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ResultsKatalyst Newsletter - ResultsKatalyst September 2007

Don CranfordStreamline Your Design

Web Marketing: September 2007
By Don Cranford

We’ve taken some time over the last few months exploring what critical areas can make your website a more vital asset to the success of your church or ministry. In July we began by determining goals and understanding your audience. August brought us the opportunity to look into creating content that would move your audience to understanding and action. So this month we decided that the next step would be to address some of the design elements of your church website.

It’s easy to think of design as just the “pretty” part of your website or just the graphics. But it really is so much more. Design includes everything you see. It’s the navigation, the pictures and it’s the unused space. It’s figuring out how to take your goals, audience and text and make it all work together in a visually pleasing and beneficial manner.

Navigation

Use clear, consistent navigation menus

Clear, consistent navigation makes it easy for your visitors to find exactly what they need. Consider what they will most often look for on your web site and make sure those things are easy to find. If your different ministries are important to your visitors, make sure they are easy to find and right up front. If providing information to prospective visitors on what your church believes is essential, then make it unmistakably visible.

Site maps are a great tool

A site map is another important navigation tool. A site map is basically just what it says: a map to your site. It will provide an outline to your site content with a link to each of your pages within the site. This is a great aid to visitors who might be struggling to find specific information on your site. Search engines also love site maps, because it helps them quickly find links to each of the pages. We will be rolling out a site map component this fall that provides a site map that automatically updates as you add additional pages or menu items. This will be a great feature that not only helps your visitors but requires little to no effort on your part to maintain. Little work, big payoff!

Site Search feature can help both your visitors and you

Site search is also another great tool for your visitors. ChurchKatalyst provides an internal search tool that allows your visitors to enter keyword(s) and the system will search each of your content items for those keywords and give them back a list of pages that have those keywords in them. This is one of the first places I often go, if I am looking for a particular item or article.

But don’t forget to check your search statistics via the Control Panel. The system tracks which keywords were searched on and how many times those words were searched on. You can use this information to help you to make content decisions such as: are people frequently searching for information that I don’t have on the website? Or do I need to make certain information easier to find? Do people often misspell a particular keyword? Then maybe put that mispelled word in your keyword metatags so they can find the specific articles. Use this information to make your website friendlier and easier-to-use for your visitors.

Contact Information

You will always want to provide a way to contact you with multiple methods of contact (phone, email, physical address, fax). We recommend that you put your phone number, address and a link to your Contact Page in the footer of every page. This is another area that seems rather basic but have you ever been to a website where there’s an email contact but no phone number? You can’t find what you’re looking for and no real-time way to reach the company. It’s frustrating. Don’t let that be you. Make it obvious how to contact you.

Graphics and other Design Elements

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. The appropriate graphics can make a world of difference in a web site. Graphics are not there to just look pretty, but instead should be chosen to increase functionality and to better convey your message.

Optimize your photos and graphics

Graphics are not there to just look pretty...they increase functionality and convey your message.

It is very important that the photos and other graphics be optimized through a good graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop, Fireworks or many others. They are able to optimize or reduce the file size of the image so that it loads as quickly as possible in your visitor's browser but still looks good on screen. The smaller the file size, the faster the images will download. Quick downloads help to improve your visitor's experience on your website.

Carefully consider the use of Flash or other advanced elements

You will also want to consider the use of advanced elements, such as Flash or Java downloads. These can be used with a good effect when used sparingly and appropriately. Be intentional about your use of these advanced elements. Never use them just because they are “neat.” or because they show off what you can do. Be sure to test them extensively in different browsers and different computer operating systems before using them on your site. Many browsers may not have the proper plug-ins to handle them appropriately and some companies and many government agencies block flash and other programs for security purposes. Poorly written programs, such as some scrolling text done in Java, may cause unintended side effects on the users’ browsers.

It is also important to remember that text in your graphic image or Flash file is generally not readable by search engines or by screen readers. So, to a search engine or someone with visual impairments, that text may not be readable unless you add it elsewhere on the page in actual text format.

Layout

Use headings and keep your content concise

It is important to use headings and to keep the content short and to the point. We talked about this in greater depth last month. This makes it much easier to scan a page to find specific information. Visitors will rarely be patient enough to read long, drawn out pages. Providing headings with short concise content allows your visitors to quickly get an idea of what the page contains and decide if they want to read further or move to another page. Make use of the specific header tags such as the H1, H2, and H3 tags as opposed to just making the text bold. This tells search engines that the header is actually a header and that the text is more important.

Remember, navigation, graphics, and layout are just a few areas within the design realm that we centered on this month. Watch for upcoming editions where we’ll discuss more about using your design to increase traffic.

Of course, if you have any questions about your own web design, contact us Katalyst Solutions, LLC.


Donald Cranford has been in Marketing, Product Development and Product Management in the technology industry for 14 years. He founded Katalyst Solutions in 2004 to assist churches, non-profits and small businesses in succeeding online.

 

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