Home Sweet Homepage: OU Debuts New OU.ORG Design

28 Dec 2010

By Batya Graber

There’s a new home for the Orthodox Union Family – a new Homepage to be exact. Monday, December 20 was the Phase II debut of www.ou.org, which underwent a complete overhaul from a previous design that had been in existence for three years – a lifetime as the Internet goes. Phase II is a refinement of the new look introduced in July, with deeper focus on content highlighting the work of each department.

According to David Frankel, Chief Operating Officer of the OU, “The new OU website is a visually appealing and textually compelling tableau for the promotion and reinforcement of the OU as ‘The World’s Largest Jewish Resource.’”

“At its essence,” stated Mr. Frankel, “the goals of the new OU website have been to tell the story of the OU by promoting the extraordinary work of the OU’s departments, and the countless ways they enrich Jewish life; to play a supportive role in the promotion of OU Kosher as the global leader in Kosher supervision; to distribute the highest quality Torah content (articles, audio and video shiurim); and to provide information to our constituents about OU member synagogues and the full range of resources available to them from the OU and within the greater community.”

The new design includes the official blog of OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil. Each Thursday, the leader of the “World’s Largest Jewish Resource” will share his thoughts, videos and special messages specifically about the goings-on in and around the OU. The blog can be read at http://www.ou.org/blogs/rabbi_steven_weil.

“This blog is an opportunity to reflect upon the remarkable programs, projects, and events that I encounter every day at the OU,” declared Rabbi Weil. “The OU has a staff that sees their roles not just as jobs, but as the service to the Jewish people that it really is. I see each and every employee put so much of themselves into their daily tasks that it is clearly a labor of love. The enthusiasm with which our Team OU members go about even the most routine duties transforms seemingly-mundane activities into tireless work for the Jewish people.”

The OU website receives an average of 500,000 page views a month, spiking at holiday times, when Jews from a wide variety of backgrounds flock to the site. During the rest of the year, with its opportunities for Torah learning; its links to the OU Job Board (which has been highly successful in finding work for the unemployed or the underemployed); and its wide variety of other features, ou.org provides opportunities for the Orthodox Union community in North America, Israel, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Latin America to intensify its Jewish experience.

Like automobiles, websites become obsolete very quickly, with the look of ou.org changing over the years, given advances in design and technology. With the OU creating new programs on an ongoing and daily basis, the new website has to provide access to far more material than earlier versions ever did. With the OU continually blazing new trails, OU Director of Internet Development Gary Magder and his staff of web developers and designers are continually upgrading and updating the product. “With websites, everything is a work in progress,” Magder says. “We have a roadmap which changes daily in terms of functionality, improved usability and better content placement.” The designers are assisted by use of “analytics,” statistics the web department collects on how people use the website.

In the monumental task of creating the new sites, Gary Magder worked with the team that produced the first new ou.org: graphic designers Miriam Weiland and Yoel Bender; and web developers Moshe Steinberg, Shelomo Dobkin, Avi Block and Aaron Grenadier. (Weiland and Steinberg are fulltime staff members, the others outside contractors.) The use of the outside contractors is a plus, Madger explains, as it brings a point of view from beyond the OU into determining how to get the organization’s message out to the world and what it should look like.

The new ou.org home page features an expanded “rotating top banner” of OU content that appear on the page, fade and is replaced by other content; by “sliders,” in which various OU programs and initiatives move across the page, with the opportunity to click on each; what Magder calls “tertiary information” including OU news items and videos; and a work of pure magic at the top and bottom of the page.

This wondrous feature is the listing at the top of zmanim, or times of sunrise, sunset and candle lighting for the locality where the visitor to ou.org lives (plus the Torah portion, Daf Yomi selection and other information), together with a listing of local synagogues and their location maps at the bottom of the page. These features come directly from the zmanim calendar developed by the OU website department several years ago to provide times of importance to observant Jews worldwide.

The website delivers this local information through what is called an “IP (internal protocol) address” which every computer transmits and which informs the website which locality’s information to send. Those who want data for other communities can easily access it as well.

“Since the OU activated its new home page back in July, there’s been an overwhelmingly positive reception,” declared Joyce Schur, a Chicago-based consultant who monitors, develops and edits content for the web page while working to increase the OU’s website ranking on search engines such as Google and Yahoo. “Until now, the top of the homepage was a ‘text-static’ banner containing a synopsis sentence with a basic description of each department. That large space will now be used in order to accommodate texts and links that will more specifically and effectively promote content, programs and events and engage our constituents.”

Over the years, the OU websites have multiplied beyond ou.org — now 18 of them, with each major department or program having its own. (They are all reachable from ou.org. from icons located on the top of the home page.) Now that the heavy lifting has been completed on ou.org, the web department has turned to the other sites, to bring their look and accessibility in line with the main website. “Our work is being done in phases because there is so much content on the Internet,” Magder says.

Magder and his crew have also devoted their attention to enhancing various other OU websites such as Synagogue Services | Congregation Support Network. With the implementation of its newest program WINGS (“We Inspire New Growth Synagogues”), the Synagogue Services website features access to multiple resources for issues vital for engaging in synagogue life –from marketing tools such as newsletters and promoting the shul to leadership development; best practices for youth directors to Israel advocacy; coordinating volunteer committees to growing membership; and rabbinic resources to financial planning.

According to Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Director of WINGS, “The ability to access a plethora of significant resources within Synagogue Life, and share these sources is the key to promoting our website on a whole new level.” The website also features the “Synagogue Blog” – Rabbi Einhorn’s forum to discuss exciting ideas for synagogue growth and development, which will be updated every two days.

Declared Rabbi Weil, “Each department at the OU works tirelessly to create and implement programs and initiatives that will benefit the Jewish people now and in the future. From kosher food certification to outreach, from community and synagogue service to inclusion, and from Torah education to political advocacy, every division makes a profound impact on Jewish life today and blazes a path for the next generation. It is our goal, with the new format of our website, to share as many of these amazing stories as possible with everyone at the OU and beyond.”

OU | World’s Largest Jewish Resource