Heal Your Church WebSite

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

Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2003 #1 through 5 Explained

Jakob Nielsen, arguably the godfather of online usability, yesterday announced the “Top 10 Web Design Mistakes for 2003.” I don’t necessarily agree that all ten issues are the primary issues facing what I sometimes jokingly refer to as “the great cloud of witlessness that is the Church online“, but I do think each of items enumerated in the article deserve discussion. Below are issues #1 through #5, as they are practically applied those of us creating and maintaining church and/or charity websites.

1. Unclear Statement of Purpose

“Many companies, particularly in the high tech industry, use vague or generic language to describe their purpose.”

We’ve discussed personality and purpose, often. I personally think the every element on the website should contribute to this message, otherwise it should be removed. That said, we can immediately apply this first point by taking a hard, cold, objective look at those ubiquitous mission statements that often wind up on the home pages or worse, the (unnecessary) splash pages of oh so many church web sites.

2. New URLs for Archived Content

“Archives add substantial value to a site with very little extra effort … Changing the URL when archiving content causes linkrot.”

Not much to add to this point other than to direct you to two articles I’ve penned in the past that offer technical solutions to healing your church or charity website of linkrot.

3. Undated Content

“Without dates on articles, press releases, and other content, users have no idea whether the information is current or obsolete”

We haven’t discussed this issue here, but perhaps we should. Especially those of us using content managlment and/or blogging systems to maintain our sites. Certainly, we should date events, programs, sermons and what-have-you. My question (heads-up, this means I’m asking YOU for comments) what about “About Us” or “Meet our Staff” type pages? Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea.

4. Small Thumbnail Images of Big, Detailed Photos

“… websites typically produce small images by simply scaling down bigger images. If an original photo has a lot of intricate detail, the thumbnail is often incomprehensible.”

They say a picture is worth 1000 words, so allow me to demonstrate what is meant by preserving context through “cropping”:

thumbnail example using resize only   thumbnail of imaged cropped, then resized

Which of the above thumbnails gives you a better visual clue of about the subject matter of the larger images behind the hyperlinks?

5. Overly detailed ALT Text

“The (IMAGE ALT) text should describe the image’s meaning for the interaction and what users need to know about the image to use the site most effectively. There is no need to describe irrelevant visual details.”

No argument here, though honestly, I still find most church websites are behind the curve when it comes to using the ALT attribute of their <IMG> tag, as I discussed back in April in my post entitled “A More Elite Image Rendering.”

a bit off the topic …

It’s Christmas Eve, so if I don’t get around to points #6 through #10 until Friday, let me wish each and everyone of you a very blessed Christmas. You can make mine by discussing the above issues; as I treasure your input as one treasures Christmas cards from a good friend.


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  2. Comment on point #3: On my personal site, everything is dated because it makes sense, although there is a section I wish was not dated – the About pages are all force dated to 01/01/1970. (Ps, I’m using Blosxom for my personal site) For our church site, which I’ve linked to, nothing controlled by Moveable Type is dated, including the About pages and different events.

    Though I can see an argument for dating this information to improve the understanding of the page, the majority of the pages do not need dating because that would only serve to imply they are out-of-date when they are not updated regularly. If your staff doesn’t change for 3 years – entirely possible at a church – showing a staff page with their images and emails as being from 2000 would make it seem dead even if it weren’t. The question then is whether or not that page is truly needed, and that’s a different question entirely.

  3. Have to go with David, on number 3. Very important to date the pages especialy the meet the staff, and so forth.

    As Church leadership or staff changes, it is important to know if you are comunication or seeing the correct folks. Very important. Too many times have I been tripped up with trying to communicate with the wrong people.

  4. On RidgePoint’s site, I took the dates off all content deemed “static” – where basically it’s good till the church Mission changes, history changes, or service style changes, etc. The “Messages” page self – dates due to me putting them in the Title.

    I left dates on in the “bloggy” areas (home page, Kids and Students Updates) where content is more date-sensitive.

    Actually getting people to realized that “old” posts in these areas is OK has been somewhat of a hurdle. It’s one of the things that’s different about using a blog tool instead of a more static traditional site. I’ve had to work hard to sell the historic value of the old posts.

  5. IMHO, every page should have a little blurb (perhaps at the bottom) that says something to the effect of “Last updated on …”. And it’s perfectly OK for a page to say “last updated May 15, 2001″ or some other “out-of-date” message. That message simply allows the visitor to judge for themselves the likelyhood of the page being out of date. If the date on a Current Events page is from two years ago, good bet it’s out of date. If the date on an Our Mission or Our History page is from two years ago, it’s probably still good information.

    Dean: regarding point number 3, did you mean to call it a “content manglement system”? LOL! If not, it’s a beautiful slip-of-the-keyboard. I think I’ll adopt that term for my own use… :-)

  6. What about using frames? Its’a a good or a bad idea? Does them make a poor ranking for Google?

  7. What about using frames? Its’a a good or a bad idea? Does them make a poor ranking for Google?

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