The Church Website LITMUS TEST

This post is part of my ongoing series of “Building a Better Church Website” articles at www.sundayresources.net/neil and www.sundaysoftware.com/webpage.htm

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Recently a pastor asked me, “how do I know if my webpage person knows what they are doing?

Sometimes, the answer is obvious, like the Wayside Womens Association webpage…

“Whoops they did it again.”

The pastor’s next question is usually, “Neil, will YOU look at our webpage for me and tell me what you think?”¬† And I’m always glad to do so, as long as the pastor didn’t MAKE the website themself ūüėČ

Yes, there are a couple of things I look at OTHER¬†THAN design¬†issues (and¬†Brittney Spears advertisements)¬†that tell me about the webpage person’s “experience.”

btw…. I’ve posted numerous¬†articles and blogposts¬†describing what makes for a good and bad church website. You can start at www.sundaysoftware.com/webpage.htm and then go over to www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm and www.sundaysoftware.com/good-badsites.htm for more ideas and examples, and bad examples like the Wayside Women’s site.

3 TESTS to determine if your webpage person knows what they are doing:

Apply this¬†QUICK¬†LITMUS TEST to your church’s website to see if your webpage person has a clue. These are such basic issues that IF your webpage person didn’t get these things right, you should question “what else didn’t they get right?”

1. Is the church’s name, address and phone number on the homepage formatted as¬†TEXT?¬†-or is it only found as part of¬†a graphic?

If it is text, a search engine can read it and¬†catalog it. If it is part of a graphic, it can’t be indexed by search engines.

A surprising number of websites don’t include text of the church’s address, which means your site doesn’t get indexed by search engines, –or they bury it at the bottom of the page where people can’t find it.

Test your church’s address on its homepage: If you can use your mouse to¬†highlight the church’s name, address and phone number¬†and copy it, then it is TEXT. If you try to highlight the text and it won’t highlight, then it’s part of a graphic.

It’s important to have your Church’s Name, Address and phone number as TEXT on your home page so people can find your page. Example: If someone searches for “that church on Main street in Columbus” they won’t find your church on Main St. if the¬†word “Main St.” is only part of a graphic and not also found in the text of the¬†home page.¬† If they search for “Lutheran Churches in Columbus” your listing may be buried on page 3 of the google results. Why? Because search engines organize such listing results by relevancy. If you leave off the texts, “Lutheran” “Churches” “Columbus”, then people searching with those keywords are less likely to see your page.

While you’re at it, list the pastor’s name too. Many people search for church’s by the pastor’s name.

2. Does your website “respond” (adjust) on a smartphone?

Over half of all internet viewing is now taking place on smartphones. So when a visitor or member pulls up your site on their 5″ screen, does your site rearrange it’s content, menus, and font size so they can quickly view it? ¬†If not, then your site is built with old tools, and by someone who doesn’t understand website design for the year you are in.

3. Are any of your graphics and photos over 100 kb?

Many novice or careless web designer don’t know how to properly compress graphics and photos. Oversized photos and graphics¬†kill a webpage’s load time on slower connections. (By “oversized” I mean the size of the file, not the dimensions of the graphic or photo.)¬†If you have a highspeed connection, you may not even notice the long load times, but your slower speed members/visitors will.

Test: Right click the graphics and photos on your church home page and select “properties.”¬† If any photos or graphics are over 100 kb in filesize, then the person who put them there doesn’t really know what they are doing when it comes to graphics and photos. ¬† Very few graphics and photos on your webpage should be over 100k, and most should be quite a bit smaller since you’ll have other things on the page as well.

If your church homepage fails all three of these tests, then you probably have a volunteer who doesn’t know much about making webpages!¬† They could learn, but is your church’s website the thing they should be learning on?

I have been there, and it’s not pretty…

Many years ago my former church’s pastor mentioned to me that “Bob” was designing a website for the church using the church’s computer. I walked into the office and saw “Bob” sitting there with an HTML manual in his lap, –and felt we were in deep trouble. After two months, he debutted the site, and SAW that we were in deep trouble!¬† It was¬†awful, but the pastor didn’t want to offend “Bob.”¬†Two years later (and two years of hoping no visitors would see the site, Bob moved and we were able to rescue the site.

Fast forward to another church I once attended. The gal appointed to make the church’s “new and improved” website had never made a website before, but the pastor let her, …and it showed.

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I also have a “DESIGN RULE CHECKLIST” I apply when asked to look at someone’s website:

This checklist usually tell me a lot about a church site without having to look at every page. (I’m not going to mention “fresh” because that should be obvious.)

1.  Is the address,  phone number and other contact info or a link to such prominently displayed on the home page?  On a surprising number of church websites, they are not.

2. Is there a map to the church which I can easily find and print when I visit your homepage?

3. Is the homepage dominated by the pastor,¬†photo of a building, or activities of the congregation?¬† (and I hope I don’t have to explain which is the most important!)

4. IF your church webpage has a calendar feature, is it being used, and/or left largely unfilled? What is it saying to members and visitors?

5. Is there a way to contact the pastor personally?  Or do you force all contacts through a generic contact form?  Pastor = Personal.


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6. Is the webpage OVERLY-SLICK or “over produced” for the church?¬†¬† This might seem like an odd comment, but a small home-y church should not have a website that looks like it is a hip-urban coffee house. Conversely, if you’re website looks stuffy and boring, I hope it doesn’t reflect your church!¬† Friendly, fresh and easy to update better than flashy.

7. Is the church website constructed with overly complicated scripts and dynamic page elements that ONLY the webpage person can work on?¬† If so, the day will come when they won’t be working on it, then what?¬†¬† K.I.S.S. your church website so that other people can come aboard and keep it afloat. Read my article which specifically addresses this issue: www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm

Hope this helps improve your church website.

Comments welcome!

<>< Neil

www.sundayresources.net/neil

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4 Responses to The Church Website LITMUS TEST

  1. Tim McCoy says:

    I found this article very interesting, and I plan to put your sensible “litmus test” items into play (the ones that are not already in use, anyway.) Since you say you will often checkout websites, will you check ours? We would welcome any comments. (75-100 non-denom member church) I would appreciate ANY feedback.

  2. Neil says:

    Hi Tim, I emailed you some suggestions. For the rest of the group reading here: your Oaks Bible Church website did indeed need several of the suggestions I posted in the article. For example, your full address and phone number is not found in text format anywhere on the front page. It should be front and center so search engines and visitors can see it.
    More in the email I just sent you. <>< Neil

  3. Jessica says:

    Great suggestions. I have read many, many articles/blogs about what makes a good church website. Without having formal training in web design, I do my best at learning and teaching myself how to do things. If you have time, suggestions for our site would be a blessing!! Thanks!

  4. Neil says:

    Thanks for reading Jessica. Your site has some nice things about it, but as you already know, it also demonstratessome basic but correctable flaws. I’ve emailed you about it.

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