Ridge Point Community Church, Holland, MI

If all the church web sites were as well thought-out and designed as that of the Ridge Point Community Church, Holland, MI then there would be no need for HealYourChurchWebsite. It is one of a number of sites I would hold up as an example of the church online done right. A personal and heart-felt congratulations and kudos to Mike Boyink, the mastermind behind this good work in Christ!

I realize it sounds like I’m gushing a bit, but consider the many good attributes of web design built into the Ridge Point Community Church. A site built, by the way, using the pMachine blogging/publishing tool as a content management system. A site that scores well against any measure of usability heuristics:

  • Effectively communicates the website’s purpose … the site is well branded, with navigation who’s roadmap is well marked and easy to travel.
  • Effectively communicates the purpose and personality of the Ridge Point Community Church in both the essential information such as time, location, dates and places, but also provided me with enough about the warm faces and ministries they provide if I were to visit the church.
  • The content writing is effective, concise, devoid of circular logic and church-speak. Most importantly, it takes into consideration the fact that people scan webpages, as opposed to reading them.
  • The page reveals content through examples, for example, on the homepage you get six examples down the middle column that lead in into other ministries, events and elements defined and described by the website.
  • The ability to access past/archived content is possible through a variety of means, including an opt-in email alert for updates (an idea I’m going to steal), a forum, a search engine and archives links right on the homepage.
  • Links are look and feel like links. They are scannable. They are rendered using information-carrying words (instead of “click here”).
  • The Navigation works. The primary navigation area in a highly noticeable place, right below the nice pictorial banners. About my only real concern is moving the “contact us” information down to the main navigation bar as it tends to get lost due to “banner blindness.”

    That said, the site does an excellent job grouping items on the homepage by similarity. Check out the effective use of three columns on the home page. The right gives links to the essential information. The center offers you navigation by what is up and coming by ministry. The right column, by date.

    The header title of each sub-page matches the navigation and is encapsulated and emphasized between search-engine friendly <h3> tags.

    Generally, names for categories aren’t “made-up,” instead, easily recognized words and phrases are employed, though I might use “Sermons” instead of “Messages.” And not a single, kitchy icon used. Now if Mike would only deactivate links to the homepage the homepage itself, it would be perfect!

  • The search feature is easy to find and easy to use… though I’d use “search” instead of “find.”
  • Tools and task shortcuts to the most common and/or most sought after information are are provided on the home page, as I described 2 bullet points up in the effective use of 3 columns of compelling content on the homepage.
  • Images are used judiciously. Gratuitous animation is avoided. Warm, well-done images rotate for the banners, though I would consider strongly not re-rotating the image for any page visited by a user during a current session. At least not for the home page. This way, it doesn’t look like they’ve gone to a different page when they hit the back button. That said, the selection of images show real content, that is what is really going on at Ridge Point Community Church.
  • Graphic design elements, such as font-size, font colors and backgrounds are limited to less than six colors, are consistently used across the site and most of all, are driven by the content. That is, Mike does a great job in using various design elements as the last step in drawing attention to compelling content, as opposed to enslaving the content to various color and/or graphic novelties. Also, a nice use of liquid layout, even if it isn’t tableless (inside joke folks, just move along).
  • Widgets are uses sparingly, and only when compelled by the nature of the content. Again, I might use the word “Search” instead of “Find” next to the easy-to-use search box, but that’s a religious argument. I would leave less space between the search box and the “Find’ button so they’re almost touching, and thereby even more closely coupled.

    I do think a bit of instruction or “what is about to happen” information is required for your “log-in” and “register” widgets. As it stands now, I’m not clear why I would want to register. A good example of something that screams “what’s in it for me?” would be that email-update form I really like.

  • Window titles match the content. Heck, they match the breadcrumb navigation! I do think however I might change the delimiter in the <title tag> from “>” to “-” as some search engines might either toss data after a non-text item or think they’ve blown an HTML tag somewhere. I might also toy with the idea tweaking the title tag “Home > About Us > Our History” reads “Our History – Ridge Point Community Church.” But we’re really picking nits here.
  • URLs I have some problems with. I realize much of this is by virtue of using pMachine. Even then, it’s not because they are misspelled or broken, but that they’re ‘crufty‘ … that is they’re not as search-engine friendly as possible. Nor is “http://www.ridgepoint.org/ForKids/forkids.php?id=P36” as easy to remember as “http://www.ridgepoint.org/ForKids/.” Nor would I expect in the last example for the URL to throw me to the 2nd & 3rd Grade page by default. That said, rather than slug it out with the content manglement system, why not consider some mod_rewrite magic? Yeah, I know this is a tough one to fix and I would suspect it’s already a deferred item on Mike’ s to-do list because of it’s complexity.
  • News, new stuff, upcoming events … did I mention I like the email updates thingie? That along with effective use of the center column on the home page make it real easy for any visitor to see that this church isn’t as stagnant as most church websites I review. The site also offers an XML syndication link for those of us who surf with aggregators. Nice!
  • 1000 points for not subcumbing to the temptation to use splash pages. Not sure how I feel about the use pop-ups when I click on the events on the left-hand column of the home page. I realize this is a ‘borrowed feature’ of the nifty pMachine generated calendar, in which pop-ups do work for me. Perhaps this is an issue of copious comment debate?
  • 1000 more points for using your own host to avoid the casino ads pop-ups and banners I often see accompanying church websites I see on “free” webhosts.
  • While the home page does literally welcome the user, I think it fits into the three-column home page grouping, and makes a nice intro for the first column. On most pages I’d say lose the welcome. On RidgePoint.org, I say it works.
  • Error handling … hmmm … minus 1000 points for no 404 page. Nor is there there obvious a “who to complain and or report problems to” link. I might consider a drop-down menu widget on the contacts form for either subject headings, or points of contact. I use the latter on Redland. Also helps reduce spam.
  • 1000 points for resisting the temptation to display some of those meaningless “best of the web” awards. I mean if it’s not a 5 star review from C|Net or the Site of the Day from Yahoo, don’t bother. It’s clear Mike didn’t … good for you!
  • Page load and refresh problems are not an issue on this site. For an example of what I mean, visit the Drudge Report and wait 2 minutes … or worse, be 2 minutes into reading something and have it refresh on you … very irritating. 1000 points for avoiding them altogether!
  • 2000 more points for offering a privacy statement. This is mandatory as RidgePoint.org gathers user data for the forum registration and that spiffy email-updates features (did I mention I really like that feature?-).
  • Wow! Good use of forums that actually foster community and discipling, as opposed to being self congratulatory as I find on some other websites I review.
  • Dates and times are displayed for time-sensitive information. I see timestamps are avoided on pages where time isn’t an issue. I think that’s smart. I’m not so sure timezone information is essential, but I would avoid using ’03 in my dates as ’03 is also the number for a month.
  • Numbers, acronyms and other fun-stuff. I actually didn’t find any acronyms so I can’t comment on that, nor did I see any confusing numbers other than the aforementioned date thingie. Nor did I find any confusing stats, church-speak and stuff that require/lacknig support context. /li>

Yes, this review of Ridge Point Community Church, Holland, MI was a bit more thorough than others I’ve offered in the past. This is because the site is so much better than many others I’ve reviewed. Notice, in those few instances I offered a criticism, it’s generally falls-under the category of relatively advanced, personal tastes or nit-picking.

In other words if I had 2 hours to fix the site, I’d spend the first hour on error handling and form instruction issues. I’d spend the rest of the time on some mod_rewrite magic to help fix the crufty link issues.

If I had any time left over, I would see what PHP solution I could render to eliminate menu links to the page you’re currently viewing. I’d also see what I could do about not rotating banner pictures for a page you’ve visited during a current session. Mostly, I’d deal with some of the title issues because search engines are an essential key to church website getting people in the door.

Notice, this is all tinkering and tweaking. Notice I’m not saying you should make your site look like Ridge Point as much as I’m saying it should work like Ridge Point.

Everything else I’d leave alone as it would be a misguided attempt to fix something that isn’t broke … and anyone who’s worked on a classic car knows what I’m talking about.

Now go and do likewise.