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60 Tips To Improve Your Website

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On this week's Geeks & God, we get down to some nuts and bolts of basic website design concepts in an effort to help you improve your church or ministry website. We give 60 tips from the utter basics to more advanced concepts that will tweak your brain or remind you of some long-forgotten standard practices. Before we dive into the tips, Rob talks about his extended time away from technology and challenges you to consider an extended technology sabbath for the health of yourself and those around you.

Great Podcast

5

Hey, thanks for the podcast guys. You said that someone commented that there must be a lot of bad church websites because the tips were basic. One thing to keep in mind is that most churches have less than 200 attend on a Sunday and many are growing older. The reality is that churches don't have the resources to hire this out (whether they should or not), and those who are willing aren't professionals. Sometimes they are individuals who have created a googlepages site, or something similar.

Keep up the good work!

re: 60 Tips To Improve Your Website

Another great show. A few things that came to mind out of it:
I've come to think of sites/users as having two different "pots": the pot of attention and the pot of retention. When it comes to main pages such as "About us" and "Ministries", the pot of attention comes into play: the more sections, the more attention comes out of the pot, and the fewer pages get viewed. When it comes to blog posts/podcasts/other regularly updated sections, the pot of retention comes in to play: the more regular and good quality the update, the more the user is retained and would keep coming back to the site (or subscribe in RSS).

I think when it comes to pages/text on a page, the same rule YWAM applies for leadership could be useful: as little as possible, as much as necessary.

When it comes to table based design, I've come to think of it as the malaria of the web: once it's got into the system, it's going to be really, really hard to get it completely out again.

I think a good place to go from here would be the list of Current Issues in Web Usability articles by Jakob Nielsen.

Nice one

5

Dudes, that episode rocked! I’ve taken a few notes on things I should look into or haven’t considered, so thanks! As with the items I’ve already implemented it’s good to get that validation of good practices followed. I’m still on the fence with CMS, though I’m beginning to see the light. Perhaps the next site revision I’ll give it a shot.

-john

Great Show!

5

Hey guys! I think this was one of my favorite episodes. As I was listening, I was making mental notes on how we can improve my "super-sweet-awesome-church's" website. I think the single greatest thing we did was move from static html to Drupal.

Anyway, great podcast(s), I look forward to each one and tend to go into withdrawal when you skip weeks.

-Tim

Flash and PDF

These articles may be a little old now, but they sum up use of PDF and flash quite well:

re: 60 Ways to Improve Your Website

4

Great show. Hopefully this will get to some people who really need to hear it!

I took notes on a fast food bag while listening to this. Here are my comments, roughly in the order the podcast imspired them:

  • Have someone picky proofread your site. That one might be my number two.
  • Open your site in Firefox, pull down the View menu to Page Style and select No Style. If the site becomes incomprehensible, fix what's wrong with it (using the other tips on the podcast.)
  • Check your page TITLE tags. Lots of sites out there have page titles like "Home Page" or "New Page 1" that need to be fixed.
  • I see you touched on two holy wars, JavaScript vs Flash and HTML vs XHTML, but managed to not get too many flames on either. Good deal.
  • Use 301 redirects, especially when fixing bad URLs to popular pages and when making short URLs for print campaigns.
  • Don't use mystery meat navigation, either. People might not guess what your cool little icons mean. Menus should contain words.
  • If your site content is simple, consider a single page site. These have been discussed on Boag World, but I can't find the exact reference right now. This is a good alternative to a site with only a few very brief pages, and really simplifies navigation.
  • You listed use a print stylesheet. I just wanted to say "YES! YES! YES!"
  • Other things to eliminate besides marquee: blink and vanity counters.

Spot on, Rob

Just wanted to pass on an "attaboy!" for your response about whether to switch CMS's in mid-build.

I used to be that guy, in many ways and many aspects of my working life. Always starting over again with something new because I thought it was better than what I was using now (either because I was dissatisfied with what I was using, or because someone I respected was using something else, or whatever reason). The problem with that attitude is twofold.

The first problem you mentioned: There's *always* something new and different. And if you keep starting over in order to use the next great thing, you'll never get anything done. Advertising over the years has conditioned us to believe new and different equals better. The unfortunate truth is sometimes it is, but sometimes it's worse. But most of the time it's about the same.

The second problem is more insidious. It leads you to doubt yourself, your skills and your tools. For James's particular circumstance, for example, there is literally nothing that anyone skilled in Drupal can do with it that anyone skilled in Joomla cannot do with it. And vice versa. The difference between the two is more a matter of taste and workstyle than capability. But, because it's unfamiliar, and because he hears you guys talking about it so much, he doubts himself, his skills and his tools.

But just so you don't get a big head over being told you're right, I'll also say I wouldn't have stopped where you did, Rob. He should finish what he started, and go on to learn Joomla well. And he should learn Drupal and build some other sites with it. Then learn Wordpress and build some other sites with it. It's cheap; the software costs nothing and for about $100/yr total he can set up as many learning websites as he wants with whatever software he wants. Building web-based "learning laboratories" is cheap.

There's an old saying, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Picking up only one CMS, whether it be Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Expression Engine, or any of a cast of thousands needlessly narrows your focus and your skill set. Exposing yourself to the ways other developers choose to build hones your skill set, and more, gives you more confidence that the choices you're making for your clients (paying or otherwise) are correct.

I know Joomla. I don't know Drupal as well as I'd like (maybe one day we'll meet at a conference and you and I can have a coding marathon "This is how you do that in Drupal, this is how you do that in Joomla"). As a developer, the more systems you know, the better you are.

extenuating circumstances

Just wanted to say, its not that I doubt my abilities, I had just started coding in a CMS at all, I found Joomla first so I started with it. I'm not at a place where I really know which is best for me, therefore I asked for learned opinions. I know they are Drupal guys, but I have yet to hear a great podcast like this one for Joomla. Its more about the wealth of knowledge available than my faith in my abilities. On the flip side, thank you for your comments :)

Podcasts

Fair enough. Gabe Taviano uses Joomla and does "God's Mac." He doesn't evangelize Joomla to the same extent that Robb and Matt evangelize Drupal. (Not a criticism, guys, just an acknowledgement of reality.) Don't get me started about the template he's using, just remember that's his choice, not Joomla's requirements.

For some reason, the Joomla community launches websites, but not podcasts, the one good one I know of is the "The Joomla Podcast." Joomla fans apparently don't like audio as much as the Drupal fans.

When you look at it, it's kind of a puzzle that Joomla is as popular as it is, since they do platform evangelization so badly.

The list of tips

Guys,

Super awesome job on the list and the podcast in general. I'm new to the podcast and are now going back through all the episodes. You guys really convey that sense of knowledge with forcefulness. I love that no fluff style.

I decided to take notes on the whole thing since it was a great help to me and figured I'd post them here so that everyone else can have a refresher. (Don't not listen to the podcast! You will miss soooo much!)

1. Move to a content management system
2. No more than 6-8 menu items on your nav
3. Move away from table based layouts
4. Update your content more than every 6 months
5. Get a large web updating team involved
6. Consolidate your content when you can
7. Find and move all orphaned pages
8. Don't have image tags in your layout
9. Get a solid color pallet (colorschemer)
10. Use image sprites
11. Use stock photos on your church website
12. Put worship times on every page
13. Embed a Google Map
14. Stop putting stuff in PDF format
15. Hire a designer for your initial layout
16. Get a high quality version of your logo
17. Check sites in all browsers
18. Use Javascript instead of Flash for interactive content
19. Spend some time regularly searching for broken links (Google Webmaster Tools)
20. Stop using email addresses and start using contact forms
21. Limit the number of pages on your site
22. Keep the homepage dynamic
23. If possible, use a copywriter for important information
24. Bug test your site in a group
25. Don't center or right align text
26. STOP using clip art
27. Use GZIP compression to help load your site
28. Use search engine friendly URLs
29. Do not make your church name an image
30. Use ALT tags
31. Have your address on every page
32. Define the DOC type
33. Be accessible
34. Be semantic
35. RDF - meta data about your data
36. WYSIWIG management
37. Use "strong" and "emphasis" tags
38. No marquees
39. Give visual cues to important content
40. Watch page width for browsers
41. Be mobile friendly
42. Use M's instead of pixels for font size
43. Don't over-compress images
44. Don't use a fixed height design
45. Flash menus are evil
46. Flash intro's are also evil
47. No more than two fonts on your website (restrict your site to about 4 colors)
48. Limit the content on your homepage
49. Watch how image heavy your load time is
50. Use consistent content wrapper
51. Use a print stylesheet
52. Make sidebar content consistent
53. Make links look like links (nothing else should look like links!)
54. Don't use Java applets
55. Don't have a "last updated" or "recommended browser"
56. Don't require Javascript
57. Validate!
58. Use universal fonts
59. Make menus unordered HTML lists
60. Don't suck! (Have trusted people validate your website.)

Thanks so much guys!

re: list of tips

Thanks for that list. To save you having to write out lists again, you might want to check out the Episode transcription link first, to see if someone has already done the work for you.

Opps

EdRoss,

That would have been awesome! Did I mention I like to duplicate work.

Thanks, mate.
-Andrew

Good podcast, but what about consistency in links?

It is good when putting links on a website to have them be obvious, e.g. on this site they are in orange. Except for the links to other sites under the podcast download links, which are in a grey colour that I did not notice at first. On my netbook screen the grey hardly shows up at all. They are almost invisible! Tip no. 53 - make links look like links. If you made all the links orange then they would all look like links. The grey links just look like keywords or random text.

We break our own rules....

Hehe..yup, we break our own rules all the time. Sometimes it's for a reason and sometimes we're ok with things being less usable because of it :)

Doing something like those grey links is something I would NEVER do on someone else's site because it's not my right to make their site less usable (and it's counter to what they hire me for). But, on my own site (like this one) I like the freedom to break the rules sometimes for the sake of interesting design (I mean, just imagine what that section would look like with a bunch of orange links....U.G.L.Y.!) So, on my own site I like the freedom to break the rules sometimes...even if it means one person out of a 10,000 has trouble using it (my apologies that the one person was you!)

I chalk this up as a case of "you have to know the rules before you break them". I know them...I know I was breaking them...I know the consequences...and I still made the call. On a church site, though...it would have been a bad call. "Do as I say, not as I do" :)

-Rob Feature
Geeks and God Co-Host
www.mustardseedmedia.com