I’ve been developing websites since they were text-only (1995), and I’ve done a few websites as a favor for Jewish institutions. I’m no graphics whiz, but I do have a sense of a layout that I think works for readers. So here’s my take on what should appear on a shul website:
In a nutshell:
• On the front page – Not too much, and it should not require scrolling.
• Beyond the front page – The community.
I have seen shul websites that try to cram the world on to their front page; the result is often intimidating, not to mention un-readable. Eruv information, real estate listings, pictures of the shul and of special events, news from Israel, flyers for upcoming events, contact information for the shul and the sisterhood and the men’s club and and and and and.
And then there are other sites that say almost nothing – location, if that, and the names of the leadership.
My personal favorites? The ones that don’t list the rabbi. Either someone in the lay leadership is afraid of the rabbi, or they just don’t expect him to stay that long…
I like to see a shul website that offers the following information on the front page:
• Name/Logo – which should not take up much of the page
• Photo - A picture of shul people engaged in a shul-related activity
• Address information for the shul
• Contact information for the rabbi, the president, the office manager and hospitality
• A flyer or two for big upcoming events
• And, of course, there should be links to the content within. The links should not be intrusive, but they should be obvious and easy to use (ie don’t cram the buttons too close together).
And content within:
• Directions to the shul, and to the shul cemetery if there is one
• Schedules of davening – which must be kept up to date
• Schedules of shiurim and events
• Photos of communal activities
• Bios of key shul figures, including rabbi and youth director
• Information on moving to the community
• Information for people within the community
• Links to community institutions (religious and social)
• Archives of flyers from past events
• Archives of audio from past shiurim, as well as articles
All of the above is more or less obvious, I should think. But there is one other piece I like to see, which I usually do not: Material which makes the website a real destination for people, just for the sake of that material itself.
We’re talking about items that stand out more than the standard transcribed speeches or audio shiurim. This must be something that will turn up on search engines, that will attract readers who have no interest in your shul. It should be a unique resource with real added value.
My first shul, Congregation Ohawe Sholam / Young Israel of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, had a few such areas on our site. It wasn’t a great site. In truth, from an aesthetic perspective, it was rather poor. But we had material that people came to see – a series of essays on Tanach, and, more than that, a Jewish Spirituality email list. Who else had such a list, and in a shul? People searching for “Jewish Spirituality” (and who isn’t?) came across our site, forwarded links, and so its name spread.
Unfortunately, the material on that site is now eight years old and will likely not show up on any search engines anymore, but shuls that keep their material up-to-date show they have something to offer, and to interest people in their community.