Synagogue Sites Are Catching Up

Our summer project at Talance was imagining the perfect congregational website. We brainstormed, talked to clergy, examined traffic patterns and spoke to administration staff to uncover the most useful features and most necessary tools for growing community. And, it was vitally important to take these features and put them together into an affordable package that can keep growing.

The result was Synagogue Sites 1-2-3.

Our efforts were written up recently in The Jewish Week in their article Finally, Shul Web Sites Coming Of Age.

“Synagogue Web sites are — after an agonizingly slow start — coming of age. Rabbis are blogging and posting sermons on YouTube. Members are signing up and paying for classes online. And several synagogues have launched virtual yahrtzeit boards — complete with e-mail reminders.”

Read the whole article.

Incredibly Useful Advice for Better Websites – from a Writing Pro

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[Photo credit: On writing well, by picassina, on Flickr]

My digital life has caused me to reevaluate my bookshelves, groaning with books I hardly look at. When my local library posted signs asking for donations, I decided to purge. As I was filling boxes, I found one little gem I haven’t seen in years: William Zinsser’s classic book On Writing Well.

Journalism students know this as required reading in an attempt to learn the principles of cleaning up prose for newsprint. In my years as a journalist, I found it inspiring and refreshing to dip into now and again for advice on how to de-clutter my writing and simplify my words.

As I was thumbing through my copy the other day, I realized that if I replaced “writing” with “creating websites” – especially in the first few chapters – Zinsser’s book is chock full of fantastic advice for anyone looking to plan or maintain their website, whether it be creating design elements, planning pages or writing copy.

The best sites are those that don’t make you think. They’ve been refined so much that you find just what the website owner wants you to find, and you never have to hunt. Few sites suffer from being too simple. That’s exactly what Zinsser preaches in his book.

I recommend you check out a copy of On Writing Well to learn how to write better (useful advice anyway for business documents, blog entries, e-mails and the like), but I’ve taken a few golden nuggets from Zinsser’s book and tweaked them slightly for web building. Follow this advice, and your website will serve you – and your visitors – better.

  • The secret of a good website is to strip it to its cleanest components. Remove every element that serves no function … these are the adulterants that weaken the strength of a website.
  • If the web visitor is lost, it’s usually because the web builder hasn’t been careful enough. Perhaps a website is so excessively cluttered that the visitor doesn’t know what it means.
  • Constantly ask yourself: What is my website trying to say? Surprisingly, often people don’t know. Then look at what you have done and ask: Have I said it? Is it clear to someone encountering the site for the first time? If it’s not, some fuzz has worked its way into the machinery.
  • Web building is hard work. An easy-to-use website is no accident. Remember this in moments of despair.
  • Look for the clutter in your website and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful?
  • Simplify, simplify.
  • 5 Useful and Free Web-Based Tools

    Free Web stuff has never been more available nor more overwhelming. It’s easy for a budget-conscious non-profit or other small organization to glom on to any of the thousands of freebie apps out there and out of eventual frustration, opt for a paid service.

    On the flip side, it’s easy to be deluded into thinking free services can do anything a paid service can do. That’s one mistake that can get expensive. It’s important to pull out the cash when it’s worth it. Even if you save a bit, it helps.

    I’m always scouting around for free services and use a litany every day. I can’t name them all here, but here are five of my faves that I turn to regularly.

    Free Apps

    1. Netvibes is a personal Web browser start page that corrals RSS feeds, news updates, to-do lists and more.

    2. Clicky is streamlined and easy-to-use Web analytics software.

    3. Remember the Milk is a cute, simple and effective way of managing tasks. Nice for keeping track of web projects.

    4. “Google Notebook helps you collect notes and information from the web for anything you might be doing—researching a trip, planning a purchase, or putting together a dinner party.” Useful when bookmarking won’t do.

    5. Fax Zero lets you upload and send faxes for free.

    Want more?

    Monique Cuvelier will be sitting on a panel about free and cheap online tools at the eBiz Symposium in Arlington, MA, on Friday, Oct., 23, 8:00am – 4:30pm. Hope to see you there!

    eBiz Symposium

    Reader Question: What’s the Difference Between Drupal and WordPress?

    [Have a question you’d like answered? Use the comments form at the bottom of this page to submit it. We’ll review your question before posting (don’t be shy about asking!) and get back to you with a response.]

    Last week, I mentioned one of the most frequently asked questions we receive is: “What is Drupal?” A close second is: “What’s the difference between Drupal and WordPress?” This is closely related to the frequently asked, “Which is better: Drupal or WordPress?”

    Drupal, which you learned last week, is a content management system (CMS) that you can use as your website. It’s also great at handling big gobs of information, like contact databases, or handling things like online shopping. It can also have a blog in it.

    WordPress, on the other hand, is a CMS that’s purpose-built for blogging. There are some pretty sophisticated WordPress sites that can do a lot, but it really excels at blogs. It handles new posts (like the one you’re reading right now) and comments excellent. It also has really great SEO.

    In summary, Drupal is great if you want a scalable, easy-to-use, super-powerful website. WordPress is nice if your primary goal is to publish blog articles and develop some conversation around those.

    October Talance Newsletter: Website Relief Package

    [This little gem is the text of issue our e-mail newsletter subscribers just received. Want a slice of this for yourself? Sign up now.]

    Hi, Friends.

    Synagogues, congregations and tiny organizations, hold on to your socks. Big news here at Talance. We’ve just launched a super-sweet deal for you. In addition to our excellent custom websites, for only $1999, you can have a fabulous Drupal website that can grow and evolve with you.

    »Click here to get started!

    Here’s how it works:

    1.Pick your favorite design

    Get started with a clean, super-powered website hosted on the Drupal content management system (CMS). It includes tools for improving search engine optimization, a Microsoft Word-like text editor and six months free Web hosting. Yep, free.


    Send us your logo (if you have one – we can help if you don’t), your two favorite colors and a couple pictures to include on the homepage. You can also pick from any of these Web tools for free:

    Interactive Calendar
    Advanced site search
    File storage
    Membership forms
    Members-only section
    Photo album
    Registration form
    Shabbat times calendar
    Weekly Torah Portion (from MyJewishLearning)

    You can keep updating from an extensive list of advanced Web tools.

    3. Relax

    We do all the set-up and configuration to get you up online fast – in just five working days. You read that right. Five.

    » Get started right now!

    And make sure to tell your friends about this stellar offer! We’re at (888) 810-9109 or use this form.

    Your Internet pal,


    Spotlight on Mass Mentoring Partnership

    We’re really glad to have worked with this stellar organization on a few projects, the most recent being a redesigned website. Check out the new and improved Mass Mentors, including it’s snappy new slideshow, colors and upgraded design.

    »See it

    Two Learning Opps for Organizations

    Please join Talance for two special in-person appearances in Massachusetts:

    Online Tools – How Can They Help Your Business Grow
    eBiz 2009, sponsored by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce
    Oct. 23, 2009
    8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

    It’s your chance to pick up advice and tips on free and nearly-free online tools from Talance’s CEO Monique Cuvelier at this panel discussion hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Sign up for a full day of e-business tips.

    »Sign up for eBiz 2009!

    Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and More: Creating Relationships with Volunteers and the Public through Social Media, sponsored by the Massachusetts Service Alliance
    Nov. 10, 2009
    8:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon.

    During this 3-hour in-person workshop, Monique Cuvelier will cover 1) How to maximize your reach to existing and potential volunteers; 2) Strategies for putting together a social media plan; and 3) The essential tools and services, including tips on streamlining your social media practice.

    »Sign up for Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and More!

    Blog Favorites

    In honor of our new offering for congregations, here are some highlights from the Talance Friendly Web Tools Blog. Make sure you’re reading and get automatic updates of new articles.

    10 Things To Include on Your Synagogue Site – Now!

    30 Ideas on How Congregations Can Use Twitter

    Five Great Takeaways from Church Websites

    Killer Church Websites

    Nonprofit Tech Tips from a Wired Rabbi

    Need Some Help?

    Talance has helped clients launch scores of projects, ranging from websites to online newsletters to CRM projects. Please click here to schedule a time to talk about your next project or to request a proposal.

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