The <title> tag reads “Church is important, but more important than church…” As a lifetime churchgoer, I think I know what they mean, but what does this say to a seeker sitting in front of a search engine who doesn’t speak church speak?
And it is assumptions such as these that underscore so many of the problems with the web site for the Whitfield Baptist Church of Dalton Georgia. Take for example the assumption that everyone’s browser will view the page the same way – the MSIE way. While the image to the left shows an easy to read title against a brown background, someone using Mozilla or Netscape is going to have difficulties.
Similarly, this page also assumes everyone is at least visiting via DSL or Cable Modem, which may or may not be the case in Dalton Georgia, which considering it’s bucolic geographic location isn’t likely. The most blatant examples are two 183k + 106k images on the front page.
This page also assumes that people won’t mind that the Java Applet bearing the church’s slogan breaks their browser’s expected right-click behavior. Similarly, the page assumes that you’ll know which text is a hyperlink and which is just plain text, even though they have removed any semblance of a visual clue.
Am I being a bit hard on this page? Yes, but not as a castigation as any one person, but only to demonstrate the importance behind employing common web page usability conventions. Moreover to demonstrate the importance of understanding how the online medium of the Internet is different than a printed brochure or television commercial.
You see, this page does have content. Yes, the content is organized.The problem is, this church’s light is hidden under a bowl of unconventional navigation, inconsistent page formatting, bad rendering of graphics and some Jesus Junk. All fixable stuff, even with FrontPage!
So what would I do if I had only 10 minutes to fix this web page? What I would suggest is that this church spends just a couple of bucks on a nice template that works with FrontPage and then plug in their existing hierarchy and content. But if $35 dollars is too much to spend on a solution, then I’d attack the following problems in this order:
First, I’d change my <title> tag so it is search engine friendly. Meaning the <title> of the home page should always contain the name and location of the church.
Second, I’d jettison the Jesus Junk. For example the garish “Daily Devotions” graphic should just become another menu choice. The Java applet with the church’s slogan could be replaced with the effective use of a cascading style sheet. Get rid the graphics to the church’s history and their Bible Institute. The former doesn’t tell me where the link is taking me, and both make the page look cheap. Same goes with the local weather.
Third, if I’m going to show pictures on the front page, then perhaps something other than school busses and a parking lot might say more about my church’s personality and purpose. If nothing else, understand that redimensioning an image with the height and width arguments of an <img> tag DOES NOT physically reduce the size of the image. Use a graphics application to optimize both images under 20k. Similarly, there is no need to use a 7kb gif file to spell out the URL on the header. Instead, use text to represent text.
Fouth, I would avoid all centered and bold all the time as it makes it look like you’re yelling at your visitors all the time. I would seek a consistent page layout, color scheme and font selection and stick with it.
Fifth, get rid of the page wipes and scrolling marquees. Its only cool the first time a user sees that effect, and that happened some time ago back in 1998. Think about it, if a message is important, then why make me chase it?
Finally, I’d offer a standard navigation scheme that looks like a navigation scheme. Hyperlinks would be rendered so they look like hyperlinks – or at least provide enough visual clues to identify them as such. Any graphic images used for navigation would employ text instructions in the ALT argument of the <a href> tag. Moreover, the graphic needs to make it clear what it is and where it is taking you. Otherwise, you’re serving up mystery meat.
Which, when you add up all the man-hours in labor and know-how, probably comes out to a whole lot more than the $50 for some of the nicer templates at PixelMill.net. Which when you think about it, will pay for itself when web browsing visitors assume that you’ve got our online act together.