Top 20 tips for church web sites

Top 20 tips for church web sites

  • Who is your website aimed at? Most church sites unwittingly exclude people through choice of language and content – avoid ‘churchy’ jargon! Think about how you communicate with different target groups: church members, uncommitted local people, visitors interested in heritage, events, or other special features.

 

  • Church is people: if church is historic or has other visitor appeal, you will want to use a good photograph on the home page.  But use at least one good image of people too.  Ensure you have permission to use pictures where a face is clearly identifiable. Do not include full names or personal information about children. 
  • Get a good photographer to take photos especially for the project, and have these available in web-optimised digital formats (usually 96 dpi resolution).
  • Demonstrate a welcome for people with disability. Explain what facilities are available for people with disability, and ensure that your website complies with usability guidelines for sight-impaired users, including appropriate use of the ‘alt’ tag for graphics.

 

  • Never use an introductory ‘splash page’. These are irritating to most users. Splash pages can also reduce your ranking in search engines, as they lack readable content.
  • The homepage should not be much more than one screen in height, i.e., visible without needing to scroll. Do not cram too much information into it – just sufficient graphics and text to explain at a glance who you are and what is available elsewhere on the site. 
  •  A 3-column layout is often the most suitable for a church site. You can get ready-designed template coding for pages – already set up with headers, columns and footers to use in your own HTML editor. Web creation software packages are available for £27 or less, and provide ready-made templates ideal for church sites. Read reviews before choosing.
  • Every page should display the same overall appearance, with the same navigation options in the same place. Pages which lack consistent style will confuse users. A navigation menu should appear on all pages – web design packages usually provide this.
  • All links, menu options and buttons should be clearly identified as ‘active’ – they should change colour when hovered. People need these visual clues. Think long and hard before using non-standard link styles – a blue underlined link remains the ‘language’ that most people understand. And don’t confuse by underlining text which is not a link!
  • Don’t include ‘mailto’ email addresses in plain coding on the site. They will be ‘harvested’ by spammers. Create a contact form instead. Or at the very least hide addresses using Javascript encoding – a special code written into a web-page which can carry out functions within the page after it has downloaded.
  • If you do use Javascript, ensure everything on the site still works for those with Javascript disabled. Provide alternative options enclosed within ‘noscript’ tags if necessary.
  •  Don’t use ‘frames’ – one or more blocks of content which can be scrolled independently – they have disadvantages which even expert design cannot overcome.
  • Use colours correctly – understand how to choose a colour scheme, what mood they communicate, etc. Don’t use patterned graphic backgrounds behind body text. With very few exceptions, black (or at least dark blue) body text on a white (or near-white) plain background is best. Ask a graphic designer for advice!
  • Choice of fonts is important. The Verdana font is designed for computer monitors, and is widely perceived as the most readable for body text.
  • Don’t put ‘best viewed at resolution X’ or ‘best viewed in browser Y’ on your website. This is irritating to people who use a different resolution or browser. It is your job to make sure the site works on most browsers.
  • Don’t leave out-of-date content online. Few things rob a site of credibility more than this, but it is amazing how many church web sites are way out of date! 
  • Use several people to proof-read for typos and poor grammar!
  • Test your site from a technical viewpoint in different browsers, and at different screen resolutions, and with real first-time users. 
  • A church webmaster or team needs a clear job description. The church must state clearly what is expected. If the webmaster is not on the church leadership team, there should be a clear line of responsibility to the church leaders.
  • A larger church site can benefit from ‘CMS’ – Content Management – a system whereby different people have permission to update content within a site, using only a browser interface accessed via a password. This enables multiple users to keep the site updated. Before choosing a CMS provider, take considerable time to compare what is on offer (the CTA website has been built using Joomla! – an open source CMS).

Compiled by Andrew Duff, January 2007