Update: November 15: St. Mary’s site is restored
See this post for related coverage.
Update: November 14, 2008, 10:37 PM ET.
The St. Mary’s of Greenville site is unavailable as I write this so many of you are coming here looking for more information. Try these links:
- AP Story: SC priest: No communion for Obama supporters (AP story)
- Fr. Newman’s letter to parishioners (from the Google cache/last snapshot of site before it went down)
I’m guessing St. Mary’s site is unavailable due to a surge in traffic, but I have not yet heard back from one of my webmaster contacts there.
[Update from Nov. 15, 2008: Port 80 was closed intentionally to give time for the Diocese to regroup.]
OK, back to the original review from January of 2007…
You don’t have to wonder this month why St. Mary’s of Greenville, South Carolina is American Catholic’s website of the month. One look at this site’s beautiful layout and gorgeous pictures will inspire you to explore the clearly displayed main content areas and to read the fresh news. Let’s take a closer look at the many elements of church site design St. Mary’s does right that you may want to try on your own site.
- Weekly message from the clergy — the site highlights the weekly pastor’s column from the bulletin so that a new and topical message is ready each week. He’s writing it anyway so getting double duty is a great idea.
- Clear links and main sections across the top — First time visitors can immediately orient themselves finding essentials including location, directions, bulletins and ministries. Established parishioners can easily get to what they need. And all visitors will enjoy seeing the most popular pages listed on homepage. A little overuse of my browser’s reload button reveals that the count of page visits is indeed updated on the fly (although “views” looks to be a more accurate description than “visits”).Traffic-ranked content is an effective way to keep the home page new because the counts automatically update and I’ll assume there’s some variety over time. Recommended picks are also prominently displayed for those who appreciate editorial guidance–a good way to promote the inevitable pages that aren’t (yet) popular, but are important to someone on staff.
- Rich, professional quality pictures rotated on the home page — which also appear throughout the site. These aren’t the snapshots or mug shots you often encounter in these neighborhoods. One gripe: only two of the 13 home page photos (#7 and #10) are people pictures, with #7 reflecting an overhead shot when the church looked pretty empty; pick one of your more crowded days, instead, since nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.
- Audio versions of homilies — choose from streaming, for listening while on the site, or download as MP3s for listening on the go. Adding a more descriptive title other than the date would make it easier to track down a particular homily and would help with search engines. A transcript would be even better, but a summary or extract would help. Imagine a parishioner thinking, Which homily was the one about the little boy who…. The page includes extensive background information about what a podcast is, although this pushes the homily links to below the fold.
- Parishioner business promotion — St. Mary’s is offering this service for free to active parishioners who want to highlight their businesses online, a nice touch that other parishes may want to offer, perhaps even charging for the service.
So much to love about this site, but one flaw should be corrected: frozen text point sizes. The designers have overridden the user’s ability to adjust the point size of the body text for those visitors who wanted to make the text appear larger (View/text size/larger) when using Internet Explorer (it remains adjustable in Firefox). Bad from a usability standpoint. For a church website, you might even say uncharitable. The design is beautiful, but if someone can’t read the small text, give the option to adjust the size.
Other areas for improvement are relatively minor.
- With so many personal touches, it’s surprising that the bulletins are presented as PDFs rather than as regular webpages. Remember those helpful pastor columns that are already in HTML? To read the rest of the bulletin, which is in two column formats, means awkward scrolling and dragging in Adobe Reader. Yuck. PDFs are for printing. Also, a stray message on the bulletin page needs to be updated because it mentions who to contact for bulletins before 2005, even though bulletins are available as far back as 2003.
- Use text in header formatted with CSS rather than with a large image, to give search engine spiders just a bit more text to consume. Upper left coat of arms/logo isn’t clickable; that would be the most natural spot to expect a link to the home page, similar to how a logo would be used on a traditional site. The rest of the banner is linked to the homepage, which is always a good idea. That is, except on the homepage itself, where this link is redundant.
- The site search engine doesn’t provide an explanation when zero search results; it’s just blank.
- Publication titles are underlined, giving the false impression that they are hyperlinks. Bold, italics or quotation marks would make for clearer formatting.
- Bottom navigation looks like the top navigation, but none of these boxes are clickable…oh wait, the sixth one is and gets a popup box–but the credits link next to it doesn’t Maybe the designers felt modest! (They should be proud.)
St. Mary’s of Greenville is a great looking site with a winning design and many elements you’ll want to consider for your parish or church website. What lesson did you learn?