Aside from what should be on the home page, few things are harder than determining what the navigation structure should be on your church website. It is not only a technical decision, but a business decisions, and in some cases a political decision. Your primary navigation shapes how people use your site and ultimately how easily they can find information on it. By applying some basic information architecture principles you can come up with a structure that fits your individual church and utilizes common practices on the web.
So what drives your navigation structure? Tasks! Consider what people want to know about your church, then develop content to answer those questions. Some content that is fairly universal among churches are:
People want to know what you believe in. Whether this is a copy and paste from your denomination’s primary site, or a list generated by your church elders, you need to post it. Also, provide this information in multiple formats, from a streaming video of the pastor, a bulleted list on a web page, or a downloadable PDF.
Besides corporate worship, what does your church do? What outreach programs are there? Do you have youth and/or adult ministries? Bottom line you need to tell people what is available to them.
Several methods for people to contact you need to be available, and at least one needs to be on every page. These contacts may be a prospective member, someone wanting to get married, or a group like Girl Scouts wanting to use a room once a week. Regardless, provide addresses, phone number, E-mail address, and online forms for them to use.
This is mostly applicable for multi-site churches, but I wanted to address it now. One of your groupings should be a listing of your locations, highlighting what each offers. However, do not create your entire site structure around your locations! Show all you have to offer along with their respective points of contact. That way you can discuss standing up that service at a location closer to them.
The above listing is not a one-size-fits-all outline of navigation. I am just trying to help fledgling churches get something together quickly and easily. But do keep in mind that your navigation must answer your users questions or they will become frustrated and leave.
To further eliminate frustration, the labels on your navigation must be related to the tasks they wish to complete, and use clear, concise, common language. This is not the time to get fancy or prove how smart you are. Use words that get the point across quickly and do not have alternate meanings. Also, consider how they sound in case you have any vision impaired users using a screen reader.
Examine your existing site’s structure. Does it follow these guidelines, and can you accomplish the common tasks people in your target market need to do? If you do not have a site, consider those common questions new members have (hint: ask your pastor or their secretary), and develop a structure that answers those points easily.
Photo courtesy of Ziga