Designing Your Congregation's Website
Making an effective website is easier than ever. Tools like WordPress let you take advantage of other people's expertise in code, design, and accessibility. Little technical knowledge is required to customize the site to your preferences, and practically anyone can help edit your pages.
Updating Your Web Presence offers an introduction to the best practices that will help your site succeed.
A Content Management System (CMS) separates design and technical work from content writing, making it easy for non-technical people to update pages, and a smart choice for congregations. Popular and open-source CMSs like WordPress or Drupal offer well-supported themes and features which make it relatively easy to adjust the look and function of your site, and to share or pass along responsibility for the more technical aspects of site maintenance.
WordPress is an excellent CMS for congregations. It's come a long way from its beginnings as a blog platform, and offers many customizations (plugins) which allow for expanded functionality. Many web hosting companies provide WordPress as part of their hosting package.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is currently (June 2015) developing an accessible, responsive WordPress template for UU congregations which will include suggestions for menu structure and content based upon our research, testing, and feedback. We expect this template to be available this year.
UU2014 is an accessible, responsive WordPress theme designed for UU congregations, and the theme's website has information on complementary plugins. You can filter WordPress themes to find others that feature both "accessibility-ready" and "responsive-layout."
WordPress is incredibly popular, so themes, plugins, and online support are easy to come by. Lots of congregations use WordPress, so UU-specific help is also strong. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) uses WordPress for blogs.
Migrating to WordPress from a hand-coded site might involve a lot of cutting and pasting, but the rewards to the congregation in ongoing flexibility and ease-of-maintenance are worth considering.
Other Open Source CMSs
The UUA uses Drupal, which is a more complex system (it's been called a CMS-builder rather than a CMS in its own right). In exchange for the complexity, Drupal offers virtually unlimited functionality. Most congregations probably don't need that extra power, and will be happy with the still-powerful but easier-to-use WordPress.
Joomla lies between Drupal and WordPress in terms of power and complexity. UU Joomla is a Google group for UU congregations using Joomla, to discuss add-ons, templates, etc.
Though hand-coding used to be the only (and then for a long time, the best) way to make a website, advancements in free CMSs like WordPress have made hand-coding an entire site much less practical. Still, knowledge of the code that makes it all work is very helpful as you customize your site's style and features.
- The Web Style Guide explains established design principles and covers all aspects of web design—from planning to production to maintenance.
- W3Schools offers free tutorials in all web development technologies.
- CSS-Tricks is full of tips, snippets, and how-to articles.
- A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.
Subscribe to the Websters Email List, An email list for UU web editors—newbies and old masters are all welcome.
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