Structure, structure structure. That’s what we’re going to talk about. Although content is great and the core of the website, it’s closely followed by structure. You need to figure out a way to signpost things for your visitors so that they can find what they are looking for. This is structure.
When you create a website, or think about redoing the one you have you should think about your visitors. There are broadly two main groups, new visitors and members and you need to have a different structure for each. Think about is, new visitors need the about us menu item and the how to find us item. Returning visitors or members don’t, they’ve already read that stuff so don’t put it up for them again!
Your site needs a login system and area and a public area and you need to have different things on each. Let’s look first at the public area and then if there’s time we’ll get onto the logged in area. Your church website public area needs to contain a few core areas: contact us, about us and a home page. That’s the minimum. These three pages contain the core of what you do and who you are. Out of the three pages it’s likely that only the home page will change regularly, the others are what I’d call a static page. It stays there and does its job which is to tell new visitors who you are and what you’re about.
So we have static pages and dynamic pages and there are three of them. Let’s talk about the dynamic page – the home page. This is the page that most people will find on your site and have a look at. There are a ton of things you can think about for this page, eye tracking, page elements, signposting and other stuff good web developers like to talk about. However why not try to keep it simple to start. Think about the message you want to give your visitor and create some images for that. Make the images then link to other pages in the site.
For example perhaps you have an upcoming youth event. Have a picture on the front page that links to another page giving the details and the booking information. Why a picture? Well most studies show that people engage more with an image than text. So if you put a picture on the screen people are more likely to click on it. In fact if you put a picture of a person then visitors are even more likely to click!
Currently the trend is to have a big picture at the top of the page and some tiles underneath. This seems to be the most attractive format to visitors and is simple to maintain. So create a page with a big picture at the top and perhaps three or four tiles underneath and fill them with photos. Don’t forget you do need a bit of text to indicate where the click will take the visitor! Often when we set up church websites we make the big picture a slider. That means they can have several images sliding across and several “messages” ready for their visitors.
With the home page you should aim to update it at least once per week – ideally daily unless you have other dynamic pages on the site. Perhaps one of the most common and useful dynamic areas of the site is a blog. At Websites4Christians we supply WordPress blogs, the most popular of all blogs on the web. A blog give you the opportunity to continuously add new material to the site and importantly you don’t have to fit it in with the rest of the site too much. Each blog post tends to stand alone.
I’ll write some more on the internal members pages tomorrow. But for now just think about the external pages. Create a few static pages like about and contact. Next create some dynamic pages (once that change regularly). For church websites the most common ones are a home page/welcome page and a blog.
Finally as a parting thought I wanted to note that not all website providers will allow you the flexibility to have a full blog system as powerful as WordPress mixed into a more powerful website system. For many of them this is too difficult with their own proprietary systems. That said I’m conscious that a blog can form a really important and powerful platform within a website. So I think you have two options: cope with the vagaries of their system or move provider. Perhaps moving is a bit drastic but definitely worth considering if your going to make a blog an important part of the dynamic pages on the website.