Montrose Baptist Church Rockville Maryland

Montrose Baptist Church is going through a rather rough time. As reported in the Washington Post, in September of last year, their pastor resigned after “senior staff members rais[ed] concerns about his involvement in the[ir] recruiting organization.” Read the article if you’re into gory details. Recycling old trash is not my objective here. Instead, my purpose is to discuss the problems facing church and charity web sites during periods of radical transition.

Case in point, their ‘new’ frontpage which I suspect (hope) will change in a day or three; so I captured a screen shot just in case:
Click here to see the 'placeholder' page as it appeared on 25-Aug-2003

If you’re confused, don’t panic, so is most anyone else visiting the site at this time. It would appear that the folks at MBC have transferred/moved the site to a new web host and as a result, what appears is the default placeholder offered by their host provider. The question is, how does one handle this particular situation?

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the ubiquitous “Under Construction Page.” As Gordon Kindlmann so vividly demonstrates, such imagery usually says less flattering things about the webmaster and the organization, than it does about the site representing him/her/it. In part because it has been my experience that such pages tend to remain that way for quite some time. In equal portion because it says you don’t care enough to at least provide an explanation of what’s going on. As a result, visitors tend not to come back.

What I might suggest is creating some very simple content with the name of the organization, the essential contact information, driving directions and a schedule of any regular events. Then I think I would offer a site map or an outline of features and pages to come along with some form of a reasonable timeline of when this miracle is going to happen. This shows the user that your organization is serious about serving their informational needs, and has a realistic plan in the works to do so.

One way of doing this is to take advantage of any content management, weblog or web page generation tools provided to you by your web host. For those of you on Unix/Apache platforms, it is not uncommon to have “addon scripts” available as part of a control panel that comes as part of the monthly price. Such tools allow you to easily and automatically install content generating programs such as PHPWebSite, b2 and or pMachine.

By sticking to the default installs, templates and configurations, you can at offer a smattering of compelling content in under an hour — and look like a pro doing it. Better yet, by using such tools, it allows you to concentrate on what you want to say and how you want to organize it. In other words, it allows you to insert reusable content in a database that you can port or paste to whatever mechanism becomes your final site solution.

During this process you might also want to consider preventing search engines from viewing or attempting to view old links, links-to-be and/or expose half-baked documents that are otherwise not ready for prime time. This can be done by placing the following meta tag on your “pardon our dust” page.

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow”>

Remember, first impressions are important. If at all possible, don’t show the user content until it’s complete.