Heal Your Church WebSite


Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

University Avenue Church of Christ – Austin, TX

Intro.

How embarrassing is this? I’ve had requests to review web sites in the
queue since May. Some I’m not going to do, but some I desperately need to
do because they are so reflective of what many of us encounter when designing
– and more importantly – maintaining a web site. A good example of this
is the web site for the University Avenue
Church of Christ in Austin, TX
. An good site that with some work could
become a great web site.

If I had to heal this site in one sentence or less, this is what I’d suggest:
Lose weight while completing what you’ve started. Yeah, I know. It
reads like some cheesy multilevel marketing spam-of-the-day ad. So before
I digress any further, lets get into the glorious details.

Seven Deadly Sins
Jesus Junk

None – unless you count .gif logo on the top left of the screen, that
‘briefly’ animates when you move your mouse over it. But, since there’s nothing
gawdy or cheap about it, I wouldn’t classify it as Jesus Junk. I would
however recommend that they optimize it as 10k is much to large. More on that in a moment

Splash Page != Home Page

Again, another major sin avoided. The home page for this site does not
waste your time with a useless and hard to index splash page. KUDOS!

Navigation Nightmares

Could be better. Mind you, the current navigation is ‘okay’, up until I get a
third level in. Here’s the path: "HOME
| Children | The
Cradle Class
" which isn’t a problem unless I’ve got two kids,
one who needs to go into the 18
to 30 months class
because I have to go back up to the Children
page first. Mind you, this is not a horrible thing. But something that
could be made a bit more convenient with some form of a hierarchical
and/or breadcrumb navigation tool
. Actually, where I have my complaint is in their use
of an online
calendar
, in this case for their Youth ministries. I like that is a CGI program. That said, it needs to be recoded to include a header and footer that is consistent with the current look, feel and navigation.

 

Of course I had to find the exception, because as a rule, as this site
does a good job in maintaining a consistent look-n-feel that extends
to its navigation. At any time, I could get back home or to major point
on the site – provided I had the graphics turned on for my browser.
Much of this is because the "ALT" argument wasn’t employed
for any of the navigational images. In other words, I’m going to get
lost lost when I see ‘life_o_02.gif’ instead if "children".

 

My biggest gripe, navigationally is that there are no text links along
the bottom/footer of any of the pages. This is a MUST if you are going
to use graphics for the bulk of your navigation scheme.

 

One other thing to consider. This site does good job organizing its content.
The webservant should consider some navigational schemes and means that
can take full advantage of this. I might offer site map – or if there is
one, make it a bit more conspicuous. Same goes for some form of a search
tool. Again, there is ALOT of VERY GOOD content on this site, but some of
it is being hidden under bed.

Text Abuse

Just what I like. A consistent font and color scheme. No text abuse
here. Very readable. Good job.

Purposeless Bleeding Edge Technology

I only found one. Their "church
grounds
" page smacked my IE6 silly with several errors. Other
than that, there are one or two issues I have with animated gifs, but
have more to do with bloating than bleading.

Over Bloated

If I could only fix one problem, this is the one I would tackle. I
have DSL at home, yet the front page of the site almost took 10 seconds to load. This means
you can expect the poor modem user to have to wait somewhere in the
neighborhood of 20 seconds – 12 seconds longer than any page should
ever load. The front page for example. Which weighs in at a bandwidth-busting
125540 bytes with 111630 of that being in the form of 41 images. Or
a 231kb animated gif on your Mission
Torreno
page. That’s just TOO much! There are other methods you
might want to consider, such as a javascript slide show and/orFlash.

 

Fortunately, the issue here isn’t that images are ugly or out-of-place.
Rather, the images add valuable context so the solution is simply to color
reduce/optimize the images. And perhaps to use a CSS/Text combination for
some of the left-side menu-bar navigation – instead of graphics. There is a nice little image-at-a-time
without the penalty of a long insidious sign-up at ZDNet.
I’d also keep in mind, that the future, .gif images are usually for line
art such as rollovers buttons and text-laden banners, while jpg is usually
better suited for photographs.
For more details and information on all this, might I suggest a refresher in the form of Builder.com’s article entitled
Web
Graphics 101
?

Lost Souls

As I stated before, the content is well organized, though the navigational
methods used don’t take full advantage of this. Still, their front page
gave me several launching points that are conveniently conspicuous. and
well described. Good job!

Branding
Elevator Pitch != Mission Statement

Welcome to UA! We’re Glad You’re Here! — nice!

Mission statement != Statement of Beliefs

About the only thing I could find resembling either a mission statement
or a statement of beliefs was a link to a vision
statement
at the bottom of the front page called "Dean’s Corner."
Which means a visitor has to have some prior knowledge of what the Church
of Christ believes – provided UA believes the same things. Because there
are no sermons or studies or statements of faith online, I have way
of knowing this.

Slogan != Mission Statement

I couldn’t find a slogan.

Domain Game

uachurch.org – that works for me! Darn, I see that UniversityAvenue.org is already taken! Drat it all!

Home Page
Well Branded, Well Identified

I knew the church name, and the title bar matched, though I would add
Austin, TX to the <title> tag. I’d also add some keyword and description
<meta> tags.

Conspicuous, Consistent Navigation

Yes, and yes.

Not an Art Project … but …

A good looking site – wisely using ‘University" colors. That said,
optimize them images!

Sample Content

Home pages should have just enough compelling content to lure your
users in. In this case, I especially liked the "Just for Visitor", "Family
News", "Order of Worship" right above the Dean’s Corner.
I think this page also accomplishes this with the navigation descriptions,
though they need to use the ALT arguments for the navigational images.

Other Pages
Content Driven

One of the reasons I wanted to review this site is because though
it graphic-heavy, it is indeed content-driven. Which is why I the My
UA
page bugged me so much. The site has enough content that this feature
can be kept off-line until its ready. Likewise, their missions
page
– has a large graphic declaring"Missing Photo" … don’t
do that. Either just don’t have an image, or ‘borrow’ one from your Torreon
mission page !-)

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if content isn’t ready for prime
time, then keep it off-line As I said before, this page has enough content
to carry it until then.

Helpful Headers

They need to go on a diet, but in their defense they’re consistent and helpful.

Compelling Content

Sermons, Bible Studies, perhaps an article or two. These are a few
of my favorite things. And a few things I might add to this site to
take the content from good to great.

Linkage, Annotation, Integrity

<image> tag with the alt argument.

Worth a 1000 Words

On the UA site, I found
several excellent examples of where photographs told the story of the
page they accompanied. Everyone, check out their youth
page
. See this picture? What does it tell you? To me it sends several
messages. ALL of them good. All of them positive. All of them inspiring enough to leave my
daughter in their care (of the church, not the kid) for an hour.

 

Now go do the same for your seniors
page
.

Friendly Footers

Oh wait – look — I just found the site map! This is what happens when
you put it ‘below the fold’ of the page. In other words, I didn’t find
it until I scrolled a page and looked at your footer for info. Either
shorten the height of the homepage, or move/reiterate the link.

 

Oh wait – just clicked
- the site map is "TBD" …. ARGGGGG!

 

Still – text menus along the bottom wouldn’t hurt either.

All things to all people

This page is graphics heavy to the point that some text-only browsers
are going to get lost. That, and I see alot of tables within tables,
and deprecated HTML. These are some serious maintainability issues the
webservant needs to address as more and more browsers become less and
less tolerant of transitional HTML.

Obvious Suspects
Directions page

Our Location -
on the left menu – thanks!.

Calendar of events

There really isn’t a simple link to a simple page that says, here is what is going on for the week of … month of …
You’ve got one programmatically set up for the youth (though it needs a header/footer
for navigational consistency) – how about one for the rest of the church?
And if you do, I’d make it conspicious by placing the link over or under “Our Location.”

Valid

I mentioned the deprecated code before. I didn’t check for spelling.

404 page

Every one makes mistakes – you need to have a page that helps the user get
back on track.

ListServe

Especially at a University – you might want to consider adding one.

Well Hosted

4D_WebSTAR_S/5.1.3r (MacOS X) – nifty!

Security Issues

Nothing glaring in the way of security issues, but like I tell everyone, make
sure you back up your data … often.

 

Conclusion

My short & sweet advice:

Put your images
on a diet
. I’d suggest at least trying text for text instead of images
for text on a test page. Especially with regards to the CSS rollovers. See if it works out.

 

Also, finish up what they started. I’d start with the site map. Perhaps
reconsidering the navigaitonal scheme along the left menu? It doesn’t
have to go completely hierarchical, but it wouldn’t hurt to consider
it. Why not look at Vincent Flanders’ Fixing
Your Web Site
page and checking out his left-sided navigation. And while you may not be able to use Vincent’s code, there are several places which offer free dthml menu tools.

 

That said, things are looking good here. It’s always a good sign whenever I can write a review which doesn’t use the phrase “you need to re-evaluate…” though I came close with the navigational scheme. But I’m picky that way.

That aise, the webservant is definitely on
a right track here. With a bit more ‘works’, this site could ‘shine like a star in the University‘.

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