Recently I’ve had the privilege of judging contenders for Catholic Tech Talk‘s Parish Web Site of the Year award. Some of the entries have been outstanding; others demonstrate just how far Catholic parishes have to go in understanding the importance of a well crafted, professional-looking web site.
Still, looking at so many parish web sites has been instructive. In particular, I’ve been amazed at how many sites still lack some basic elements that would help them go from “poor” to “useable”:
- Contact information for parish staff and programs. Many of the sites I looked at had incomplete or even non-existent contact information for parish staff. Your site should include a complete list of staff including name, title, phone number, and email address. The same should go for volunteers who serve specific programs! I’d love to come to your weekly bible study, but if I don’t know who to contact or how to get hold of them if I have a question, it’s less likely that I’ll make the effort. Speaking of which…
- Locations of regular events. Lots of parishes are doing lots of great work providing catechetical and social events. Unfortunately, if I was a parishioner, I’m not sure I would be able to find them! Remember, if I’m new to your parish I don’t know where meeting spaces are. If you have a regularly scheduled program or gathering, be sure to list exactly where it is held. If I’m on your site I don’t want to have to take the extra step of calling you just to get that information.
- Pictures! It’s disheartening how many parish web sites don’t incorporate graphics and pictures into their designs. One of the advantages of new media is their ability to incorporate text and images to tell a story and convey information in a meaningful way. Even if you just have a banner image on every page that incorporates a picture of your church, ditch the text-only look. (It’s so 1998).
- Easy to find Mass schedule. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of parishes that did do this, but I still can’t believe we have to talk about this in 2012. Put your Mass and Reconciliation times on the front page of your site. There: you just increased your site’s usability by 100%.
- A menu structure that makes sense. This one may warrant a post all it’s own, but just navigating the labyrinthine menu structures of some sites was a chore. From submenus that included 20(!) different items to indecipherable titles to drop-down menus that just plain didn’t work, many parishes seem to be working hard to ensure that their content is never read. Keep it simple, keep it intuitive; menus aren’t the place for creativity. Make sure that items are places under titles that will make sense to the average parishioner. This may mean cutting out some of the “church speak” we use, but web sites are tools — not theological treatises. It’s more important that people can find what they are looking for!
Image by Daniel*1977/flickrCC