Wednesday Website Weview: Christian Web Trends

Christian Web TrendsI’ve got a confession to make.

For the last 3 weeks I’ve posted Wednesday Website Weviews.  Each one has been a comprehensive website review providing background on the site and going into detail with opinions and suggestions concerning

  • appearance & layout
  • navigation & usability
  • purpose & goals
  • content
  • search engine presence
  • interactivity & social media integration

Additionally, this week OurChurch.Com kicked off Website Design Month and so many of the posts here on Christian Web Trends will be about design issues.

I’ve got to confess that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite posting about web design issues and reviewing sites here, because I think the design of this blog… well… I think it…

…could be a lot better.

Just like any other site, it would benefit from a review and from your feedback.  So, today’s Wednesday Website Weview is going to be of this blog.

Background

I’m hoping a review will help us to make the site more readable, develop a bigger and better connected community of ministry/tech people, and result in it becoming overall a better resource.

A little more about the site:

  • Created using WordPress and hacking up the Atahualpa theme.
  • Target audience: Christian web admins, ministry/tech folks, rogue platypuses
  • Budget: We print our own money & can use our staff as slave labor
  • Goals: As explained on the About page, the purpose of this blog is “to help Christian individuals and organizations make better use of communications technology in their churches, schools, ministries, businesses, and personal lives.” Plus we want publishers to give us more free books.

Appearance & Layout

I think the site looks busy and cluttered.  The ads are part of the issue.  A lot of blogs have ads on them, but the placement, spacing, size, and animation of the ads on this site contribute to its busyness.

Adding some space to the header and reducing the number of items in the top navigation menu would help reduce clutter as well.

In the left column, the ads, menu, and recommended sites all have different widths and formats.  Some consistency would help it look less cluttered.

In the right column, dark gray links on a light gray background make them a bit difficult to read and the site look somewhat dull.

When viewing individual blog articles, the titles are a different size and color compared with the main page.  I would also suggest removing the links to the next and previous posts or perhaps moving them below the post.  And the horizontal dashed line above the title could be removed as well.

Navigation & Usability

Because the blog is done with WordPress all the navigation within the blog is automatically generated and fairly intuitive.

I question whether so many links are needed in the horizontal navigation menu below the header and whether the “OurChurch.Com Community” menu in the left sidebar is necessary at all.

Purpose & Goals

I think the purpose and goals are well stated on the About page, and that is easy enough to find.  If desired, they could be emphasized more by putting the mission statement in a sidebar with a link to read more in the About page.

Content

The content itself is consistent with the purpose and goals of the site.

The format of the content seems pretty good.  The text is consistent in face, size, and color.  There’s at least one image in every post.  Text is broken up using headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs.  The Intense Debate plugin with its threaded comments, makes the comment section of each post easier to read.

Finding the Website

According to Blog Grader, Christian Web Trends has 724 pages indexed in Google and 5,985 inbound links.  Pretty good.  Search rankings seem all over the place though.   There are some good keywords this site could rank for it with some intentional optimization.

Interactivity & Social Media

Well, it’s a blog and commenting is on every page, so there’s a good amount of interactivity built into the site.  Social media is integrated into the site in many ways including the TweetMeme retweet button on every post, the links to Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds at the top of the left sidebar, and the Twitter module in the right sidebar.

The ShareThis plugin at the bottom of each post on the homepage, but it should be added to the bottom of each individual post.

Summary

Overall, I think the Christian Web Trends blog is functionally good but lacking aesthetically.

My top suggestions are:

  1. Design a new template.  Create a more compelling and less cluttered header.  Add a border/background to the site.  Eliminate or move the ads.  Pretty up the gray on gray right sidebar.
  2. Reduce the number of items in the horizontal navigation menu and eliminate the left navigation menu.
  3. On the individual posts, remove (or move) the links to the next and previous posts and eliminate the dashed horizontal line.
  4. It needs more cowbell.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  :)

What do you think of this site?

Are there any other changes you would suggest?  Any functionality (WordPress plugins) you would recommend?  Post your impressions and suggestions in the comments.

If you’d like a free, professional review of your website, just click.  Next week we’ll be selecting our Extreme Makeover OCC Edition winner, where we’ll not only review the site but actually implement all the changes we recommend.

Remember to be eligible to have your site reviewed next week, you must comment on one of this week’s blog posts.

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.