I was up late the night before writing some Perl to convert my Pastor’s sermons into HTML 4.01 Transitional compliant web pages. So imagine my reaction yesterday morning when I woke up and was greeted by a message who’s subject line was “Physician Heal Thyself,” which included several points of dissatisfaction regarding the color and font selections here at HealYourChurchWebSite along with the following admonishment:
But color-wise, and graphically, you are seriously challenged. Time to go to school and learn how to dress better your technically well done sites!
Well, now that *I’ve* ranted and raved on *your* site, it’s only fair to invite you to do the same for mine! I have designed http://www.kncf.org for my church, King of the Nations Christian Fellowship.
Oh if God would only allow me to abuse my power sometimes! I mean, what would Strong Bad say? Now before you run off and send this guy a ‘love note‘, read the end of this post (captioned “Happy Ending“).
I’ve said this before, always design to your target audience. Hopefully those of you regularly visit Heal Your Church Web Site have read enough Vincent Flanders, Jakob Nielsen and Jeffrey Zeldman to understand the downsides of rendering this site as art project. Its an informational web log about the gory back-end details that go into making and maintaining a church web site. Well, there is some merit to being a good example/template, but those energies are better expended in actually doing a church web site than talking about it here.
So now the problem is, how do I heal the King of Nations Christian Fellowship site without making it sound like a bitter reply to this critic in a grace-driven fashion? To help me in this task, I communicated with two professionals with experience in both the graphic arts and usable web design. I’ve promised to protect their anonymity, but many of the remarks you’ll see regarding aesthetic elements come straight from them. I figure this way any constructive criticisms I offer will be exactly that and nothing more. So let’s get on with it.
Seeker Friendly – The first thing I always check are a memorable domain name, title tag and tag line. All three could use some improvement on this site. Rather than “Welcome to …” why not offer a title tag that matches the entries people will query via various search engines, such as <title>King of the Nations Christian Fellowship Rockville Maryland</title>? Along with that, I notice that you’ve already purchased kingofthenations.org. Why not use MyDomain’s free redirection services along with kingofnations.org to give your church the most effective range of memorable domain names possible? If they can’t find you, the won’t visit. Finally, lose the vision page, and use one sentence that page contains as your church’s tag line on the front page. More on this in a moment.
Some of the other seeker friendly issues require viewing the source of the page. Granted, not many persons visiting a church web site view your source, but search engines do, moreover the newer browsers are starting to become very picky about such things. One of the big things is a DOCTYPE statement at the top of your page. Without it, you run a big risk of your users seeing an entirely different rendering of your site than you do. There is good article on A List Apart on this topic that I recommend reading. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be a <meta name=”description” … > tag. While the keyword meta tag is dead, description meta tag isn’t and is used by more than one search engines to create abstracts/descriptions of your site. Again, if they can’t find you or see you, they’re not going to visit you.
Now to this page’s credit, its organized, its not cluttered with Jesus Junk and it doesn’t employ anything insidious such as pop-ups, pop-unders and other nasties that ward-off first time visitors. However, there’s something about this front page that really bugs me content-wise that’s best described with a screen shot snippet:
Now I think it’s a smart thing that this site takes the bloggish approach of posting some news items on the front page, but are you sure “rooms for rent” is the content you want your first time visitors to see? Couple this with the “Talent Pool” page and … well … I dunno, maybe its just me but while it may be useful to 1/2 of your target audience (existing members & staff) — I can only imagine a host of legal and political problems that might bubble up from such endorsements. What happens when a second hair stylist comes along? Who gets top billing? And what do you do when one church member is dissatisfied with the service of another?
Visual Impressions – Here are some quotes from one of the pros who’s advice I sought:
- the designs are nothing spectacular and I don’t like the use of colors or rollover graphics… a little too old school for me
- Hmmm, well the menu jumps up on the cellgroups page (obviously not using templating).
- My main issues aren’t technical … they are tone/perception/feeling — No pictures that I could see of anything — it’s a very “dry” site, not much feeling conveyed.
- There is no color theme. Normally I’ll make up a batch of squares with the color theme
Old school, yeah, that was my gut reaction too — I think it was the beveled buttons that did it for me. Speaking of buttons and color, here are some more remarks from the other expert:
- First reaction is the buttons are WAY TOO SMALL and they’re not flush left.
- They’re using “trebuchet ms” and “lb helvetica black” as fonts, which are allegedly not found in Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, Windows 95, Macintosh OS 7, Macintosh OS 8, Macintosh OS 9.1, and Unix.
- The masthead logo is 18Kb — which seems large to me.
- The red headers and the green sub-headers bother me. It “seems” to clash with the purple navigation and the #ffe4b5 color in the right column doesn’t fit at all.
- Color-wise, the purple employed is problematic (assuming it’s #800080). The green sub-color (#006633) is a fairly close match to its complement (#008000). On the other hand, the “real” harmonic color choices are fairly limited.
- Basically, the pages are limited to combinations of #80, #40, and #00 — and those colors aren’t really interesting.
Casually using PhotoImpact, I was able to get the masthead logo down to 13kb — and with a better color palette selection, perhaps even smaller. Similarly, because this is a relatively small site, there’s really no need to flip between Trebuchet MS and Arial — pick one. And whichever one it is, test the bold green titles on various computers and browsers because on this end, they look rather edgy (not aliased).
Navigation Issues – Not only are the buttons way to small, the <img> tags that contain them are without the ALT attribute to identify them. This means those who can’t read the fine print are also without clue with a description tag when the move their mouse over the button. Combine this problem ith the fact that the graphic navigation buttons are not mirrored by text links along the bottom/footer. This means users of browsers such as Lynx, PDAs and a growing number of users that are turning off their graphics (or having them turned off by their employers) have absolutely no means of navigation. It also means that anyone scrolling down on a long page has to scroll back up to get anywhere.
On the front page, there is a third column on the right. “Church Life every Tuesday Night” has no meaning to me a potential visitor. If nothing else, offer a hyperlink to a page that explains what “Church Life” is and means. Similarly with the 24 hour prayer watch — what are we watching and praying for? Not everyone gets “church lingo” — so use some hyperlinks to help them along.
I see quite a few email addresses exposed to spambots. Too many personal emails exposed to spambots. I would suggest, if not a multi-target form, then a web host that provides you with the ability to create forwarding email addresses, such as firstname.lastname@example.org which then resolves to the individuals private email. This way, if the spam gets bad, you merely create a new forwarding email address and spare the church member the hassle of having to get a new POP email account.
Compelling Content – If I could heal only one element of this page, it would be the content, first by sitting down with the web servants and helping them define their target audiences. Its clear this page serves existing members pretty well — however where it is weak is in attracting seekers, new converts and new residents to the area. Just as there are no pictures of smiling faces giving warmth and life to the site, so too there is little content that tells me what this church believes. How do they practice worship? For a while there, I thought this was a “house church” without a pastor until I realized I had overlooked the inconspicious pastor and associate pastor’s links atop the “who’s who” page. Visitors want to know who’s running the place – so give them a paragraph or two on the pastors.
I’ve already mentioned the potential issues with the “Rooms for Rent” and the “Talent Pool“, I also briefly mentioned losing the vision page. Here’s why. First, the vision statement shouldn’t be hidden on a sub page but should be incorporated on the front page. Second, why bother to have a page that is once sentence long? Same goes for the usher’s page — why not incorporate that under “Needs and Seeds?”
While I’m one to talk — I’d also recommend a proof-reader/spell check.
Potential Maintenance Nightmare – One of the big problems this page suffers is an overuse of tables, and underuse of style sheets, the inclusion of several non-standard tags, and the use of numerous deprecated and/or malformed tags. None of this the fault of the web servant, but rather the tool employed, Adobe GoLive 4. So what I might do is either update or switch to a different web editor. Then I would grab a nice 3 CSS-driven column layout and forego the .GIF buttons altogether. This gives you greater flexibility to add/subtract pages downline.
Tweaks here-n-there – There is already a decent organization of content that needs a bit more on some areas and less in others. For example, the pages already include some nice little things such page footers and the name and phone number of the church are conspiciously placed on each page. It is easy to contact just about anybody about anything. Still, there are some other little things that can be done here that would go along way. Such as making sure the ALT agruments given attribution in the <img> tags. I’d add a search feature. I would tone down some of the bold titles. In the long term, I think I would update the look-n-feel so its a bit warmer, friendlier and complies with many recent usability/accessibility standards.
Happy Ending – Okay, I think I’ve done a pretty good job at addressing the site and not the sender. And that’s good, because just a short while ago, I got a very nice email from the same person where he offered a no-excuse apology and some kind words about me and the site. Hopefully I have returned such grace with a useful critique.