Assessment Mile Marker
This issue is the last installment on the Web site assessment project with Hillcrest United Methodist Church [www.hillcrestumc.org]. Hillcrest has embraced the understanding that a successful and meaningful online ministry requires the same energies as any offline ministry, and they are moving to live into these implications. The Web site now comes under the auspices of a specific program and it has been granted its own small budget. They have decided to relaunch their site and have found an excellent source for design help (see Sep/Oct issue).
At The Gate
In the next few weeks, the Hillcrest eTeam will begin the nuts-and-bolts relaunch homework of addressing content and usability. So, what is “usability” and how does usability differ from functionality?
The best way to think about your Web site and its usability is to think about you and your car. When you think about how well your car runs, you are addressing its functionality. When you think about how well your car meets your family’s needs, you are addressing its usability. Usability is about understanding and meeting the needs of your market, and is no different for a Webmaster.
For a large site like Hillcrest’s, the first step toward addressing usability will be for their eTeam to gain some assistance from other church leaders. The eTeam needs a volunteer from each ministry area who is willing to become the content caretaker (“CC”) for their Web section. The job of the eTeam during the relaunch will be to rebuild a well developed page which each CC can easily carry forward. The eTeam will first identify which existing elements should migrate to the new design; second, bring the content current and relevant; then third, look at mentor sites for new ideas to incorporate. Their objective is to ensure that each section gets out of the gate at the relaunch with equal advantages.
Up The Back Stretch
Once basic usability is established, then some measurables can be applied to address user usability. User usability such a critical Web issue, it is the sole topic for internationally-reknown Web guru, Jakob Nielsen (www.useit.com). His work defines usability as being the sum of “five quality components:
Learnability: how easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
Satisfaction: how pleasant is it to use the design?”
As the Hillcrest eTeam tackles this exercise, they can build tips and guidelines to help each CC keep on track. When the eTeam turns over a redesigned section, they will work with the CC to help him/her understand how the section’s user experience is structured. This includes when to come back to the eTeam to request upgrades (such as identifying new features to add) and maintenance (such as changing links offered, deleting obsolete information and reordering the information hierarchy). The five questions above are a good development tool for the eTeam. Once the CC gets the finished page from the eTeam, it is their task to ensure the section’s continued usability and periodically revisiting these five questions will be a good exercise.
Up The Back Stretch
Once the eTeam has migrated a section, there is a final step to take before “going live” with the relaunch which the CC can perform. Two or three representative users should be asked to visit and use the area. The CC should work with each representative user separately, quietly observing while each tester goes through the section unaided. They should note where problems are encountered or expectations are not met and share these findings back with the eTeam for final section tweaking.
Down To The Wire
Hillcrest has chosen an E-Zekiel (www.e-zekiel.com) layout design which will help them make significant progress toward offering intuitive navigation and a visual theme to entice and guide users.
E-Zekiel will provide content management for Hillcrest by identifying information that is used more than once and adopt shortcuts that allow one-step updating. E-Zekiel will also help them take advantage of fresh pushed content offered by their denominational Web ministry. In spite of all the help from E-Zekiel, however, the Hillcrest eTeam will still need to drive major site decisions. Navigation can present the biggest challenges but, luckily, they can be the easiest things to fix. For example, it is common to find the worship page under a “Services” link. Visitors, however, will expect the “Services” link to take them to community outreach ministries. Inadvertently, this conflict is causing user frustration and the remedy is to simply relabel the button. Are your pages swamped with navigation bars left, right and bottom? Consider developing a drop-down site map (for major areas) to use on pages, and a customary site map to display the full depth of your site. Prioritizing navigation like this will allow each page to offer only those links relevant to its content and dedicate more space for content and message.
The eTeam will also propose new services, then develop each new service by stepping through the entire process from the visitor’s perspective. In the case of setting up email, remember to create an email response which is friendly, thanks the emailee for responding and offers a personal invitation to ministry services, offers a prayer partner they can contact or provides related links. Also, don’t forget to share and celebrate your relaunch progress. There is good news worth recognizing and excitement to share, so keep progress news about the relaunch posted on your existing site. All this effort by the Hillcrest eTeam will help their church build an exciting online ministry which can easily change and grow with their community – bravo!