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Suggested web standards

From SPREAD THE FLAME Share the Message of Unitarian Universalism via the Web by the Baltimore Washington Public Outreach Team 2007

[In] common between the Internet folks and the UUs… UUism is full of hope, and the fact that the Web happens is an example of a dream coming true and an encouragement to all who hope. – Tim Berners Lee, founder of the World Wide Web (www.w3.org)

6 important aspects of web sites: appearance, content, safety, navigation, accessibility, & search optimization + useful resources

APPEARANCE

Use images with smiling faces & racial, gender, age diversity. We’re about people, not buildings or flowers, and people like to see people who they think appear to be like them – provide a vision of how you want to look. Home page should give good impression for potential newcomers; little or no scrolling for essential information. Include warm picture of the minister and some brief words of welcome. Consider every page like a homepage since searchers can enter the site from any page. All ways to communicate with the church should be clear & easy to locate. Consistency of design is important, background, headers, footers, palette, etc., make certain that you have plenty of color, but not too busy to be difficult to concentrate on content. Should view well with Firefox, Explorer, and other browsers – test on many by posting to Websters listserv (see Resources).

CONTENT

The Template Project & Web Check List (see Resources) have good examples of content, plus you can get ideas from the hundreds of other UU web sites. It’s nice to have “Welcome”, “We invite you to join us”, and/or a tagline included in your heading banner, such as "Imagine a religion where ALL are Welcome!" or "Room for different beliefs. Yours." First pages should have directions, what to expect when you arrive, what’s happening on Sunday. Content helps with searchability - the more pages, the easier it can be to find if the right keywords/text is on those pages. Remember what is unique about your church – among UUs it’s your LOCATION, so put the name of your town and state at the bottom of every page besides clearly on the home page and directions page. What is unique about your church from other local churches? If you want a church that does these things… you may like our church. Remember searchers can enter your site through any page, so create your template and link list with that in mind. Don’t use underlines as they may be assumed to be links, which can frustrate users.

SAFETY

Basic tips on safety can be found in several resources (check the Resources below). Primary tips: don’t label names on photos of children (get permission forms signed), block searches on more private pages, put newsletters in a password protected area if they are uploaded in full or remove personal information, get copyright permissions, and disguise email addresses so that "robots" can't pick them up and send spam.

NAVIGATION

The Template Project has good examples for link placement (top and left of each page is good). If your site has more than 10 pages, consider adding a search function and site map link, too. Do use underlines for all links as users may not access additional pages if they don’t see an underline. Organize links top to bottom, left to right. Consider using pithy statements that allow you to click and get to the details. Include a calendar of events that can be edited using a web browser for non-techie administrators or volunteers. May want a members-only part of the site; consider password-protected elements. Include a links page for all different kinds of interests related to UUism and your church.

ACCESSIBILITY

Remember that not all web users have good eye sight, good eye-hand coordination, a high-speed connection, the same Operating System you have, the same browser you have, etc. Particularly remember to use flexible font sizes, color contrast, colorblind checks (see Resources), alt tags on images that describe the image for the blind, don’t use flashing objects, and be careful of scrolling text to minimize movement. Also consider accessibility for your staff and volunteers to update the site; a content management system could be used for easy updating, but could be used only on certain sections of the site if the software might affect other types of accessibility. If you have special pages such as a newsletter that may need printing, use both web pages that can be seen in a typical browser without a plugin (e.g. html, php) for online reading and PDF, but avoid using other file types. See “Resources” for more information.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION

Without this, the only way people can get to your site is by typing in the domain name or clicking an email link. Certainly, do remember to include your web site address on everything (stationary, newsletters, phone book, signs), but also get your link in search engines, directories, and other sites.

  • See CONTENT suggestions & think in terms of keywords – belief words & locations not included in your address that people in your area might use to find your congregation and programs who never heard of Unitarians before; suggestions: liberal religion, fellowship, society, congregation, church (even if yours is not called a “church”, searchers using that keyword might be interested), sunday school, religion, spirituality – use as synonyms instead of repeating a similar word. The more content, the more keywords that will make your site able to be found by searchers who could become visitors.
  • MAKE SURE ALL PAGES HAVE GOOD TITLES (up to 60 characters) – not just in the content, but in the html header – that title appears in searches as the link & it appears when someone bookmarks a page – see it at the top of your browser
  • SUBMIT YOUR LINKS TO DIRECTORY SITES: OPEN DIRECTORY (dmoz.org – Regional:State-Town) & make sure it’s on the UUA’s site (uua.org/CONG); swap links with local churches &/or related organizations; look for local & state directories (for those that charge, you can ask if it’s free for non-profits)
  • LINKS FROM OTHER SITES – Get links to special pages, such as if you have a Coffee House, create a separate page for it and list it on sites that list coffee houses in your state. Do the same for other programs (theatre, women’s, pagan groups, social action programs, concerts, etc.) and consider including pages for your ongoing renters and getting links to them. Search with Google and/or other major search engines for sites that list local churches and try to get your site listed there, too – email the web site manager or if it’s a directory site, look for a “submit URL” or “add your web site” form. You can also use online calendars to submit events.
  • USE PERTINENT NAMES INSTEAD OF NUMBERS IN PAGE NAMES & IMAGES – The home page is usually “index” by default (and ends in “.htm”, “.html”, “.asp” or “.php” depending on the program you use). For other pages, you can name them whatever you want, but choose one that is pertinent, preferably one that is in the title. For instance, if you have a page that lists sermons, you could call it “sermons”. If a sermon title is long, you won’t be able to use all the words, but you can use important ones and separate the words with dashes, such as “A Look at the Present and Future”, you can use “present-future” rather than the date. Use pertinent names for images, such as “minister.jpg” for a photo of the minister. The alt tags for images, see “Accessibility” above, should have something pertinent to the information you’re trying to convey that could be useful to a searcher, too.
  • CREATE A CUSTOMIZED 404 ERROR PAGE – Check your error message by typing in something that is not a page on your site (e.g. www.yourchurch.org/e). If your server supports it, you can use a .htaccess page that is a plain text document with this in the body "ErrorDocument 404 /404form.html" (no quotes) and then create a page named “404form.html” using your template with your special error message. See www.dmuuc.org/e for an example.
  • ADD DESCRIPTION META TAGS - in the html header (maximum of 250 characters), but don’t need to bother with keywords as major search engines no longer use them. The description does show up in some search engine results.
  • TEST YOUR SITE ON GOOGLE which is currently the #1 search engine. Use “uu” or “unitarian” and “site:” with your domain name next to it with no spaces and without quotes. As an example, you’d put this in the search form: uu site:uua.org Since “uu” is in most domain names, you should see most or all of your pages listed. This is how many searchers will see your pages first. Also test with town names and other terms that searchers might use, without using “site:”, such as “your town church”.


RESOURCES

  • UU Wiki and click on the link for “Websters” for an encyclopedia

of resources for UU web folks