Help for Church Webmasters

Issue 6                                                                               10/25/01


Random Thoughts about Building a Site


Have an Idea

It has been said that the “Lack of money is not an obstacle, but the lack of an idea is.”
Nowhere is this more relevant than in Web site design. You can build a pretty good site without spending lots of cash, but if you don't know what your site should be, then when it is built you won't know what it is. Without proper planning, your site will be as confusing to your visitor as it will be to you. Draw it out on paper. I know paper isn't "in", but it is the quickest and most efficient method to quickly examine many scenarios. And you can do it almost anywhere.



Pretty pictures are just… well, pretty
Graphics, we all know, are needed to visually stimulate the brain and help create flow. But how much is too much? Design has one purpose: to direct the eye of the reader on a particular path through the information. Just being pretty isn't enough. Be critical and decide what messages the user should get from this page. If a graphic or a picture does not support the communication of the message get rid of it.  Stay away from low end, cheesy clip art. It looks cheap and it makes visitors think you didn’t care enough to build a quality site.


You only get one first impression
The first page should tell all. There should be no hidden pathways, buried treasure or convoluted structure. The first page of your Web site should let your visitor in on everything they need to know about your site. I'm not saying that everything should be linked to the first page. I am saying that the first page is the road map to the logic and function of your site. Think about this when you go to a hardware store. Every product they have isn't listed on a board at the front of the store. Instead, you are able to walk in and take a look, find the proper aisle, scan for the correct shelf area with similar products and finally select the product. Your site should be no different. Within three steps or clicks the visitor should have the information they need.


Have something to say
Content is King. So have something to say and here’s the kicker, update it frequently. Post current information that is relevant to your user and make it a regular stop for your clients or customers. I am so tired of going to websites that haven’t changed. You need to update your site frequently. I am not saying that you need to compete with CNN. Don’t even try, you will lose. However, you should be posting information about your church, school and community on your website. You don’t have to be a mega church with thousands of different ministries to do this. Instead of posting something like “we have kids meetings every Wed at 7pm”, get specific. Post a schedule of the month’s meetings with details of what is happening. Then it will get updated each month. Yes, that is more work. But it makes a better site and will come back to see what is happening. I bet you would have more kids coming the Wed. meeting too.


I’m bored
The big advantage of being online is direct interaction -- the ability of the user to become a part of the environment that the information occupies. Your site must have ways for the user to communicate, download, view, play, create, request or compile information. A site with a bunch of information being pushed at the user with no way to push back soon gets boring. And no one likes being told what to do. Giving the user command of his or her world within your cyberspace makes for a much friendlier environment. A simple chat room with scheduled discussions, a download of detailed information, database served requests or even streaming media, opens the door for a user to make decisions and act on them. Polls that change frequently are another option and are very easy to do.


I have a question
If you don't have an easy and clear way for your users to contact you while online, then you might as well not have a site. I can’t even begin to count the number of church pages that I have visited that I can’t figure out where the church is. Even more of them have no way to email someone. Sure you are going to get some junk mail. It’s a small price to pay for being available to someone when they need it. It is important to have your street address online because people may want to come to your church (imagine that!). Having a way for the user to contact you electronically, by e-mail or form submission, is critical to the interactivity of the medium. One of the biggest strengths of the Internet is its immediacy. Prayer requests, questions, inquires, Bible studies and comments can all be handled electronically and on a regular basis.





See ya next time,





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