kids or youth areas. You might use a different color scheme in their area. This is almost like making a website within a website. Just be consistent when you are in the children's area to use their colors. Remember to use high contrast colors (no pink text on red backgrounds) and remember people whose eyesight might not be as good as yours (including color blind folks).
Just because you have 438 fonts on your computer, doesn't mean you should use them all. For one, many people won't have those same fonts loaded. Secondly it looks horrible. Stick to one or two fonts faces and vary the line height, width and letter spacing to gain the look you are trying to achieve. This might mean that you need to convert some of the text to graphics to get it to look just right. But if you are doing something that specific, you should probably use a graphic anyway. There is no telling how the browser may render your carefully specified text and make a mismash out of your glorious creation.
One word - Don't. Splash pages are dated and everyone hates waiting for them. Use your creative energies to make an interactive presentation of the gospel. Much more useful. Plus visitors are more likely to return to a site that loads quickly.
Some websites have nifty icons for each area of their website. Sometimes this can be good and sometimes this can be bad. Make sure your icons make sense. A row of 10 little pictures might not tell me what each of those lead too. It would then be hit and miss to figure out where everything is on your site. No fun. Check out DigitalWeb magazine (http://www.digital-web.com) to see what I mean. Text links usually work best. If you must use icons, try get a name into the icon so I know what I am clicking on.
The Information (or lack thereof)
Content is King
Why does someone come to your site? Because they are looking for something. That something is almost guaranteed not to be pretty pictures or a cool java applet. They are looking for information, a schedule, who is preaching, what does your church believe in, when are services, do you have children's programs, inspiration, help, they might want to contact someone for counseling or prayer, the list is endless. You can't be everything to everyone, don't try. However you should give them as much content as you can. Here's a concept that many webmasters forget, people will come back if your site has content that is regularly updated. Again, don't try to compete with CNN. But provide quality content that is updated and you will get traffic. A natural for churches is to post sermons. This might be transcripts of the sermons or audio. But right there you have a consistent source of ever changing ORIGINAL content.
Above the Fold
Above the Fold is a term used by newspapers. It refers to getting the important news above the fold in the paper - or the most important stuff at the top. The problem is everyone thinks their area (or ministry) is the most important. Just because newspapers try to get all the important stuff at the top, doesn't mean you need to. Look at MSN's new home page (http://www.msn.com/). Can you find anything quickly? I can't. It's too much crammed into to small of a space. Spread your content out some. There is a balance here too. You don't want a page that is miles long either.
Use it. White Space is important. Check out Apple's page (http://www.apple.com/). I think that is much more inviting than a very crowded site. If your site uses frames, white space is even more important. Frames add little boxes to screen and it is even harder to get that open feeling.
Try to think about the user when you designing and building your site. What are they coming to your site for?
Often times our website are centered around the organization, instead of around the visitor. Try to think about what someone who knew nothing about your organization might be looking for when they come to your site.
Test your site on as many different computers with as many different setups as you can. I often ask my friends to bring the site so I can see what it looks like on their machine. I also let them "drive" so I can see how they use the site and what they are clicking on. I have learned more about how people want to use my site from doing this.
Churches should want their message to go to as many people as possible, so don't ignore accessibility issues for handicapped people. How would a blind person "see" your site if they were using a screen reader to read the text to them? How would a deaf person listen to your wonderful online sermons? See issue one (http://www.downeychurch.org/HelpForChurchWebmasters.html) for more on this topic.
Don't be discourage if this seems like a lot of stuff. It is, but most of it is fairly straight forward if you think about it. Consider the following...
"Press on: nothing in the
world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more
common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is
almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
See ya and happy Thanksgiving,
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