Does Your Church Website Need a Search Box?

Posted at June 22, 2011

Things we hear almost on a daily basis from our new clients here at SiteOrganic:

  • “Our old site is too cluttered, we want to streamline it.”
  • “People tell us how hard it is to find stuff on our old site.”
  • “Since our last site was built 4 years ago, our church has totally exploded and our Website is a muddled patchwork of disorganized information.”
  • “Our sermon page lists messages by date, but it’s not very helpful unless you know the approximate date of the sermon you’re looking for.”
  • “We want our new design to be clean.”

It seems that there is nothing new under the sun! Churches universally want to present lots of great information, in a streamlined fashion, without clutter, easily navigated, and without compromise.

A well-crafted navigation plan, with careful taxonomy, can help.  But did you know that as many as 30% of Web users will completely ignore your beautiful navigation buttons?  They will gloss over your logo, your menu, and the large stunning graphic in your home page carousel.  They won’t even watch your welcome video.  Instead, they will make a bee-line for the upper right corner of the home page, in search of….

Search.

In his manifesto (of sorts) 113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability, usability expert Jakob Neilsen devotes items 47-52 to search.

Want to frustrate users? Omit the search box.

Want to make your users think (seldom a good idea)? Put the search box somewhere other than the upper right corner.

Want to lose people on the first page? Violate the tried-and-true standards for search box design.  Just like all cars have the brakes on the left and the gas on the right, there are some things in Web design that just are. Anyone who has fumbled through a site with funky scrollbars knows what I’m talking about here.

Make it Bigger

Search boxes are hot! Trust us on this. In fact some marketers use the sheer image of a search box as a call to action, since it evokes an immediate subconscious response. One could argue that the mere presence of a search box invites the visitor to stay and explore your Website further.

There are some very creative and fresh approaches to the venerable search box. Just remember that the search box is a tool, and serves a very important function. It should fit with your design, but doesn’t need to be a work of art. This is definitely a case of function-before-form.

How to Add Search to Your Site

Any modern content management platform will provide built-in search features. Some even offer advanced capabilities like keyword tuning, full-text search, and relevance matching.  If you have this type of tool at your disposal, use it!  Be sure that all of your content contributors are actively adding keywords to articles, media, events, and blog posts so that they are optimized for search. (At SiteOrganic, we even have a feature that we can turn on for you–it doesn’t let anyone save a page unless they have added keywords!)

Another alternative would be to use a third-party tool to power your in-site search; the most prevalent is Google’s Site Search product. On the plus side, this approach is free, has no ads (unless you want to make some extra money on the side), and is fairly easy to install.  It can even be skinned to “mostly” match the look of your Website.  The downside of using a Google-type search product is that it can only see the stuff that is visible on your site.  If your web content lives in a database, and/or if you have meta-keywords for your articles and postings, Google can’t see those.  This often means that using a third-party search tool doesn’t produce the same richness of results you would get from something more native to your site.

Was this article what you were searching for? Any other thoughts or alternate opinions on this? We’d love to hear your passionate opinions about search boxes… really!

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