You can see how your church website compares to others by taking a look at American Catholic’s Parish Site of the Month. While American Catholic doesn’t share the criteria they used to select St. John’s-St. Ann’s of Albany in November, here are a few features that stand out.
- People pictures, not empty building pictures – The Church is the people, right? Then how come so many sites limit their photos to building exteriors or empty interiors? Sts. J-A gets it right by showing the choir and other volunteers in action on the homepage. You’ll also find shots of the property, too, so that newcomers can find it in person.
- Clearly set the tone of the parish on the home page – A prominent outreach link and an Iraq War Body Count banner let you know what this parish is about up front. Newcomers or church shoppers don’t have to guess what’s important to this parish.
- Timely homepage – Current readings and an acknowledgement of the Site of the Month designation reassure visitors that this is an active and worthwhile site. Including some key parish events here would further reinforce this impression.
This is a site that’s doing a lot of the right things. In a few areas, though, the content looks like it’s not quire ready to go “live”. The calendar points to an unbranded, separate .mac account that lists but one event for November and none for December. Better to stick with the established announcements page or use a regular page on the site. The placeholder “cemetery (coming soon)” navigation link would be frustrating to someone who just experienced a loved one’s death. Just link to contact information or leave out the link until the content is ready. And once you get beyond the homepage, the title tags no longer reference the church’s name, such as “Liturgical Ministries” or “Join Our Parish,” which begs the question which parish? if you’re relying on that snippet in your bookmarks or search engine results. I’d also love to see a couple of staples from other church sites: a site-specific search engine and weekly Sunday bulletins, but the site has so much else going for it.
So what lessons did you learn from the terrific St. John’s and St. Ann’s site?