Help for Church Webmasters

Issue 28                                                      04/01/04

It’s Important to Get Info “Above the Fold”
(no fooling!)

Next time you are at the magazine stand, take a look at the newspapers. You will notice as they are folded and displayed, you can see the most important headlines. You can pick up the paper and open it up, but the important stuff is at the top. The big headlines, the pictures, the newspaper’s title – it’s all “above the fold.” We can learn from this model and apply it to our websites.

When a guest brings up your main page, what do they see? Before they scroll or resize the browser window, is there anything interesting that would make them want to investigate more of the site? Remember, that it is quite possible that your website guests don’t have a monitor as big as yours, or a resolution set as high as yours – so they may see even less on their monitor than you see on your monitor. If your church site is typical, you probably see the following:
Banner/logo for church.
Picture of church (maybe a pic of the pastor).
Part of your navigation scheme.
Many of you can not see any text at all.
Bring up your website in a browser window that is not maximized to fill the screen. Am I correct? Is there anything that would hold a visitors attention for more than a 2 seconds? Did all of the stuff on the main page take too long to download? Can you see any text above the fold? What percentage of the page is above the fold? Half the page? Or a small fraction of the page? Last question, do you have to scroll right and left as well as up and down to see the entire page? (that’s bad – up and down is ok. Left to right scrolling should be avoided.)

Some of us just had an enlightening experience. We just realized that first impression of our website is not a very good one. Let’s take the 4 parts that most of us see and deal with them more specifically.
Banner or logo – It’s good to have a banner or logo at the top of the page that identifies the site and makes it easy for repeat visitors to tell where they are (remember the banner at the top of the newspaper). But we often make mistakes with the banner. Many times it’s WAY to big, often taking half (or more) of the space that is above the fold. Some churches make a banner that says for their banner. What a classic waste of space. We know the website is – it’s displayed right there in the address bar, we may have even just typed it there. Put your church name, denomination (if it’s not part of the name) and maybe even the city and state in your banner. Look at how much information USA Today or the LA Times has in their banner at the top of their paper.
Picture – Many of you could see an oversized picture of the church or pastor. Is that really what is most important to your church? Pics are good. However, carefully choose your subject and the size of the pic. Be sure to edit the pic in a picture editor and reduce the file size of the image. Consider changing the picture at least 4 times a year.
Part of your navigation scheme – What does the visitor see of your navigation scheme? Is it two buttons that aren’t all that interesting (like Home and Our Church History)? Or are there some links to some interesting information? Make sure there are some interesting links above the fold.
Text – Some of you can’t see any text at all when you look above the fold. This is bad in several ways. Search engines are using the text at the top of the page (above the fold) to help rank your site – no text equals bad rankings. The second reason this is bad is that text will draw your visitors in. It engages them and keeps them around just a little bit longer.

Some people feel that your entire home page should fit above the fold. I don’t subscribe to that theory. People know what scroll bars are and they know how to use. But you must have some interesting content above the fold, or they won’t want to scroll down and see more.

Study those newspapers and learn how to get the important information on your website “above the fold.”

See ya,
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