Take a Page From St. Jerome’s Church in St. Petersburg

You can see how your church website compares to others by taking a look at American Catholic’s Parish Site of the Month, which I do each month. While American Catholic doesn’t share the criteria they used to select St. Jerome’s in Petersburg in December, here are a few features that stand out.

  • People pictures, not empty building pictures – St. Jerome’s recognizes that the Church is the people, not the buildings, so we see two of the four photos on the home page are of individuals. The photo gallery has more pictures, with a wealth of technical details about the photos; captions about the subjects would be helpful.
  • Sunday reading reflection questions – a great resource that will keep visitors returning regularly; plus, the site includes these a few weeks in advance, not just one week ahead of time. Not sure why the third page of the PDF is blank, though, for January 7.
  • Email addresses for many of the staff; photos would be a nice addition here.
  • Podcasts – no direct link, but if you scroll down the Jubilee page you’ll see links to podcasts hosted on libsyn (just watch out for some racy photos that appear randomly on the libsyn home page)

This is an attractive site with its main features clearly listed along the left-hand navigation. Here are a few points that could make this site even better.

  • The URL structure should be human and search-engine friendly. In particular, why complicate things by using http://www.stjeromeonline.org/site/index.php?section=1 for the homepage. Of course we’re on the “/site/”-no need to stretch out that URL, especially for those trying to remember the address or who want to forward it in an email without the address starting to wrap. The URL can be rewritten on the server side, it looks like they’re running Apache, without impacting the underlying structure. StJeromeOnline.org/bulletin/, for example, is shorter and easier to remember–and more obvious to a search engine than http://www.stjeromeonline.org/site/index.php?section=5. And if you want to show someone the actual bulletin link, the URL really gets out of hand: http://www.stjeromeonline.org/site/index.php?action=view&id=184
    &module=resourcesmodule&src=%40random43931f1adef98
    . Yikes.
  • Add unique title tags for each page. Right now each page reads St. Jerome Catholic Church Largo Florida. This is probably related to the structure used in the previous point. St. Jerome’s is potentially confusing anyone who bookmarks a page. Moreover, the site is missing the opportunity to give search engines some more information about each page and shortchanging potential visitors who are looking for more details in search engine results.
  • The footer helpfully includes links to “contact” and “webmaster,” but both of these are actually mailto: links to the same address. Perhaps these were two different people in the past, but don’t include two links to the same place right next to each other. Also, it’s better to make it clear that the link isn’t to a web page, but will launch the user’s email client.
  • Don’t include an active link to the home page on the home page itself (it’s in the header and footer).
  • The bulletin page includes a list of links by date, which you would think would launch that week’s bulletin, right? But the link takes you to another page with the same link, and from there you can launch the PDF of the bulletin. (An HTML version would be better for users–no need to launch a separate application–and for search engine optimization because of the keyword-rich text and opportunity to cross link internally).

With the start of 2007, the introductory text about the jubilee on the home page should be changed to past tense; still noteworthy, but refer to 2006 as last year. Anyway, let’s all offer the St. Jerome community congratulations on 50 years and share a lesson you learned from their site.

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