Usability: design, readability and testing
Is most of the homepage ‘above the fold’ i.e. it is not much more than one screen in overall height. And is it a jumping-off point to the rest of the site, rather than a page that tries to give too much information?
The homepage should be a brief and enticing pointer to other pages, and not give too much information itself. (For instance, a long welcome letter from the pastor is not suited to the homepage.) This is people’s normal web experience and expectation – they will often not read or even notice extra information only visible by scrolling. And every inner page of a website should normally have a single subject and purpose.
Is the overall balance of color, graphics, white-space and text, harmonious and gentle on the eye? (Ask someone with an eye for graphic design to give an honest answer.)
Graphic design and layout can make the same text look readable and interesting, or completely off-putting. Research shows that people make a very quick judgement about a site, largely based on its appearance, and will quickly click away if it does not hold their attention. Incidentally, because a large majority of users have 1024 x 768 resolution, consider making your website ‘fluid’ (i.e flowing into the available screen space) rather than 800 pixels fixed width.
Are there no more than about 10 different link options in the main
Research shows that too many choices will confuse users. You do not need to list every page or category of your church website within the main menu.
Does your website have an entry
‘splash page’, so that the menu options only start on a second page?
Common in earlier days of the Web, these are mercifully rare these days. They are intensely irritating to users, and a percentage will never bother to click through. The only possible use of a splash page might be to offer two language options for readers. Even in this scenario, we recommend an alternate solution. Equally annoying are websites that automatically play music when the visitor arrives at the homepage.
Is your site quick to load, even on a dial-up connection?
Not everyone has broadband. Some graphic-heavy church websites (especially with animated graphics) can be slow even on broadband. ‘Quick’ means: there should be readable text visible within three or four seconds, and most graphics within perhaps six seconds. Also, do not make the site dependent on browser plug-ins which are not near-universal.
Do you help visitors visiting inner pages of your church website to get a clear sense of “Where am I, where have
I been, where can I go?” by placing visual ‘you are here’ clues such as color highlighting or arrow markers on the
This is a key part of website usability. Visitors need to feel in control, and continually sense where they are within the architecture of the website. If they feel lost, they may leave prematurely, never to return. Your navigation menu should appear
identically on all your pages – never make people return to the homepage in order to find a new page.
Have you tested the church website in different browsers, using varied font-size settings and screen resolutions, and
resolved issues such as text disappearing or obscuring other content, etc? Does it work at least tolerably well on a smartphone?
A site design may looks ideal in one browser or range of settings, yet be irritating or even unusable in a different browser or screen resolution. And never display on a website ‘best viewed with browser X’. The site must be usable in all browsers, and also if possible, for mobile phone web users. It is possible to use alternate CSS for mobile users. (This is very easy for sites designed with WordPress – several plugins are available to render sites very usuable for mobiles.)
Have you carried out a testing program on site
usability, using volunteers who are web users of only
moderate experience – and then acted on the weaknesses this found?
Usability testing on websites is rare, but should be universal. The webmaster, totally familiar with the church website design, is unable to see the problems and issues that an average user faces. A helpful parallel: the difference between the native of a town who knows every back street, and a visitor struggling to find their way about, perhaps with inadequate street signs. Or what about trying to find a certain type of food in a strange supermarket!
Was it a specific part of the planning brief that the church website be made outsider-friendly to non-Christians, and that their needs be prioritized over those of the members?
You may recall as a child, that your family perhaps had a code when entertaining visitors: ‘FHB – family hold back’. In other words, family did not demand second helpings at meals till they were sure all the visitors had been satisfied. Family were considerate about not taking the comfortable chairs, bathroom use, and much more. While a church website will contain material that is primarily for members, nevertheless every part should be jargon-free and considerate of non-members.
Have you asked willing people with no church background to visit the website and explain their impressions?
This is really an extension of usability testing – but instead of monitoring how easy it is to move around the site and find specific topics, you are trying to look at your website through a non-Christian’s eyes. What impression are they receiving of the website’s ethos, message, and use of language. What words do they not understand? Use people of both genders for this testing. Male and female brains really are wired differently – they respond to different issues and notice different things! Because there are more male than female church webmasters, we strongly urge female input into all aspects of church website design and content. And when new people join the fellowship (especially those with a non-church background), find out if the site played a part, and how they feel it could be improved.
If you conduct such a site test with non-Christians, which overall ‘take away’ impression of the
website do they report:
This question is at the heart of church website design and purpose, which is why it scores (or loses) maximum points. Many of the other factors listed on this page contribute towards it. Of course, the fellowship itself must live up to the welcome it offers online! A majority of churches online unwittingly present themselves on their homepage as primarily a building where they hold meetings, rather than a welcoming community and family who happen to meet somewhere when they are not being an embedded redeeming presence in their wider community.
“This church is about people, and I already feel I am starting to know and like some of them. I
feel they will welcome me in an un-pressured way, just as I am, any time I am ready to visit.”
“This church only seems to portray itself in terms of a formal program of weekly meetings. It does
not tell me anything about the people there. So I am not sure I would be really welcome, and even if I did go,
it might be very much on their terms. This site is only for the members, not for outsiders like me.”
Somewhere between the two.
Does the website take care to rephrase ‘Christianese’ jargon words and concepts with everyday language, so that non-Christian site visitors can feel at home?
There are several reasons for this. Non-Christian site visitors may have no Christian background, and these terms will be meaningless to them. Alternatively, they may indeed have a previous Christian background, and ‘churchy’ jargon is a part of the baggage that irritates them. Even for Christians, insider jargon tends to lose meaning with time. Fresh neutral language brings back the depth of spiritual reality contained in the words, as a Bible paraphrase will often bring out. Also, some of your site visitors may be second-language English speakers, or not have high reading skills. Many people receive most of their information through the spoken word, and may rarely read a book.
Does the church website use recommended design principles for visually disabled people?
While this seems desirable, technically it may be harder to implement. Make sure you understand how color-blind people will see your pages. Ensure it is easy to resize text (tip: use CTRL + mousewheel). And learn how a screen-reader program converts text into speech. If possible, download screen-reader software and experience your site the way a visually-disabled person does. Add ‘alt’ tags to your graphics. (If you want mouseover tooltips giving information about graphics to sighted visitors, use a more detailed ‘title tooltip’ as well.)
Is there a purpose statement displayed on the homepage which, while perhaps good at motivating your members, could be off-putting to some non-Christians because it is all about ‘reaching others for Christ’? Or do other aspects of the site give the impression ‘We are out to convert you’, rather than ‘We are a family of flawed real people, please come and share the journey with us.’
This has nothing to do with being ashamed of the Gospel, and is all about wise human behavior. If neighbors visit your house, you make friends with them first, you don’t start preaching at them. Very often, ‘less is more’. Similarly, any link to a church’s doctrinal statement is probably not appropriate on the homepage. And, if you have one – call it ‘What we believe’, not the cold and formal ‘doctrinal statement’.
Does all text added to your site go through:
a procedure of proof-reading for typos, spelling,
grammar, and to impose a consistent house-style?
a revision process to reduce word-count and improve clarity?
Poor spelling, grammar or punctuation will reduce the credibility of any website (see InternetEvangelismDay.com/style). And all written text should be checked and revised, by someone other than the writer. (Editing is best done using paper printouts.) It is frequently possible to reduce word-count by 25% or more (see InternetEvangelismDay.com/revise). Incidentally, writing for the Web is different to preaching. Websites need the writing style and gifts of a journalist, not a preacher.
Real people, real welcome
If the site has profiles of members of the leadership team, do these only contain spiritual-sounding information,
and lack details about their hobbies, families and other interests which make them seem ‘real’ people.
The pastor’s qualifications and previous appointments may be of interest to some. But most people want real everyday information – things that help us to feel we know them. Cultural heritage tourist locations have discovered this truth also: visitors are not much interested in facts and figures, they want personal stories about specific people who used to live there.
Do you feature profiles (with photos) of a representative range of church members – probably not full testimonies,
but rather to demonstrate that the church is a family of normal real people who will welcome newcomers when they visit?
This is infrequently done on church websites, yet is the only way that a site visitor can ‘meet’ some fellowship members, and begin to feel a sense of relationship. After all, If a church site is saying ‘Come and join us’, people need to know who ‘us’ really is! Such profiles should probably not be detailed testimonies, which could be ‘too much, too soon’. Profiles can also include an audio or video clip too. If some members have personal blogs which are accessible to non-Christians, this is also a valuable way to build relationships, with links back to the church website from these blogs.
Is there a photo of real people on the homepage, more prominent than any picture of the church building?
Church is about people and relationship, not buildings. And one picture tells a thousand words. Many church websites omit this vital element. Almost all popular magazines and book-covers display faces – because human interest is what we respond to. Note the photo at the head of this page, used for the same reason.
Are there additional pictures of church members within the website?
Ideally, as point 17 highlights, there should be ‘meet some members’ pages on the site. Additionally, there should also be pictures on different pages of people, reinforcing the message that the church is about real people.
Are there photos of the interior of the church building (again with people included), so that potential
visitors feel that they ‘know’ the church premises before they visit?
Interior shots will de-mystify and familiarize the building to outsiders.
Within the norms of your culture, does the writing style of the website demonstrate informality and self-deprecating humor?
In many cultures, especially where there is low church attendance or hostile media (increasingly, this means almost everywhere), public perception of Christians is a skewed caricature. Informality and humor are disarming and endearing, and can go some way to correcting this negative image. We are allowed to use humor! God invented it, and the Bible uses it frequently (see InternetEvangelismDay.com/humor).
Does the overall website offer a specific welcome to different categories of people, such as youth, marrieds with families,
different ethnicities, retired people, etc.; and clearly reflect this diversity of membership within the site content?
Be specific, and tell people about any special activities for each group. If the site text is welcoming, yet photos only show people of over 60 or under 25, other groups may feel excluded.
Does the website specifically invite people to a range of activities within the church – not just the Sunday
services, which can be a very big hurdle for a non-Christian? And does it also give a specific contact person(s) relating to that activity?
Try to put yourself in an outsider’s shoes. It can be very hard for many people to take the courage to visit a church service for the first time on their own. How difficult might you find it to turn up for the first time to a hobby or sports club, wanting to find out more? It can be much less intimidating to attend a smaller mid-week activity: mums’ and toddlers’ club, pensioners’ coffee morning etc. Highlight these alternate ’ways in’, explaining exactly what happens, and who to contact for more information. This specific contact information can make all the difference, yet is infrequently offered.
Does the church website demonstrate an identification with, and interest in, the wider local community?
Commitment to the local area should be obvious within editorial content, photos and links. Some churches create a page which is a portal to a wide range of ethical secular links for the town or area: entertainment, sports, shopping etc. These can be very effective in drawing people into the website.
Are you using other types of innovative or changing content that will both draw not-yet-Christians to the
site, and then encourage them to visit again?
For example, online games are a fun addition to any site, not only for children and teens! There are many free games available to insert into a site. Pages which relate to felt needs are very strategic. Several studies have shown that in a majority of lasting adult conversions, a personal life problem played a major part in drawing them to faith. Offering to pray for site visitors’ needs can also be strategic, if you can do this with integrity and appropriate privacy. And there are many other innovative possibilities: try to think outside the box!
Is it easy to find news about upcoming events?
Important activities should not be buried several pages deep. Put clear links to them on the homepage. Top right is particularly eye-catching.
Is there outdated news on the church website which should have been removed?
Few things look worse than links to ‘forthcoming events’ which were actually two months ago! Check for anything that gives the impression that page material is dated and unchanged. Areas of a site can be easily forgotten.
A warm enticing website is little use if first-time visitors to the church do not actually receive a face-to-face
welcome. Have you trained all your church members, and instituted clear strategies, to ensure that every
first-time visitor is actually spoken to, welcomed and followed up? (NOT merely asked them from the
pulpit to fill in a visitor card.)
It is easy to be so busy talking to our friends in the fellowship, that we forget that the church should be a welcoming family. A recent survey showed that 92% of people who stopped attending church after six weeks said it was because no-one had spoken to them.
Do you offer a newsletter appropriate for outsiders, not members) distributed by email, or posted online as a blog or PDF page and made known through Twitter and social networking?
News that would connect with outsiders can be shared through a focused publication defined as a newsletter, or through more random and frequent blogs and social network posts, or both. Some people still prefer an email publication. Consider an outsider-friendly newsletter, perhaps only occasional, which differs from internal fellowship news.
Does the site explain the church’s child safety code of practice, thereby reassuring potential visitors with children?
A transparent and robust child protection policy is a sadly necessary part of modern church life. Reassure people with a clear explanation.
Do you appeal prominently for money for general funds on your homepage, or elsewhere in the site, without explaining that this is only for members?
It creates a bad impression: “So that’s their main agenda, right”. In any case, casual visitors to a church website are highly unlikely to donate online. However, online giving is becoming increasingly common in some countries, for members. Don’t tick the box however if you are appealing for money for an outside project (or the mention of money is within a members’ area and obviously only directed to them). That does not have the same negative impact. It’s worth commenting that churches who make a policy of giving away a large share of their funds to mission support or outside projects, do not usually have financial worries.
Are you using a free-hosting service which places adverts on your pages? Or doing other things listed in the ‘Reason’ section?
Adverts on a church site are a turn-off. If you truly have no budget for a church site, then use a free-page system without adverts eg. pages.google.com. But a website is so strategic to your church, we urge you to pay real money for a better solution! Sites with your own domain name and low-tech content management input (i.e. editing using a browser interface) cost a relatively small monthly rate. Other things to avoid: ‘web forwarding’ so that individual page URLs are not shown in the browser location bar; using frames for the site design.
Being found by search engines, getting return visits
Is your street address, including state/county/district, postal code, country, and phone number, shown in
the footer of the homepage?
Search Engines need this information for ‘local search’. Include the street address in a small font on your homepage footer, or ideally on every page. Of course, this information should also appear on a specific ‘contact us’ page too.
Are your church name, town, and area, also clearly included in
‘title tag’ coding on your home page,
and does this title code use the full 70+ characters available for this purpose?
There are probably 1000 ‘New Life Baptist Church’ or ‘Springfield Methodist’ fellowships around the world. A considerable number of churches do not include their town in this title tag, and even when they do, the state/region and country are often missing! Be more specific in your title code! Do not waste space with filler words such as ‘Home page’.
Do inner pages of your website also carry custom ‘title tag’ code that describes each individual page?
A meaningful and comprehensive ‘title tag’ is probably the most important single contribution to a particular page being found using search engines. Take time to learn other ‘search engine optimization’ and promotion options too: InternetEvangelismDay.com/promote
Does each page also have a
‘meta description’ in the page head, giving additional enticing information about that page?
Although some search engines create their own description (the descriptive text that displays in a search result below the first line), others may use the ‘meta description’ if it appears on a page.
Does your site score well on an
HTML and CSS validation test?
Although it can be hard to obtain total compliance with validation standards, reasonably valid websites may get higher search engine rankings, be more likely to function well in a range of browsers, and also help visually-disabled people.
Is there a reminder on each page to bookmark the page or share it on social networking sites using ready-made one-click ‘share’ buttons for Facebook, Twitter and other systems.
Busy people do not tend to do things unless reminded! There are a wide range of scripts to create one-click social network sharing.
Are most main pages no more than two levels deep within the site (i.e. two clicks from the home-page),
with all links as
normal text hyperlinks, and is every main page listed on a sitemap?
Pages should be easy to find, both for site visitors to view, and search engines to list. Some people (especially visually disabled) prefer to get an overview of a site using a sitemap (i.e. a list of all the main pages in the site). Search engines also find it easier to list all a site’s pages by following links in a sitemap. A second XML sitemap purely for search engines is recommended. A ‘search this site’ option is a valuable addition too.
Have you submitted the church site address (URL) to the main international search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing),
secular national and local lists and directories, and Christian find-a-church directories? In some countries, you can include your URL alongside your telephone book listing. It is also very important to get your site listed with Google ‘Local Search’.
Your denomination is likely to have a church listing system too.
Although some search engines may find you automatically, normally a manual submission is necessary. Also find other suitable sites within your country to submit your site. Your local online newspaper may also accept paid-for adverts. The more incoming links to the site, the better your page ranking. Your aim is for the church website to be in the top 10 on a Google search for 'church yourtown'.
Do you analyze your website visitor statistics?
Your site’s hosting company should provide you with detailed statistics online, or offer you a daily/weekly download of ‘raw statistics’ which you can process using your own software. These statistics will include: An understanding of how visitors are finding and using your site will help you to improve page title keywords, menu links, site content, and much more. Your site provider may give online statistics, or a raw statistics download which you can process using various stat programs such as statsinsight.com or mach5.com. Alternatively, install the free Google Analytics google.com/analytics – just add a small piece of code on every site page. keyword searches used to find pages, and referring sites landing pages, leaving pages geographical location of visitors – right down to town level specific page-to-page pathways taken by visitors through the site
Finding and using the physical church building
Is there a clear street map on your website, which prints well?
This may seem obvious, yet many church sites do not include a map. You can use a web-generated map system such as Multimap or GoogleMaps, or ask a map-maker to draw a clear map for you. It should be easy to print.
Do you give clear information about public transport links, road access, and parking?
Make it clear for people, giving bus routes and times, parking options, and other issues. These should be easy to print.
Do you explain what facilities are available to people with disability?
Those with a disability need to know what is available: wheelchair access, toilets, ramps, hearing aid loop system, etc.
Do you provide some information to a first-time visitor, that will answer fears such as
“Is there a dress code?”, “Will I have to do anything?”, “Why do you sing songs? What if I don’t know the words?”
“What about bringing children?” “How long does the service last?”
An unchurched person visiting a church for the first time has to face huge hurdles of fear or potential embarrassment. Try to imagine yourself in a new social situation in a foreign country! Some church sites include information suggested in these four points, within a ‘new to our church?’ or ‘what to expect’ page.
Responding to inquiries
Are ‘contact us’ options easy to find: phone (with office times), postal address, and email?
Make it easy for people! Incidentally, offering a ‘contact form’ (rather than displaying an email address online) will stop ‘spambots’ from ‘harvesting’ your email addresses in order to send spam.
Does someone normally reply to all incoming emails within one working day?
This is an area in which many churches fail. Many people report the experience of emailing a church and NEVER hearing back. If you can’t respond to emails quickly, maybe you should not offer email links on your website!
Can the church team respond adequately to email requests for counsel and advice from outsiders –
perhaps with a team of trained members able to respond to such inquiries?
A good website will often lead to such inquiries for help, some from outside your area. View it as part of the church’s wider ministry and plan for it.
Wider strategy and integration
Is the church website integrated into your overall church outreach strategy?
The church site is very much the ‘public face’ or ‘shop window’ of the church to the community, not an optional add-on.
Do you also integrate the website with social media: for instance a Facebook fan page, twitter feed, blog, or Pinterest page? Do you train your members to use social networking?
An integrated social media strategy is becoming increasingly necessary. Social media should be seen as a ‘cafe for conversation’ not a ‘pulpit for preaching’. By training your church members to use social media appropriately and sensitively, with outsiders in mind and in ways which identify with community interests, you can leverage thousands of existing networking relationships across your town or city. Some churches appoint a ‘digital advocate’ to resource the fellowship in this and other ways.
Do you involve your webmaster/design team in church outreach planning?
The website should not be a ‘poor relation’, or a static unchanging brochure. It has enormous potential as a part of your evangelism.
Is your website URL easy to remember?
Make it easy for people to remember where to find your site. If you are choosing a domain name for the first time, test alternatives on a wide range of people.
Is your website URL printed on your roadside noticeboard, all publications and leaflets, letterheads,
press adverts and news releases? Is it also included in email footers of official church emails?
Use every means to remind the public about the site. Incidentally, few churches really make sufficient use of the free exposure that the media can give them: InternetEvangelismDay.com/pressreleases
Do you encourage members to use the website as an evangelism tool to reach others, and provide
pre-printed contact cards for this purpose?
Few Christians routinely carry tracts around with them, and in many social situations, it is not appropriate to hand over a tract. But a business card with an invitation to the church and displaying the URL (and perhaps also the church member’s name) is a socially-acceptable means of communication.
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Analyzing the score on your Evaluation Report
Less than 70:
Please don’t be disappointed, but make re-purposing a priority
70-150: Some good foundations, but the site will benefit from a thorough reassessment of style and purpose
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