Best Practices: Websites
Having spoken recently to West Plains UUs about their nice new website, I asked what went into the process, and got this terrific response from Laura Massey. I think she has it exactly right, especially her comments on the role of focus in communicating effectively. -- Gretchen
Lois forwarded to me your comments about our new Web site—thanks for the compliment! It’s gratifying to know people are looking at it and like what they see.
I can’t adequately cover in an email everything that goes into a project like this, but I think any group needs to start with 4 considerations:
- You need people with the right skills. You may need to hire help, but if you get good people, the end product will be worth the expense.
- You need to spend a lot of time thinking and preparing. I spent a lot more time thinking about the site than I did designing or writing.
- You need to carefully consider the content of the Web site. It’s content, not fancy graphics or special effects, that really makes a successful site.
- You need to decide how you will maintain the site. Our site was built with WordPress, so I can edit the text as needed.
When I volunteered to take on this project, I knew I needed people with 3 distinct skills: graphic design, technical expertise, and professional writing. I have a master’s degree in professional writing, so I appointed myself the writer. We contracted with a local provider for the technical knowledge to get the site up and running; he sub-contracted with a graphic designer who helped me design the site.
Keep in mind that graphic designers and writers approach a project from different perspectives. Writers tend to focus on text; graphic designers like to make it look pretty. The key is to integrate these skills so that the graphics actively complement the message, and this requires close collaboration between the writer and the designer. On our Web site, I provided the overall concept and the designer made it look good. I did the layout (the way the words appear on the page, decisions about typography, etc.) And I made sure every picture relates to the text. For example, the header picture of the Ozarks ties in with our tag line “A home for liberal religion in the southern Missouri Ozarks.”
A crucial part of any Web site design project is a careful analysis of audience, purpose, and objectives, because without that, the site will lack focus. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes in Web site design is a failure to spend enough time on this step of the process. Inadequate analysis of audience and purpose virtually guarantees that the site will fail to communicate effectively.
Since we’re such a small group (usually about 15 people attend services), I decided to devote one of our services to analyzing our target audience, our purpose, and our objectives. I asked members to answer the question “How can people benefit by visiting our site?” This led to a really great discussion of who we are, who we wanted to reach, what we want people to know about us, and why we want them to know this. At the end of the meeting, we came up with a statement of our audience, purpose, and objectives. I used this statement to make sure our new site stayed focused on the message our members wanted to convey.
I also spent many hours looking at other UU congregations’ Web sites. This sparked some ideas to use on our site, and it also pointed out things to avoid. For example, on many sites it wasn’t clear where the congregation was located. Springfield, Missouri? Springfield, Illinois? Springfield, Oregon??? If our header said only “UU Fellowship of West Plains” people might wonder where we are. Lois’ tag line “. . . in the southern Missouri Ozarks” solves this problem very elegantly, I think.
Although I managed this project, I did not create this Web site myself. Rather, it is very much the product of all our members’ ideas, comments, and contributions. I just synthesized all the different parts into one product and made it “our” site.
UU Fellowship of West Plains, MO