October’s lunch time seminar about planning and evaluating websites was presented by Rebecca Ray. The following is a “blog-ified” version of her presentation.
It’s easy to recognise truly horrible websites (impossible to find anything, hard to read, horrible graphics that block important text… you get the idea), but often it’s a small thing on an otherwise excellent website that makes a big difference.
The following ten items are just a guideline. Each organisation is different, and each will have different requirements. They’re in no particular order – each is as important as the next. If you’re in the process of creating a new website, keep these points in mind from day one. They’ll save you time and help you create a great website. If you already have a website, try taking a couple minutes to check out how these measure up. You might find that a small change will make a huge improvement!
1. Make sure your contact details are easy to find
Can a visitor easily find your contact details? Your contact details should either be on the home page or behind a prominent link or menu item. Make sure the link to them explicitly states that the page it leads to contains your contact details! Many websites “hide” contact details on their “About Us” page or similar – your contact details are one of the most important aspects – make sure they’re easy to find! You don’t want visitors to your website to have to hunt through page after page to find what they’re looking for – if they have to, they may give up!
2. Clearly state who you are and what you do
Ensure your website clearly states who you are and what you do. Best practice is to have a brief explanation on your home page, with a more in depth description in an “About Us”-type page. Again, the link to this page should explicitly state what kind of information is stored there, and is obviously not applicable to small, simple, one page websites. The ultimate point is to enable a visitor to understand what your organisation does by briefly glancing at the page. Make sure any images you use tie in with your text – for example, a site about an organisation that mostly works with kids should not only have pictures of adults on their website!
3. Make navigation quick and easy
Make sure your website is quick and easy to navigate. You don’t want visitors to have to hunt for the information they need. A quick glance at the home page should let them know where they need to go to get the information they’re looking for. This means the navigation bar/ menu must be obvious and easy to spot – usually at the top of the page (under the logo/ header, but above the content) or down the left-hand side. The links in the menu should clearly state what information they lead to and should remain in the same location and maintain the same layout on every page that is visited.
4. Cater to the right audience
The content of your website is, of course, one of the most important aspects. You want to make sure that the information you place on your website – and the way it’s worded – caters to the intended audience. For instance, the information pertinent to potential volunteers will be different to the information one of your current or potential clients might need. A page reaching out to senior citizens will be worded – and often designed – differently to one for teenagers. A website as a whole can (and usually does!) have multiple audiences – make sure your navigation makes it obvious to each of these groups which pages they need to visit.
5. Make your text readable
Ensure that your website is easy to read. You want your font to be well spaced, simple, and large enough to read easily. Script/ handwriting fonts should be avoiding – they look pretty in theory but can make your website hard on the eyes in practice. You also want to pay attention to colours and contrast – basic rule of thumb is using one dark colour and one quite light. Avoid bright and neon-type colours. The layout of your website also plays a role in this – make sure the area your text appears in is large enough that visitors to your website don’t have to scroll to read more than a couple lines. Keep conditions such as colour blindness in mind, as well – red/ green colour blindness is particularly common. Depending on your audience, catering towards those using screen readers and other similar technologies may also be something you want to take into consideration.
6. Cater to search engines
Not only do you want your visitors to be able to know at a glance what your organisation does, you want search engines to know, as well. If someone uses Google, Yahoo, or another search engine to find either your organisation or the services you offer, you want to be one of the top results! The content of your website plays the most important role in this. Make sure your website includes keywords that someone may use to search for you – including the name of your organisation, the areas you work in, and the work you do. Remember that content presented as an image will not be picked up by a search engine (though the name of the file may be) – make sure you mention the name of your organisation outside of your logo. Some technologies may make it hard for the search engines to parse through your site and supply accurate results.
7. Keep your file sizes small
The size and load time of your website is another important factor – especially if a lot of your visitors are using either slow internet connections or mobile phones to access the site. Pay attention especially to the size of any images being loaded – the bigger the file is, the slower your website will load. Certain scripts to make your site do fancy interactions, some flash files, etc can also slow your site down. Usually simple is best! If you have a photo album type page, consider using thumb nails and slide shows so that the initial load time is quicker.
8. Have a simple admin area
Visitors to your website are not the only users that need to be taken into consideration. The administration panel must be just as easy to use as the rest of your site! You must be able to easily update any details on your website. You should not have to update any raw code in order to change the content of your page – your site should provide you with a simple editing tool. You also want the ability to to add new pages and menu items – basically, future proof your website. Be sure that you can create, delete, and edit pages as your programs, contacts, etc change – and ensure that a new employee or volunteer will be able to understand how the admin panel works without extensive training.
9. Choose features that suit your time constraints
Make sure your website doesn’t require more maintenance than you have time for. A blog or newsfeed is a great tool for engaging your visitors, but letting the updates lapse is one of the worst things you can do. A website with a blog that hasn’t been updated in months, or a news page with no recent updates makes it look like your organisation is no longer active. If you don’t have time to make regular updates, avoid placing these sorts of pages on your site. This concept applies to social media sites, allowing users to comment on pages in your website, and other similar tools that encourage interaction. They’re all great tools, but need to be regularly maintained.
10. Match the technology to your needs and budget
Ensure the platform and technology you are using is suitable to your website and your budget. Make sure you’re not paying for a hosting solution that includes significantly more storage and traffic than you need. On the other hand, you want to ensure your hosting provider can handle your traffic volumes – you don’t want your website going down because you’ve had an increase in interest about your organisation. Owning your own URL is another element to be taken into consideration – although this is best practice, solutions such as WordPress.com and Google Sites may be the best for your needs.
If you’re planning a new website, keep these points in mind from day one. If you already have a website, going through these could help you identify any problems.
If you’d like help or advice with your website, be sure yo check out our Web Rider program. We can help you evaluate your current site or plan a new site and find a volunteer to create it, if need be. We also help with training resources so you can use your website effectively.