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User Aware Websites


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Have you ever felt like a website was able to help you make the decisions you wanted to make without work on your part? That it was aware of who you are and fed you the right context sensitive information for you. That's what we talk about in this weeks episode. When we share content on the web it can often be one message displayed in one way. That can be hard to do because different people come from different places. This week we talk about being user aware and give some simple ways we can all get started.

re: User Aware Websites


Hi guys! Figured I'd better get over here and pump up my user points. ;-)

First, good point about cleaning up your site and turning off modules you're not using. Just last week, I was describing it to a coworker like this: every time you request any content from a Drupal (or other CMS) website, you're running a big program called index.php that includes all of the code required for core, enabled modules and templates. The bigger the program is, the longer it's going to take to run. This can still be pretty quick, but it requires CPU and memory to do all of this, to turning things off definitely helps.

Matt hinted at this, but some of the things you can do to reduce server load, especially on high traffic sites, can also be helpful in low bandwidth situations. Reducing overhead such as white space, enabling Drupal's consolidation and compression of css and Javascript files, reducing image file size to the smallest possible without losing quality, are all things that can help. Taking advantage of things like Expires Headers can reduce browsers needing to check for new versions of files as frequently. For example, I've use this .htaccess file in my sites/sitename folder:

ExpiresActive on
ExpiresDefault "access plus 2 days"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 4 hours"

If you do multiple themes for a low-bandwidth option, you can skip embedded media and use smaller image sizes just by tweaking .tpl.php files.

While every piece of your content should be linked, submitting a sitemap to search engines with the xmlsitemap module will help, too. In addition, you can set your landing page to have a less importance in the sitemap. Yes, xmlsitemap has performance issues on large sites, and that's being worked on, but it should work well for most church websites.

Finally, don't forget the value of print campaigns and URL shorteners to track and know things about your users. You can use the Path Redirect module to create short URLs outsite your normal navigation structure, so that print media can send users to example.com/vbs09 and have that redirect to the longer path of the actual page. You can then track use of this URL in Google Analytics to track the effectiveness of print campaigns. By registering for an account on link shorteners like bit.ly, you can track effectiveness of things like Twitter posts or email campaigns for generating traffic, by knowing where you used each short URL. You could deliver additional content to users if they arrive at your site by using these specifically crafted URLs, too.


Length of stay on a web site

Great show, once again.
One point about the length of stay on a web site. Have you thought about this:

  1. A person wants to know the worship times for your church, as they want to go there
  2. The person goes to your church web site
  3. The web site gives the times at the top of the page, and so the person gets the information they need
  4. The person leaves the site

This person didn't spend a lot of time on the site, but that is because they found what they needed - they didn't need to stay on the site for 10 minutes or more.
Just saying - maybe there is more than one reason a user would only visit a site for a short amount of time.

Good reason to know location...

... if they were local, then that is a likely scenario. If they are from New Zeland, than that is less likely.


Comment triggered by this

Comment triggered by this podcast but not completely on topic:

You said VBS is typically outreach. I've seen too many churches with signs that say "VBS! June 1st through ..." abbreviation and all.

If churches are trying to reach the unchurched and spread the word of God and not just trying to attract people from other churches it might be time to stop using so much "church speak." And it's not just abbreviations that can be a problem.

On topic - graded browser support. If you don't listen to the Boagworld podcast, they really have been covering this topic thoroughly. Graded browser support doesn't mean you abandon support for certain browsers but your site might not look the exact same in IE6 as it does in IE 8 but that it still remains useful in IE6.

In our community...

Hilary said:

You said VBS is typically outreach. I've seen too many churches with signs that say "VBS! June 1st through ..." abbreviation and all.

If churches are trying to reach the unchurched and spread the word of God and not just trying to attract people from other churches it might be time to stop using so much "church speak." And it's not just abbreviations that can be a problem.

At least in our community, VBS is not a "church" term. Everyone knows what it is, the same way they know what VCR is (unless they are under 10 years old, of course ;)

I'm not saying you don't have a point, though, just commenting that VBS is an acronym that is not confined to the church, but in a lot of places, where VBS programs are fully embraced by the community and expected, the term is almost ubiquitously understood.

Now, there's a while different issue there, of course. Everyone knows what VBS is, and they have no problem taking advantage of the free babysitting, as they see it. I work with a lot of VBSes here in Lima with the TV Station I'm at, and I can't tell you how many times I see the same kids from week to week at different VBS programs. I personally have a problem with just trying to reach kids without also trying to reach the parents.



What is VBS? The only VBS I can think of would be something like Visual Basic Scripting, which is obviously not what you mean.

So a good point about the VBS abbreviation by Hilary -- most people are not going to know what this curious acronym means. I certainly don't.


In American Christianese, VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. It typically runs as a week of morning sessions targeting elementary school aged children. (Roughly ages 6-12 or so.) While the overall idea is to provide an evangelistic outreach to children, it often serves as a free babysitting service where parents can dump off their children, who have quickly become bored by the summer vacation they've spent their whole school year dreaming about. In some communities, the local churches coordinate their VBS schedules so the kids can be rotated from church to church a week at a time for at least a month, giving parents a nice respite except for the week they have to serve at their own church's VBS as penance.

I'm sorry if that seems harsh, but that's the sad reality in some circles where playing church has superseded the Great Commission. My former church was one of those players in the game. VBS can be a great opportunity for the church to reach both children and adults in the community if it's done for the right reasons and not out of tradition.

'Tis the Season, for VBS

Though I'll agree it's nothing about this podcast or church tech in general, you've got a good discussion going here about VBS, so I'll add to it. ;-)

VBS, or Youth Summer Camp, as we call it, is a big outreach push at our church. We run our busses to pick up kids from all over the area (the same way we do for our Wednesday youth service) and have been bringing in close to 700 kids. We have been renting a portable billboard the past couple of years, but the primary advertisement is word of mouth, so that probably helps with the Christianese barrier. I did look at our website just now, and noticed that there's no wording there that would help a visitor (who may be looking because of the billboard) get any clue what "Stomp" is all about. We'll have to fix that.

Part of our VBS schedule is to have the kids practice and rehearse for a Friday evening "closing program," which draws the kids because of the carnival-like atmosphere, and draws the parents to come see the program their kids have been rehearsing for. After the program, the kids are released to go play and Pastor gives a short message, usually on parenting, for the adults. That's one approach for churches who are looking for a way to expand their VBS children's outreach to include parents, too.

Going back on topic, I'll agree with Hilary that Boagworld's discussions on graded browser support are quite useful. It sounds like most of Headscape's client base are in higher education, and as someone who works there, I've seen that higher ed and churches have a lot of the same technology issues (often driven by similar non-technical concerns), which may be why I've found that podcast useful.

Well, I'm off to fix the church website. I discovered three different issues while discussing the VBS entries with my wife (one of our site editors) that need to be fixed.


That's sort of what we do for VBS...

THe church I am currently at (for the next two weeks) used to do the big blow out on Fridays, but I convinced them to move it to Sundays. I think it helps alleviate the "Bait and Switch" that Matt and Rob are always so worried about to do it on Sunday rather than Friday. If you are inviting parents to come hear their kids perform some music as part of your Sunday Morning services, rather than a Friday Night thing, then parents have a better idea of what to expect, I would think. We do the big blow out fair style thing as well, with free food, and open to the community. We've done it two years in a row. The first year, our church of 175 picked up 4 families, and last year we picked up three.

I'm far more interested in reaching parents than kids. You have a better chance of truly transforming a kid's life and seeing them stay in the church if you also reach their parents, and they see their parents transformed by the Holy Spirit. Those kids tend to rebel less and stay in church more than kids whose parents were saved when they were born, and certainly more than kids who get saved at a VBS and start coming without their parents.


Well I went to a church

Well I went to a church growing up that didn't have VBS and I was 18 before I bothered to asked what the signs were for since they weren't all in front of a church (and obviously I wasn't the target market.)

In today's age of the internet you could just look there but searching online for VBS does not return Vacation Bible School as the first result.

What people know may or may not know may be somewhat determined by the community you are in (how many churches, how many churches run similar programs, how many were put in VBS themselves as kids etc.)

My point was still about the "church speak" problem when combined with outreach. Not all churches do it or to the same extent. PLUS usually the people heavily involved in churches think certain terms are more well known than they really are. Or there are words that leave have a different impression to those who are less active in church or unchurched - "evangelize" is a good example. The dictionary definition is obviously not different for different people but their reaction to hearing or reading it might be different.

A 'Holiday' Church

Lots of good stuff in the show but one quick point about home page content on 'detection'. For most Churches the Detroit/London not wanting to know about Service Times, etc. is very valid. However, my Church (see link on name) is in a Holiday/Vacation town in the UK and a lot of visitors to the site are people looking for a Church to go to on their Holiday/Vacation!

So for us this is a vital point to have on the home page all the time.

I know this is out of the ordinary, but it's all part of 'knowing your market'!

I'm hoping to use country detection on my Christmas site: www.whychristmas.com to ask people to add themselves to the visitor map if they're in a country that's not on it! And possible even auto trigger the google translate feature, hmmmm

Keep up the great work!

Cool Module idea


Seth Godin is a legend!

podcast link


In this podcast, it was mentioned that there was another podcast by someone else on web design, for which the person in this podcast said there would be a link to on this site. I can only see a link to an old G&G podcast in the links section for this podcast.

sorry wrong podcast

Oops, sorry, I was looking at the page for the wrong podcast, it was 121 that I had listened to.