With the amazing variety of website options available on the internet, there is inevitably the desire to have a “really nice-looking website.” And that’s great. An unattractive website is sure to cause a lot of lost traffic, or at least frustration.
However, if you let form supersede function, you’ve totally missed the point.
A website is an advertisement for your church, or business, or whatever the site is designed to portray. You wouldn’t want a poorly-designed website any more than you would pay to run a misspelled newspaper ad! After all, the Book says “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.”
When you critique your website, you want to ask yourself a few questions:
- What are my visitors looking for?
- What do I want my visitors to see?
- What on my site is attractive?
- What on my site is unattractive?
If you can revisit your website’s design according to those simple questions, you can have a site that is both attractive and useful. You really can have both, if you put a little time and effort into it.
Previously, in a list of Dos and Don’ts, I mentioned not to use Flash, a cross-platform audio-visual technology from Adobe. Some people may not fully understand why Flash would be a poor choice. There are many “nice-looking” Flash web solutions available, and there are many church sites that are based on Flash. First and foremost, this technology has numerous security holes, some of which can create a serious liability for your website. On the desktop computer side of things, for instance, almost every available exploit for Mac OS X (Apple’s computer operating system) is because of Flash plugins (update: as of 2020, Adobe has completely abandoned Flash – we were ahead of the curve on that one). Disable those, and the preponderance of the security issues go bye-bye. However, more to the point of this article, Flash sites are often hard to navigate, rely on time-consuming and “flashy” transitions and animations, and require huge amounts of processing power to render. Add to that the fact that no iOS device can view Flash, and that Adobe has stopped developing Flash for Mobile, and you have a technology that is far more trouble than it could ever be worth.
So, what’s left? Don’t use PageMaker or a static HTML site produced by certain WYSIWYG editors (What You See Is What You Get) such as RapidWeaver or Flux (or even Adobe’s Dreamweaver). Instead, use a dynamic site based off of a free, open-source content management system. There are thousands of “responsive” themes, designed to display content seamlessly both on the desktop and on mobile devices, and many of them are very nice and very free. There’s no reason to hard-code websites anymore; the day of Geocities is past, and it’s about time!
Basically, it boils down to this: you need to have good content first and foremost. Secondly, the way it is presented is key, as a clunky and hard-to-navigate site will drive folks away. Thirdly, keep mobile visitors in mind (especially since people may be on the road trying to find your church – make it easy for them!) and create dynamic, responsive pages that display your content in a way that will be useful for your site’s visitors.