I thought I’d share the following email with you:
. . . 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:
http://www.habitat.org/script/link.asp?url=www%2Edanville habitat%2Ehomestead %2Ecom.
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?