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Preparing to build your website

You may think that the preparation for building a website starts with getting a web designer involved. In fact, this step shouldn't happen till closer to the end of the process. Simply going to a web designer and asking for a website without any planning, whilst technically possible will only result in an approximation of what you want and will ultimately not satisfy your needs.

There are a wide range of things that you should think about before you employ the skills of a web designer. The following is a summary and should not be considered to include everything. This will depend on your own situation and the purpose of the site. If you get to the stage of employing someone to do this, they should be able to guide you on other things to consider.

What do you want to achieve?

There is the mistaken impression that simply having a website makes you more accessibly to the general public. Well, whilst that is true, a bad website can have the opposite effect. It is therefore important to sit down and have a think about what it is you want to achieve with your website. Is it simply going to be a couple of pages giving directions to where you are, or is it going to become the next bbc.co.uk with huge amounts of content. In reality, what you'll want is something in between, and most importantly something that you can maintain. It sometimes helps to write down a mission statement for the website that is simply a couple of sentences you can refer to throughout the process. For example, it could be...

"We want to tell our local community about us"

or

"We want to tell our local community about us and also provide useful resources to other christians."

What should it include?

The following is not an exhaustive list, but one that should provoke some discussion about what you want to achieve.

  • A welcome message
  • A bit of background history on who you are
  • Some local history about the area you are in
  • Contact Details
  • A gospel message
  • Photos of your place of worship and your congregation
  • Audio/Video Downloads
  • Latest News
  • Latest Events
  • Information on the types of services/meetings you have
  • Articles on relevant topics

What shouldn't it include

This is perhaps a more difficult question to answer than what to include. Basically it shouldn't include anything that isn't relevant to your mission statement. It also shouldn't include anything that you can't keep up to date. There is nothing worse than going to a website and either seeing information that is years out of date, or that carries a "Coming Soon" that has been there for years.

Who is the target audience

I suppose the simple answer to this should be "Everyone", but in reality you'll want to target it to those you identified in your mission statement. When considering building a website for a local church, your focus really should be the community that you work in. Therefore you should try to find out as much about your local community as you can. If you are situated in an area mostly made up of elderly people, you'll want to gear your website in that direction. If you are in an area that is heavily populated with children and young familys, then that is the direction you should go.

What should it look like

This is where you research will have an impact. Depending on what type of community you are in will have an influence on what your site should look like. I've listed below some suggestions, but please be aware that these are broad generalisations and should only serve as a starting point.

The Young Ones

This may include people with your families, but it may also include those in their 20s and 30s with young familys. This generation has generally grown up with computers and the internet and therefore demand much more from a website. Sites should be quick to load and look professional. Regardless of the underlying content, many may switch off if this is not the case. Colour schemes can be a lot more bold and adventurous if required.This generation will assume the ability to interact with the website and feedback their comments on its content.

The Mid Lifers

The mid lifers are those in their 40s and 50s and whilst most would perhaps know a computer when they saw one, they can still remember when computers took up entire buildings and were for the academic and elite only. They look more for the information than the gloss desire by our previous generation and tend to be a bit more forgiving of sites lacking in the presentation department. In saying that, navigation and text should still be clear and concise with minimum effort required to find information.

The Silver Surfers

This is a term taken from the common hair colour of this internet surfing generation. Most would have stayed away from computers and the internet in the past in favour of a cup of tea and a biscuit in front of Countdown. However there is an increasing number of these people who are taking to the internet to meet new friends, follow up on hobbies and generally keep in touch with the world. Unfortunately this generation start to find that physcial and mental disabilities start to impair their abilities. The majority will have some kind of visual impairment, whilst others will find that physical disabilities are what hold them back. Sites should be clean and clear in their appearance with Accessibility kept at the forefront of the design. Font sizes should lean towards the large (or a font resize option made available at the very least). Important information should be easily accessible and not more than a few clicks away.

As you can see, there are many things that need to be considered before a web designer is even approached. In future articles we will consider what happens once we reach that stage.