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Being professional

November 6th, 2009

People like websites that are professional looking. You can get away with a little of an amateur look but people will judge your church/organisation/ministry but the way the website looks. If you want new members then they are unlikely to be attracted by something that looks like the cat scratched it together in it’s litter tray. Of course they are also not going to be attracted by something that looks like its been done by a marketing company but that’s a post for another day.

When I say that it needs to look professional I don’t mean it has to look like you paid for it but that it needs to look like you know a little of what you are doing.

Professional sites should:

  • Be neat and attractive
  • Not have too much going on
  • Not use centred text save in extreme circumstances
  • Should have colour that match
  • Have easy to find contact details
  • Should be on point and not off point

However there is also professional behaviour required in running the website. For instance, you should not complain about the amount of spam you get on your website and you should always seek to answer emails within 24 to 48 hours.

I’ve had cause to email nearly all of the main denominations in the UK from time to time and they seldom answer emails at all. I think in this modern age this is REALLY bad. It’s almost as bad as when you email someone and they respond saying that you should telephone them sometime. I emailed because that is the form of contact I want to make, if I wanted to telephone I would have done that instead. Email is the preferred form of communication for many professionals these days (you get a record of the communication and you can give considered responses) so to ask someone who emails to call you is to my mind just bad manners. Of course sometimes it is appropriate but in most cases answer by email.

web building

Your site should be more visual

November 5th, 2009

One of the comments I often hear from all kinds of people is: “Your site should be more visual”. Apart from the obvious response that it is entirely visual because you use your eyes to see it not your fingers to feel it or your nose to smell it, people are saying that you need more graphic elements (usually bigger pictures and more of them).

Whilst it is true that pictures are an important part of a website it is too easy to get carried away.

If you use the Internet often you will soon see that many web designers are starting to use large images on the front page of a website. The idea is that people will find the images attractive and be drawn into the website. I’m sure that this is true to an extent. The images are great but you will need some words so that the images make sense. Unless you are an artist you will probably struggle with seeing the message of an image in the kind of time you are giving to look at a website.

The point is this:

It’s not the image, its the message that draws people in

We all like pretty images and often they do catch our attention but on a website you want more than catching attention. People come to websites to find information, not to be entertained (unless you are a video or music site of course). Big images on front pages only work when they also help people answer questions.

I’m also often surprised by the length of time some systems for displaying images take to load. Given that most people come to a site and decide within one second if they want to explore the site if your image system takes longer than half a second to load then you will lose all but the most persistent.

Also I’ve come across many sites that use rotating image systems (images load one after the other). This is great if people are wanting to see your big images but most people are looking for answers which means they will not bother to wait for your banners to rotate.

If you do use images as links etc on your site then make sure you have the same links in text form for those who either can’t be bothered to wait or who have images or plugins turned off.

I’ve also found that many of the requests for more visual stuff often come from designers who mainly work outside the web or marketing people. It is always wise to listen to such people but always remember that the site works best when it is delivering its content easily and not as entertainment.

Also the impact of these images is diminishing as more and more sites have them. When just a few sites had large images on the front page it was kind of exciting but now its common place it’s ability to draw people in is diminished.

I’ve worked in architecture and graphic design so I know that design of a site can help people navigate and enjoy a site (design is not all about text) but I also know that some people are just not practical in their approach to these things. I once knew an architect who thought signs in a building were not needed because a good design should guide people to where they need to go. This was fine but when you are a stranger to a large building looking for a toilet (or any other room for that matter) this approach can be very frustrating.

By all means use a more visual approach but don’t let it get in the way of practical matters.

web building

Things people never complain about

November 4th, 2009

14493687When you start designing websites you will discover that everyone is an expert. You will even find your in-laws have read an article on web design in the local newspaper and they will be happy to tell you about their findings over dinner. Even the bloke who walks his dog past your house everyday will have some snippet of wisdom on web design to pass on to you if you ask him. Don’t ask me how everyone got to be an expert.

Of course what you will also discover is that they know squat about web design and what really happened was that they managed to put a picture up on facebook and so now consider themselves an expert.

All these experts will be complaining about your websites (of course no one ever complains about any of mine, ahem!).

However there are some things that people will never complain about and here are a few of them:

  • Your site is too easy to navigate
  • Your site is too quick to load
  • It’s too easy to find information on your site
  • Your design doesn’t get in the way of the content enough
  • You don’t have enough flashing images on your site
  • I was hoping I would have to download the latest plugin to view your site.
  • Your contact details were too easy to find
  • I really miss that revolving globe/flying dove/3d cross/etc you used to have on your site

So to avoid complaints take note from these compliments that you will never receive.

What other complaints do you think no one is ever going to make?

web building ,

Should I welcome people to the church web site?

October 26th, 2009

An awful lot of church web sites have some kind of welcome message on them. I guess this is because we want to be welcoming to people, but does saying welcome do this? Most savvy designers will be able to tell you that welcomes on a web site are not the done thing. Why is this and should we take any notice?

Here are some of the arguments:

  1. It’s obvious that people are welcome to your web site.
    If you didn’t want to welcome people then you wouldn’t have built the site in the first place!
  2. It take up room.
    Space on a web site, especially a front page, is very precious. Anything extra that clogs up a page and makes it too complex is not a good idea and on a front page you want to use every bit of the visible page to encourage people to get stuck into the content of your site. Taking up room saying something that is assumed anyway is just plain wasteful.
  3. It takes time to read it.
    Some recent research I read said that most people take less than 1 second to decide if they want to take a look at your site. I guess this is about the time it might take someone to read a welcome message. Don’t underestimate the speed with which people hop from site to site.
  4. The site should speak for itself
    If you go to Google’s web site (or IBM, or Microsoft, or Yahoo, etc, etc) do you see any welcome message? No. The site says welcome and take a look around – you don’t have to say it.
  5. People don’t really read web sites anyway
    When people first come to a web site they tend to skim rather than read. They look for words that stand out that might answer their questions. Welcomes do nothing for this but instead just offer words that a user must get through before they can get what they really want.
  6. Welcomes are nonsense when a person returns to a web site
    We all want people to return to our web site don’t we? At least I hope we do! The second time someone comes to a site the welcome message makes no sense anyway. And don’t think this calls for a clever bit of cookie coding because people get even more annoyed if they return to a site and find they have to work out all over again how to get to what they wanted. Removing a welcome message can cause confusion.

Sadly welcome messages also often deteriorate into descriptions of what people will find on the web site. This should be done by meaningful links and not messages.

The sad truth is that most people are generally not really interested in what we are proud of. They come to web sites looking for information and not for descriptions of things that we are trying to achieve. They don’t want to know that we want to welcome them warmly they want to feel the warmth from what is on the site.

Of course, some will want to argue that it personalizes the site but this is really best done through the design and content. People aren’t fooled just because someone says “welcome”.

web building

Google Sidewiki

October 23rd, 2009

Have you heard about Google Sidewiki? This is a controversial service offered by Google that allows anyone who visits your site to leave a comment for others to read. Google believes this is a good thing because it helps people spread around information that may be helpful to others. So for instance you could have some nice comments about your worship or testimonies from people who have really appreciated all you have done.

However there is a big flaw in the system. That flaw is that the web site owner has no control over the comments that are made. For businesses this means that whilst they might get some nice comments about their service it allows competitors to leave comments that might rubbish the service. For churches it could mean some nice comments or perhaps some militant atheists bad mouthing your faith.

My immediate reaction was to think that we are Christians and good at turning the other cheek. We just have to learn to live with it.

After giving it a lot of thought I think it is a bad idea. In an ideal world where everyone was nice and bad people always got their comeuppance this system would work. However the world is not like that. I’ve always maintained that most people are good (and I still believe this) but there are a few (and it only takes a few) who will see this as an opportunity for mischief. Take a look here for some of the arguments about the system (WARNING! some of the stuff on this page is quite strong – not from the author but the examples of sidewikis).

I very much hope that I’m wrong about this but I believe this system is bad.

I’ve visited a couple of Christian sites that are blocking anyone who uses a Google toolbar. I don’t think this is the solution myself because it will just annoy people and make them go elsewhere.

There are plenty of sites that offer suggestions to ways of protesting. I guess we may just have to weather the storm in the hopes that Google get the message and stop the service – or at least offer an opt out.

There is an option to report abuse of the system and I suggest we make good use of that system – perhaps the amount of reported abuse will make Google think again.

Other options are to stop using google and uninstall the google bar.

I’ll keep you posted on anything I find out.

If you get any bad comments on sidewiki then let us know by leaving a comment.

web building

Sound files on my church web site

October 2nd, 2009

So your minister/pastor/leader/priest is brilliant and you want to include an example of the high quality messages on your site. Or perhaps your minister/pastor/leader/priest thinks he is a bit of a hot preacher and wants to conquer the world with his latest message and wants to make it available from the web site.

There are various ways of doing it and here is a link to a site that will give you the technical low down.

http://www.boutell.com/newfaq/creating/audio.html

I want to add a plea though. Please don’t make it play when the page loads – I work on my own most of the time but I still don’t like messages booming at me from web sites, imagine what it would be like in a quiet office filled with people who already think your mad for being a Christian!

web building

Stop email spam from your web site

October 2nd, 2009

I personaly think that email addresses should be on web sites and if this means that you get some spam then you just have to put up with it (I get loads). However there are things you can do to help reduce/stop the problem.

1. Don’t use obvious names like webmaster@ or info@ for email addresses and only allow names that you set up (e.g. don’t use a system that sends all email to your web address to you – commonly known as a catch all). Spammers get your address and stick the obvious names on the front and then test to see if they can get a response.

2. Use an image instead of text. I don’t really like this but at least your address is visible to those who can see it.

3. Use spam filtering software. I use stuff that sits on my server as well as one on my computer. The only trouble with this is that you occasionally get a genuine email that gets stuck. Make sure you train your systems well and this will not be much of a problem.

4. Hide your email address using Javascript. Here is a link to a system that works quite well. http://www.hochmanconsultants.com/articles/stop-email-spam.shtml 
The problem with doing this is that only those with Javascript on will be able to use the link – however you can write your address in a clever way that anyone with a bit of brain could work out (e.g chris AT webchristian 0 org 0 uk) so that spam bots can’t see it – if youu use something that is a little odd then just add a description to it.

5. Use a form – I really hate this way of getting around the problem. I like to use my email system because it keeps a record of what I’m doing and who I’ve sent messages to and when. Some spammers also use forms to send their spam anyway so it doesn’t stop the problem.

I’d also like to add a personal note that you can’t assume that the email address spam comes from is actually the spammer. I have a very good url for my business and spammers are forever using my address to send their spam – this really ticks me off but I can’t stop it. It then is upsetting when I get messages from people who are angry at me because they think I’ve sent them spam – I understand their position but it wasn’t me that sent it. Even worse I then get blacklisted on spam systems and my emails sometimes get blocked. I really don’t like spam but I still think it is better for a Christian site to turn the other cheek and take the spammers abuse for the sake of being available to those who who need your response. I know what they send is often offensive but sometimes we just have to live with that for the sake of the gospel – there said my peace, sorry if you disagree.

web building ,

Adding video to your site

October 2nd, 2009

In the interests of not re-inventing the wheel I’ve included some links to the tehnocalities of the subject below. However you need first to think about the most important question to ask. Why? Why do you want video on your website? If it is to inform or explain or entertain then I’m all for it but if it is because others have video so you think you should then think again. Never put something on a website because someone else has got it – only ever use video if it can play an important role in your website.

The most popular way of using video is to make use of YouTube. So here is a link that tells you all about it:

http://www.htmlgoodies.com/tutorials/web_graphics/article.php/3480061

Here is a link to some information on adding a flash video file:

http://www.boutell.com/newfaq/creating/video.html

web building