Creating an assembly website - How?
Andrew Millar, Kennoway, Fife, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In the previous article we considered the reasons why you may want to create a website. If this has inspired you to create one, this article delves further into the steps you will need to follow in order to create your own site. Whilst it is impossible to cover everything in the space of one article, the following will apply, regardless of whether you decide to go it alone, and build a site yourself, or get someone with more experience to do it.
Types of Site
Firstly, you need to consider the type of site that you want to deliver. Whilst the choice you make here will impact on later decisions, it in no way means that you are tied into one path. Many find that their site starts off on one track and gradually migrates to another as its popularity increases, users’ give feedback, and you get a feel for the help that you can get from other people.
This type of site is similar to that of any type of printed brochure that you might pick up. Its main purpose is simply to provide an overview to the user, but not provide anything of any great depth. The content will remain more or less the same and not change with any great frequency. These types of site are by far the easiest to maintain, as they can be built and left alone for long periods of time. However, they will generate very few return visitors and have minimal impact.
This type of site will have a variety of static content, as in the brochure site, but also content that changes frequently. In order to decide which kind of site you want to deliver, try writing down a list of all the different things that you want to display on the site. It is wise to spend a while thinking about the type of content that you can deliver, because it will be the content that keeps people coming back to your site. Some of the most common things to include are:
Information about who you are and what you believe.
Details of meetings and services that are planned.
Audio and video recordings of meetings that have been held.
Some assemblies put up articles about the Bible, how to be saved, living as a Christian, etc..
These can include anything from a simple address, to directions, and maps.
As you write down each item, take time to think about how often that bit of content will need to change. As you start to log all these different components, you’ll start to build up a picture of the kind of commitment you’ll need in order to fulfil the burden. Be realistic when considering the time implications. The trap of good intentions is a common one, into which many fall. Whilst getting ideas together during the planning phase will come relatively easily, the practical implications of delivering can prove to be problematic. Therefore, it is sometimes wise to start off small and build up as and when time and resources permit you to do so. If you do find that you are designing a site that requires large amounts of time then you need to do one of two things:
- Find more people who are willing to be involved and divide up the work.
- Go back and review what you have done and remove or simplify in order to reduce the burden.
Preparing your Content
Never underestimate the importance of high quality content, and the impact that it can have. Preparing your content ready for public consumption should take as long, if not longer, than the actual process of putting it up on the internet. Treat the preparation of your content in a similar way in which you would study scripture: in an organized and methodical fashion, taking great care to ensure that you have all your facts and references correct. Remember, the potential impact your website can have is immense. It can encourage a person who has never visited before to come in, but, equally, it can push them away. The subject of writing for the web is a topic in and of itself, but there are some easy rules to follow to get you on the way to producing great content. English novelist and journalist George Orwell, in one of his best known essays, ’Politics and the English language’, provides six rules. Here are four that fit writing for the web perfectly:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word, if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
The fourth rule is particularly important. In an age where the vast majority of people have no knowledge of spiritual matters, much of the terminology that those of us that have been in assembly fellowship for many years use will be completely foreign. It is better to assume no knowledge and get your point across, than to assume knowledge and completely miss the target.
Designing Your Site
Whilst great content will encourage people to come back, a good design is what will set your site apart from the rest. It is important to remember that the secret of a good design is not how good it looks, but how easily it lets readers get at the content. There are some truly beautiful sites out there that stun and impress when they first burst onto your screen. However, spend five minutes navigating round the site and you can get quickly lost. That’s not to say that a well-designed site will look garish, but by making your site easy to navigate it will almost automatically look good.
Google can be taken as an ideal example. In the early days of the search giant it was very risky to have such a sparse layout, and yet it is a feature that has contributed to its huge success. When we preach, we should never let the method by which we preach detract from the message. Likewise, the design on your site must never detract from the content, but instead gently steer the users and help them navigate to their destination.
Likewise, the use of colour can make or break a site. With the vast array of colours that are available it is often tempting to try and use as many bright colours as possible. Unfortunately, this can often become overpowering and distract the reader. It is best to stick to two or three main colours to avoid confusion.
The final area you will need to consider when designing your site is how it will look on another person’s screen. Whilst it may look acceptable on your own screen, your content could be accessed not only from a desktop or laptop computer, but via a mobile, or tablet device. It’s easy to get yourself tied in knots over trying to make it work on every device. However, this is where simple design wins out over a complex one.
Creating Your Site
It is impossible within the space of one article to go into any great depth on how to create pages. However, whether you are going it alone, or getting someone to design your site, there are four things you need in order to get your first page on the web.
In other words, the address people will type into their address bar to go to your website, e.g., www.example.com. Deciding on the type of domain you want will determine the cost. Prices can vary wildly, depending on who you use to buy it, but you should expect to pay between £2 and £30. For the popular ‘.org.uk’ that most assemblies will use, expect to pay no more than £10.
Registering a domain is nothing without somewhere to point it to; this is where hosting comes in. All it means is somewhere for you to store your files where they can be seen by a browser. Again, prices will vary wildly and it all depends on how much content you want to store. The larger the content, the higher the price point will be.
HTML, the language that powers the web, is very easy to learn and use to create web pages. All you need to create these files is some kind of web editor. Many have found the likes of ‘Dreamweaver’ a very popular one, but, in reality, you can get by just using a simple text editor like ‘Notepad’. You can also download a wide range of free tools from the web that can also help you.
Alternatively, you may wish to consider using some kind of content management system. These are usually web-based programmes that allow you to update content in a word processor type interface without ever having to touch HTML. Whilst the learning curve of using these can be high, they can be invaluable, especially if you want to devolve management to others.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is the means by which you transfer your web pages from your computer, to the hosting account you set up. Sometimes, the editor you use can come with this already built in. If not, there are many free alternatives that can be downloaded from the web and that can accomplish the same result.
Creating a website is much like DIY. Once you know the concepts and understand the basics, just about anyone can jump in and start work. However, never underestimate the benefits of getting professionals in to help you with the most difficult bits. Whilst the initial outlay may be higher, the return on investment can be higher in the long run, through increased local visibility and local interactions and, the ultimate aim, to lead individuals to Christ.