WEBSITE BASICS -- Keeping Information Current
Up-to-date Information Is One Hallmark Of An Excellent Website
For a website visitor, one of the most frustrating experiences in visiting a website is to encounter information that is obviously obsolete. A second frustration is to be faced with information that is irrelevent to the core topic or subject-matter of the website. If you are a webmaster or a website project leader and you know that you do not have the time or the resources to constantly maintain your website, it will be better to design the site to be a low-maintanance website containing minimal time-sensitive information rather than to have lots of info on your site that is time-sensitive and will be out-of-date very quickly.
Our Pastor's Sabbatical Experience
I had an enlightening conversation with our pastor recently. He had the wonderful opportunity to take a sabbatical and one of the things he did during that time was visit other churches. He was quite excited to be able to do this, and for the most part it was a good experience. The one downside, he discovered is that it was very hard to figure out what was happening at each church, or even where the churches were, based on their websites! In his particular case, he didn't care to visit a church that was having a musical group visiting from somewhere else, or some other special event day; he wanted to hear different preachers preach. So he would go to their websites looking for info, only to be largely frustrated at their lack of current information. Even the websites of big churches sometimes had this problem. It is not hard to imagine that other people might also have certain things they are looking for, and want to be able to find the information on a ministry or local church website, but the info is just not there, or it is out-of-date.
A quick survey of local church websites shows that it can be very difficult to see what is happening at a church. Many churches have a calendar/schedule, but many of them are WAY out of date (sometimes YEARS out of date!). Some churches do not even have a good map or have directions to their facility. Some churches even once you get to a building, it’s hard to tell where you are supposed to go. I've been to churches that after I get out of my car, I am looking at several possible ways I could go, and it's not clear which one is the main entrance. So you might even want to include some information like that on your a church website.
There are lots of ways to provide this information. It's not clear that one way is always better than another. I think what works best is whatever you can keep current. So here are some options:
Calendars & Schedules
1. Use a third party calendar hosted on another site for your calendar. There are many of these types of services, most are pay, but there are a few free ones. I use this one for my site, http://www.calendars.net/. See mine at http://www.downeychurch.org/Calendar.html.
Pros: This way you will be able to have someone else keep the calendar current, maybe the church secretary or the bulletin editor can do this task. The point is, they can have a password to the calendar but not the rest of your HTML, if that type of control is necessary. It's free!
Cons: You still have to find someone to keep the calendar current. You may still have other HTML pages to edit on your site to reflect the changes on the calendar – depending on what type of info you keep on your site. For example, you might still have to edit the main page for the up coming events.
2. Keep all calendar/schedule info on one page on your site. You could simply keep all the information on one HTML page then you would have the minimum updates to make.
Pros: Easy for the webmaster.
Cons: Probably harder for the person viewing the site. Face it, most of us want current events on the main page or other prominent place. So it just isn’t very practical to make every entry follow a link to just to see the current information.
3. Keep calendar/schedule info in limited places, not spread all over your site. Having the calendar for every ministry on their “own” page is a maintenance nightmare. Having it on just one page is not really practical either (see #2), so just try to keep it on as few pages as possible. Probably a calendar page and a highlights section for upcoming events on the main page would be sufficient.
Pros: Good mix of maintainability for the webmaster and easy of gathering information for the person browsing the site.
Cons: You still might have to update more than one page. But those changes should be minimal.
4. Church bulletins have limited value. I often get asked about how to easily publish church bulletins. My response is: It's very easy, don't do it! The church bulletin has limited value to people who aren't at church that day. The announcements might be interesting, but you should have that already covered on your site in a "What's New" or "News" feature. A lot of other stuff on a printed bulletin just doesn't really matter if you are not at church that day. Does your site visitor really care who did the welcome, or what song was played for the offertory if they were not there? Someone once told me that in their church they use the bulletin for schedule purposes. Whatever works for you is about the only answer I can give, but I don't think a bulletin is a good schedule tool. Most churches don't have a bulletin ready until late in the week, and by the time you can post it on a website--which it might be just a day before the service--there is not enough time to make schedule changes. If you need to post schedules for greeters, deacons, ushers, elders, music items, etc., then post them in an area next to your calendar, and let people see the schedule enough in advance so that they can switch with someone else if there are conflicts.
Maps and Directions
1. Provide a map and/or good written directions to your church or ministry facility. Depending on where you are located, you must give appropriate details. For example, my local church is located in the Los Angeles area, and if you don't give freeway references people will often have no idea where you are. If you live in a rural area, something like "next to the lake" might be more appropriate. Remember, if you want vacationers or new people to come and visit, they may need precise detailed directions. Don't assume that you can say, "by the old McDonalds"and expect everyone to understand where the old McDonalds is located.
2. Provide a diagram or description of the route from the parking area to the worship center or reception area. When someone parks at your ministry facility or local church, do they have to walk 3 flights of stairs before they can see the enterance? (I've been to a church like that). Will they be behind the building and then have to walk all the way around to the front to reach the entrance? (I've seen that too). On your church campus, are the children's departments located 3 buildings away from the adult Bible study rooms? Is everything handicap accessible? The more details you can provide a guest, the easier it is for them to find you and begin a positive experience when first visiting your church or ministry center. This might even warrant a "For First Time Visitors" webpage on your site.
In order to produce an excellent website that will be valued by your site visitors, it is essential to ensure that your information is always current and useful. Be aware that constructing and maintaining a good website is a balancing act: the user's need verses your time; and your time verses how quickly the information is available from its source. Don't bit off more than you can chew. If you do not have the time to constantly update your website to keep it current, then configure your website for lower maintenance by placing fewer time-sensitive items on it. Keep the number of time-sensitive items to a minimum by posting only the most important ones on your site. However make every effort to keep those items up-to-date.