Category Archives: Web Development

Church website shortlisted for award

I’m not normally someone to blow their own trumpet but sometimes I will allow myself a little shameful boasting. And today is that day!

The church website I designed and built for Zoar Christian Chapel has been shortlisted in the ‘Most Engaging Small Church Website’ category at the Premier Digital Awards 2018. Although I never do it for the accolades (just as well as I’d be a poor man), it’s always nice to be recognised for the time and effort gone into each church website design.

The website was a bespoke design reflecting the church’s personality and characteristics, though small and traditional has a very big heart for its community and reaching out. I worked with the church to ensure a website that was representative of them and what they are trying to achieve.

This is the second time a church website design I have created has been shortlisted for an award at the Premier Digital Awards. A few years ago the Monyhull Church website came runner up in the ‘Most Engaging Large Church Website’ category and it’s great to once again be recognised for my work.

Win or lose the satisfying part is creating a church website that supports the local church in their activities.

Now, time to create a trophy cabinet.

Security certificates – Google cares, so should you

Site security and online privacy has, in recent years, become more of a concern. With websites needing to gain the trust of its visitors and to ensure a users every move is not being monitored without them being made aware is all part of a users experience. Without this experience your website and your brand could be deeply impacted.

However, recent changes to Google Chrome web browser, changes to the law and the introduction of GDPR data regulations now means this area of concern takes on greater importance.

Whats changed?
The latest version of Google’s Chrome web browser alerts users when they visit a web page that collect personal data. The warning states that the website is ‘not secure’ and makes it look like there is a problem with the security of a website. This could damage credibility and trust for many website visitors if they think their information can be stolen and misused.

As well as this the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply from May 2018. The GDPR is a legal framework which websites must adhere to. This includes security of personal data.

What is a security certificate (SSL)?
SSL, which stands for Secure Socket Layer, is an encryption technology used to create a secure connection between a web server and a user’s web browser.

When a website has an SSL certificate installed on the server, a small padlock icon is displayed to the left of a website URL in the browser and https will appear as well before the url. SSL certificates are used to secure data transfers, credit card transactions, logins and other personal information. They provide security to customers and make visitors more likely to stay on a website for longer periods of time.

So why bother?

It’s safer site visitors
HTTPS keeps the information sent between the browser and the user secured. The SSL encryption layer prevents data attacks by stopping unwanted users from intercepting data that is passing between the two. This is especially crucial to prevent for e-commerce websites where credit card details are entered, or for websites that allow account creation and store sensitive information.

Website visitors want to know that the information they are sending is secured. Any issues with data security can impact your brand negatively.

Improves search rankings
Google has, for many years, encouraged site owners to improve a users experience especially in regards to data. Since 2015, Google will search for and index HTTPS URLs before HTTP URLs. By June 2016 Moz found that over 32% of page 1 Google results are using the HTTPS protocol which is a big increase since being first announced by Google. It is clear that Google now place weight behind websites that have a security certificate and in terms of competetition, every little helps.

No more nasty warnings
Since Google are now reacting to sites without an SSL, it’s hard not to miss the warnings non-secure websites are throwing up. Any site visitor that sees a site marked as ‘insecure’ will quickly run away. For reputation, trust and user experience alone it’s enough of a reason to implement one.

7 Do’s of Church Websites

1. Do think about who your aiming the site at

I’m sure the new church website isn’t the only thing going on in your life (surely not?!!), taking time to plan out what you want to say and to whom is probably not very far up on your list. But would suggest the planning stage is the most important. If this stage is skipped you will, more than likely, end up with a half usable site which eventually gets left by the wayside.

Ask the questions that will inform the design structure. Who are you aiming this site at? What kind of people will be using it? It would be easy to say everyone, but that just simply isn’t true. You want to engage with your local audience first and fore-mostly. Who are they? Are you aiming at members or people who know nothing of the christian faith. You can the start thinking about what they would find useful, what questions they are asking, what kind of information they are trying to find. Spending time earlier on thinking these things through will pay dividends in the long run.

2. Do consider what your members would and wouldn’t use (functionality overkill)

There is nothing worse then a website that isn’t used. Sparse areas where once thriving information stood, old deprecated functionality that has gone untouched since Spurgeon gave his last sermon, these are all signs that the site has become unfocused and unmanageable. A lot of the time this is down to the planning stage. Mapping out what your users will and won’t use as well as what the website admin will and won’t do is key to a engaging and updated church website.

The times I have sat down with a client and asked what they want to be able to achieve with a website and they come back with the kitchen sink! Everything from member profiles to SMS push messages. These things of course are good and achievable, but I have become quite good at guessing whether a church will use something or not as I get to to know them. Want an event feed? Great, will you updated continually? A Twitter feed? Fantastic, how often will you be interacting on social media? Be realistic about what you will or won’t use. Keep it manageable and you (as well as others) will be more inclined to keep on top of it. Sit down at the beginning of the project and work out what you would use and what the church as a whole would use frequently.

3. Do the basics (where, when, what’s it like, contact)

It may sound strange but cover the basic information, especially on the homepage. The amount of new shiny websites that miss out basic information. Oh yes you’re very pretty with your big header image and cool animations, but wheres your service times? What do you mean I have to click through twice to find your address?!!

A lot of users will be people needing the basic information in preparation for attending, sometimes (like when I’m on holiday) it will be as they are getting ready to go for the service! Times, places, contacts – make it accessible and make it obvious.

4. Do update your site with content

Nothing encourages people to not return to your site then a lack of updates. You are a church, you must be doing something! Users are evaluating the church all the time, especially when on the website. What do you offer? What do you do? How do you do it? You need a way of pushing content onto the site to give users an understanding of what you’re about. A window into the life of the church.

This doesn’t mean putting the years members meetings notes online but churches more than other organisation run events, meet regularly and have plenty to say. Consider having a way to add events, run a blog or at the very least be active on a social media platform and link it through to your site. Even better is if each ministry page were able to add events to their own page so users could see events just for their area of interest.

I appreciate this costs time (and possibly money) but old and stale content will quickly turn users away with very little reason for them to return.

It doesn’t have to be a lot, but do be consistent. Have a set time in your calendar for adding a blog piece and plan it so its manageable. One blog a week or a month is better than nothing. Find people who would be willing to help with content and content ideas, this should help keep the content diverse and fresh.

5. Do update your site for security

Statistics released some time ago suggested that 73% of open source CMS’ (wordpress, joomla drupal etc…) were due to out of date versions. Keeping your sites core code up-to-date is critical for the safety of your website.

Often, the church website is finished, the owner will find some cheap hosting, send it live and forget about it. Do not be that person! Firstly, be selective over your web hosting – normally you pay for what you get. If you buy cheap hosting, expect a server that is less than secure causing plenty of site performance issues. Find a decent web host, get your site live, then update your site every month. Annoying? Yes, but unfortunately some people take great pleasure in turning your beautiful new website into something very spammy.

If you do not have the time, find someone who does. Alternatively make site maintenance part of your costing with web hosting (for instance I will charge an annual fee for hosting and site maintenance, I then make all updates throughout the year)

6. Do have a responsive website

For those of us in the web development game, this is a no-brainer. Your site should be responsive. That is, it should respond to the size of the screen. Whether your visitor is looking on a mobile, tablet or widescreen the site should adapt to its environment and present the information that works for that screen. No scrollbars, no having to zoom in, no clicking on tiny links. A good user experience means the user will more than likely be back. For church web design this should be a standard not a luxury.

Google places a great deal of emphasis on web design best practice, their algorithms for search placements include ranking a site based on how well its coded and if a site responsive or not. However, just to be clear, the days of having a separate mobile site are over. Yes some big companies still have a mobile specific site and they shouldn’t. The different with a responsive is that you use the same html code but it adapts to the screen size. This way the same information is being served to both desktop and handheld users.

7. Do make your site a window into church life

This list as well as the 7 Don’ts of a church website design should give you a steer in the right direction for starting and maintaining your church website. It is however, worth highlighting the main function of your site – a window into your world.

All that has been outlined is to help you better present the church. As a church web designer my biggest job is to convince pastors/committees/the tea lady that a lot of users are just curious, they are trying to work you out as an organisation and are seeking to get to know you. This means should they ever walk into the church, they aren’t going in blind, they have some idea who you are, who they might meet and feel more at ease.

Focus your website on showing what life is like in and around the church. What the stories of the people are. And don’t think that a small church has less to say then a big church, I have known huge churches never update their site and there is no engagement, I have seen small churches who use their site well with updates, blogs and photos. This isn’t about how full your programme is but showing the life of the church to your users so they can imagine themselves as part of it.

Is User Experience an ‘added extra’?

I remember a boss of mind telling me, “I know you’re in to the whole UX Design thing, but it’s just not what we do as company, we aren’t geared up for it”.

If you are any kind of web development-aware person, you are probably think, really? Hard to believe, that in this day and age, people believe UX Design is some kind of luxury, some sort of add on, like DAB Radio for a car. That success can be achieved without this new fancy fad.

Ah well that depends on your idea of success, doesn’t it? Bashing out a good looking site in as quick a time as possible is many peoples goals. sadly these people are misguided. You see the web has matured, as has it’s users. We are no longer a generation that is sucked in by cheap promises and sites which drama s much info as possible in front of the user.

A generation has grown up learning how to block off certain signals on websites and applications. They know the setup of the average site and use these common factors to navigate their way across the web. Old, cheap tricks no longer have an effect. The biggest indicator of this is how SEO has been forced to grow up and get smarter but the all knowing Google. Having switched on to the fact SEO specialists were finding holes in the search algorithm and exploiting them for search rankings, Google have stepped up its intelligence in finding and indexing pages with correct practice. Including proper syntax, context and content. The ‘field of dreams’ idea is over (if you build it they will come… You haven’t seen Field of Dreams? Loser).

Well… Not entirely, it would read something more like, if you build it intelligently, they will come. What I mean is, once upon a time, you would build a site and then consider SEO and usability as separate areas. Today they have to be seen as one and be thought of from the word go.

For instance, Google is now paying attention to how long a user is spending on your site. A well structured site, that is easy to use = attention and retention. A site that makes no sense and doesn’t have any targets or aims will fall flat.

User experience is in fact at the very heart of a Website.

Research the user, understand their needs, set some goals, set information priority and set a pathway that achieves this in the most painless way as possible. Better to have an aesthetically challenged site that was easy for the user to use then a good looking site that doesn’t hit its aims and objectives.

And you see thats normally where I find Designers and Web guys that care about UX differ. A designer thinks a good looking site is what matters, when in reality it goes:
1) Content
2) User Experience
3) Aesthetics

Design is last on the list! How a user interacts with your site is most important. I’ve lost count of the times a designer has wanted to add something to my wireframe because he “saw it on another site and it looks cool”.

For a website, user experience is everything. With the user a site useless. It is core to every site.

Underrated WordPress Plugins

Long have gone the days when WordPress was seen as a lightweight CMS, it took many years for people to believe they could do more then just with a WordPress install. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you those days are long gone. With the 3.8 update, the core of WordPress has pushed itself once again, forward and (and this is my opinion) has given a definitive answer to the age old debate ‘which CMS is best?’.

There are fanboys of each CMS of course and having spent many years in Joomla (and still do) I have found myself in the last few years preferring WordPress. Why? Well Joomla is a good CMS solution, and it has many decent pre built solutions to use with its core.

So why do I prefer WordPress? Partly personal preference but also because the core allows for a lot of adding in functionality and being able to bend it how you see fit. Which turns a run of the mill site into, well whatever you want your site to be.

To help extend WordPress here are four plugins I’ve found very helpful in some of the complex sites I have built in the past, but perhaps haven’t had the spotlight like the more glamorous plugins.

Advanced Custom Fields
It isn’t often that I will build a WordPress site with whats supplied. It carries the basics but more often then not your custom posts or pages need extra info on them. ACF is brilliant at easily adding whatever extra options are needed on the backend for a post. For instance you could create member profiles. There are also great extras like ‘conditions’. Which is handy for revealing extra options depending on a previous selection, for instance in a member profile, for finding a current town of residence. You could start with which country, which when selected would bring up a selection of cities in the next option.

Another great plugin that adds dynamic options on the backend. You can turn a designated custom post into another custom posts taxonomies allowing for dynamic relationships on the fly. For instance, if in creating our member profiles we had a need to add departments, but those departments might change. You can add a ‘department’ custom post, create a department and it would automatically show up on a profiles department selection option.

Posts to Posts
Again another relationship plugin, this one has a slightly different flavour. With this you can basically add a relationship between two posts. Allowing for a ‘related products’ style link but with the option to select specific posts to relate. So you could have a ‘related members’ section at the bottom of our members profile.

Yoast SEO
I think this SEO plugin has become a staple in most peoples builds. It basically is an all singing all dancing SEO solution, allowing for specifics on each post and page as well as some of the standard, site map generation and content analysis insight. Don’t leave home without it.

Add a couple of these plugins together and you can make WordPress do whatever you like.