Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Mount Vernon Methodist Church, Danville, Virginia

I thought I’d share the following email with you:

Hey, I know I’ve got a nerve asking, but nothing ventured . . . Would you take a look at the Web site I created for my church and tell me what you think of it (e.g., not too bad; dreadful)? It’s my first Web site! I’m not a developer or even a techie . . .

http://www.gbgm-umc.org/mountvernon/index.htm

. . . I just looked at yours, for Redland Baptist, and was encouraged: it seems to do what I’m trying to do, which is to get info quickly and clearly and concisely and appealingly to people who are seeking a church, along with some useful stuff for members, too — without a lot of bells and whistles (which I wouldn’t know how to do anyway).

Wow, all I can say is that I wish my first attempt at a church website looked so good. Obviously, the webmaster here obviously “gets it;” deliver compelling content that’s easy to find and easy to read. Bravo!

That said, there are of course some things I would do to improve the search engine friendliness, marketability, usability and download speeds. The last being first, lets start with the bandwidth issues.

Strip away the images, and this site is lightening fast. So the trick here is to put the images on a diet. My suggestion would be to use an image optimization application such as IrfanView. Using the aforementioned freeware application on the image of the church on the frontpage, I was able to get the size down from 62kb to 10kb, and “saved [it] as” a progressive .jpg. What this means is an image loads A LOT faster and friendlier, especially for dial-up users.

This needs to be done for ALL the images on the website. For more information on what and why, please read my article “What does it mean to Color Reduce.

Next, while the fonts of the banner along the top make the name look nice, they don’t make it easy for a search engine to find. Plus, that’s another 20kb you can eliminate. Just keep in mind, don’t attempt to use such a stylized font for the text version. I would however keep the Methodist Flame logo to the upper left corner. Oh, and nice job making it clickable to the home page. That’s one even I miss sometimes.

If you opt to keep the banner, please, please, please, make sure you use the TITLE argument for the <a> and the ALTernate text for the <img> tags. In fact, this needs to be done for all the images and hyperlinks on the page. Search engines and people who don’t use image capable browsers, or have images turned-off cannot see what these blocks represent.

Another thing I would do to help the navigation and searchability, add a simple text menu to the bottom. I like how each of the sub-pages has a link back “home” at the bottom, but not everyone wants to go back to the beginning to go somewhere else on the site. I’d use the same font and style as the “home” link at the bottom of the page. I’d also add a copyright statement and contact information. These are very important when someone prints out stuff like your Directions Page.

Speaking of the Directions Page, I’d also make sure there was text on the page that contained the address, some general directions, the hours of operation, and the phone number. This would be a big help with people driving to your church using a hard-copy of the page. I might also add a link to Yahoo Maps or MapQuest on the directions page so people could find their own point-to-point driving directions. You might also want to go into more detail about local parking regulations if parking is a problem. Nothing spoils a great first-time church experience like walking out to a $25 fine.

Speaking of sub-pages, change the <title> tags on each of the sub-pages to reflect the menu choice used to get there.

Speaking of menu choices, they’re driving me a bit batty. For example, when I click on the “Contacts Information,” the link for Contact Information goes away. I can understand why, but this makes the left menu bar “jump” and “change” and can confuse users, especially older ones. Instead, leave the menu choices up, just don’t hyperlink the menu choice for it’s associated subpage.

Speaking of contacts, please, please, please obfuscate all of the email addresses on your contacts page or expect serious spammage. Feel free to use the Mean Dean Anti-Spam Email Obfuscator to generate them. I won’t mind.

Speaking of hyperlinks, I strongly suggest using standard conventions. Visit the “Missions Page” for an example:

For more information about Danville-Pittsylvania Habitat for Humanity, visit the Web site, at:
http://www.habitat.org/script/link.asp?url=www%2Edanville habitat%2Ehomestead %2Ecom.

Should become:

For more information about Danville-Pittsylvania Habitat for Humanity, visit their Web site or call them at (434) 793-3630.

In other words, use meaningful hyperlink anchor text. Most users get it, it improves the flow, improves the searchability and reduces eyestrain and confusion. I’d also check the Habitat for Humanity hyperlink … the site appears dead.

All this said, this is a very good start. Notice most of my pointers fall under the category of “tweaking.” What would I fix first? The images.

As for what I would do after the ‘tweaking,’ develop a long term plan for maintenance, for adding a calendar, for adding a search engine and adding sermons and or Bible studies to the site. These can be a pain to deploy, but they’re also what people seek when they’re shopping about for a church.

How about the rest of you old pros? Not bad for a first site. Any other quick tips and tweaks you can see and offer?

12 Comments

  1. On the hyperlinks, in addition to adding “meaningful hyperlink anchor text”, how do you feel about having any link that goes to someone else’s website open in a new window? That way your web site is still open in the background and they don’t have to figure out how to get back to it. Just close the window when they’re done and they’re back at your site.

  2. Randy, its never a good idea to override your user’s built-in browser functionality.

    Throwing open a new window (target=”_blank”) does just that. The back-button ability breaks, the user gets an unexpected result, and its rude.

    If they want a new window, their browsers have that ability built-in.

  3. Wow – major thanks for all that constructive criticism! I’ll incorporate as much of it as I can understand, as soon as I can. :)

  4. Big time obsfuscate those e-mail links… It may already be too late. (http://www.timeupsoft.com/English/elocator/features.htm)

    Since my webhost gives me 1,000,000 e-mails, I’ve given every staff member an e-mail address at burtonsvillebaptist.org that forwards to their personal e-mail address (like gamewood.net?).

    I’ve also given the student leaders, Sunday School teachers and worship team their own e-mails that forward.

    If I subscribe them to multiple e-mail lists and one of them changes their personal e-mail address, guess what my maintenance task is? Change multiple e-mail subscriptions, update the church directory, notify everyone else and update my e-mail client? Nope. Just change the forwarding address in ONE place.
    .
    Since your addresses may have already been scraped, setting this up may be a good way to shake-off the spammers… the staff will have to change their personal e-mail addresses if they get fed up. Note that while SPAM is a nuisance, the pornography and sexually explicit images that daily parade through the inbox are of most concern to me.

    Also, ideally, make the e-mail addresses difficult to guess (e.g., longer than seven characters). The period in one of the e-mails might be good, but it may need to be balanced with ease of communicating/remembering. Forget underscores, etc.

    - Frank (@burtonsvillebaptist.org)
    - (Okay, so I don’t follow my own advice )

  5. There was a [grin] in (Okay, so I don’t follow my own advice)… guess the software thinks it’s html! [g]

    -Frank

  6. I actually like the header of the church name and address. If you keep it, just repeat the details in the bottom of each page so the Search engines pick it up.

  7. Woohoo! Snow day and we’re playing at Dean’s house.

    Overall, nice job. What would I fix first? Search engine friendliness. Take the newcomer’s test. Imagine you are new in town, didn’t know anyone, and are looking for a church. You’d go to Google and search on “townname church”. Is your site on the first couple pages? Or you’d search on “townname denomination church”. Is your site near the top?

    The graphic at the top is a search engine killer. As Dean has suggested, you should use text for your church name and address as an h1 or (at least) alt.

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Yes!! The question of how to get the site found in a search has driven me nuts – and I notice many other church Web sites don’t get found either.

    As for the e-mail addresses on the contacts page, I’ll fix them. But so far (they’ve been up for several weeks) no one, including me, seems to be having trouble . . . or wait – maybe I just don’t realize where trouble originates? I do get a fair amount of junk mail – maybe 10 a day. But I get 10 times as much at my other e-mail address that’s never been posted online.

  9. For a first timer, that site *kills* my first attempt. Well done. As for the contacts page, I set up aliases, and it has worked out very well. We also set up a single alias which sends email to every leader – that one, of course, is not listed anywhere on the contacts page…

    Rich

  10. How does one join this “Blogs 4 God” Alliance?

  11. >> Yes!! The question of how to get the site found in a search has driven me nuts – and I notice many other church Web sites don’t get found either.

    IIRC, I used an earlier version of this software: http://www.webposition.com. You might want to take the trial version for a spin. Consider letting them subscribe you to their newsletter.

    If you’re obsessive-compulsive like me, you might want to give the job to someone else .

    >> But so far (they’ve been up for several weeks) no one, including me, seems to be having trouble . . .

    Consider reading…

    “Unsolicited Commercial E-mail Research Six Month Report”
    http://www.cdt.org/speech/spam/030319spamreport.shtml

    >> As for the e-mail addresses on the contacts page, I’ll fix them.

    Look at Dean’s or this tool: http://hiveware.com/enkoder_form.php

    Nice job!

    -Frank Ramage
    -burtonsvillebaptist.org

    P.S.

    Consider replacing the building picture on homepage with a human relationship shot (even stock photo). Perhaps something to reinforce:

    “Come in out of the cold of an impersonal, sometimes hostile world and join us.”