The final polish on social service websites must not be forgotten in the rush to provide content. I have noticed over the last few years that this tends to happen to social service websites especially. Smaller social service agencies who maintain their own site without the assistance of an IT department are some of the worst offenders when it comes to obviously unfinished websites. Content is the critical element to any communication, but as mothers have been telling their children since time began, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”. Professionalism and polish are just as important as content when enticing visitors to your website to contact your agency further.
I am an individual who goes to an agencies website for information first before any other communication. Other people might go to a website to refresh their memory or for updated information. No matter the reason, people will easily be put off by what they see as incomplete or seemingly broken content. Even if that was not your intent, that is the presentation that many social service websites present. I have listed below some of the most common issues that lead to this perception.
• Broken / Missing Links
• Half-finished pages
• Empty “Events” calendars
• Mismatched design elements
• The dreaded “Under Construction”
These are some of the fundamental mistakes, which individuals in the helping professions tend to make when designing or maintaining a website. It is not necessary to have a perfect site, or to focus on form to the impairment of function. However, just as one would proof read and edit a print document to make the best presentation possible, the you should take same care with a website.
The reason that helping professionals in particular have a tendency to miss these issues is that we have become desensitized to projects in progress. There is nothing inherently wrong with that way of thinking. A website should continually in progress, regularly being updated. The issue is with the presentation of the website that is viewable to the public. The final version of the site that is available to the public should not be, and does not need to be, the same as the in progress version being worked on. This is where a good CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress (www.wordpress.org) comes in handy for managing drafts of posts and pages. Using drafts within your websites control panel properly will allow you to manage the final version of your site.
How do you make sure that your website is as polished as possible? It is actually a simple concept. Rather than writing out a list of every possible website editing issue that may come up, I will leave you with a way of thinking about your social service website that should serve you well in most situations. A draft is a draft, until it is no longer a draft. If a page, a post, an article, a link, has not yet been finalized, do not publish it to the live version of the website.
I have been guilty of this on myself. I have gotten a great idea for some piece of content and begun the process of posting it, only for it to sit unfinished for all to see for any number of reasons. One of the great advantages of the web is that content is not static. Content is dynamic. Unlike print or hard copy media like CDs, content on the web can be changed as situations change. However, that does not give license to leave a document incomplete. Simply put what it comes down to, if any content on a website is not complete, it should be removed. That link which goes to an Under Construction page, that menu item to a blank page, that half complete page, or that event page from last year, please remove them from your live website. That task alone will get you 90% of the way to a professional looking website, and visitors to your site will be much more likely to make a more meaningful contact with you.
I hope these thoughts will help you finish that final clean up on your social services website, and ultimately help you provide your information to more people. Remember, if you have any comments, questions, or feedback, please feel free to reply to this post or contact me.