Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines

It’s a toss-up between which two recent comments, that to me, reflect the reason why so many Christian web sites are so ineffective. One was by the owner of the site we reviewed yesterday in which he said “In my 1 1/2 years on, 1600 people on my mail list disagree with you.” Which was followed a bit later by an ‘enthusiastic’ fan of the former. She taunted me to review her site. When I said I would oblige, returned fire. “I don’t have time for your foolishness. Now I will get back to working on my site the way “I” want to do it!

What strikes me a bit odd here is that if I were a betting man, I would put large sums of money on that the owners of both sites are most likely conservative, possibly Pentecostal or Baptist, definitely law-abiding individuals … except for when it comes to the rules of the road that govern the Information Highway. Rules such as those espoused by World renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen, who just yesterday alerted us with the Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines.

Guidelines based not upon the random opinion of his neighbor’s aunt, but from hard-cold frequency stat based on the numerous homepage reviews performed by his company. And while these findings are biased towards big companies that can afford the hefty Nielsen Norman Group’s $10,000 fee, I think most of them are worth reviewing, memorizing and putting into practice.

That said, I’m going to paraphrase these guidelines in my own words, geared towards those of us who barely have $100 to get our entire web presence online … as always … feel free to comment afterwards:

  1. Emphasize what makes your church unique, and why people should visit it.
  2. Make sure your page layout is all things to all browsers, at least take into consideration that not everyone sees the world through an 800×600 eyeglass.
  3. Hyperlinks should look and act like hyperlinks. So quit fiddling around with them.
  4. Graphics should reflect reality. Don’t put a picture of a steeple on your site, if your church doesn’t have one. If you’re going to use stock photos, keep it to family and kids as they are more likely to attend your church than super models.
  5. Avoid church-speak in your tagline. Make sure it conveys your church’s personality and purpose.
  6. Take the pains to put a search engine on your site. Add a site map. Make sure your menus reflect your information hierarchy.
  7. Let the user know where they are, use sub titles at the top, center of your compelling content.
  8. No need to restate the obvious, like a “search this site” title over your search box … hmmm … better go fix that on the Redland Baptist Site …
  9. Stock quotes? Your church lists stock quotes? Okay, here’s what we take away from Dr. Nielsen’s point about stock quotes. Don’t assume people understand your numbers, acronymns and other internal-speak. So explain them, or lose them.
  10. Don’t include an active link for the page you’re on … sorta like that old joke in school, how do you keep a moron occupied, turn page over … the other side reads … okay, you know what I mean

Now go read the good Dr.’s findings so you can understand the context in which they are presented. And remember, we’re called not only to be hearers of the word … but doers … which to me, since I’m compelled to do everything I do and say for the glory of the Lord, reminds me to apply the following as I seek to take every thougth captive:

1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. …5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:1-2, 5-6


  1. Well good morning Dean. You are back at it again talking about us. I am a Methodist, not a Baptist. And yes, I do like new things and changes or I never would have bought a computer in the first place. I like learning new things and trying them and have nothing against it at all. And I am a friend of Kathy’s and John and not a fan. So now that is cleared up we can continue. I do not object to anyone suggesting that changes be made to anyone’s site but it would be nice to do it in a personal E-mail and not on a public bashing sheet. And the way you went around it was completely the wrong way. Kathy is off the computer for health reasons but anyone can get into her site so don’t know why that one person couldn’t. I believe in helping a friend out when they are being fired upon for no reason at all. I guess we could say the same thing, your sites are wrong because you don’t do them the way we do. So we could start putting your site down the way you were John’s last night. There are a lot of sites just like ours on the net and probably more than there are that are like yours. As there are all types of people that go to look at sites on the net. Some like our type and heaven forbid some like your type (and I am smiling still as you haven’t gotten the best of me). Wouldn’t it be a very boring world if everyone looked alike, thought alike, dressed alike, did things alike? Then there would be no need for your site as there would be no one left to pick on if we all conformed to your rules. Or maybe if you conformed to our rules (now I’m laughing)! Well I guess if you are calling us conservatives then you are one of these off the wall people that bounce all over the place. I know you like to pick on others as I seen a lot of that last night. And you have your “fans” that go right along with you and stick up for you. Well in our Christian group we call each other friends, not fans. Gosh, I’m glad you never seen the first site I made a few years ago as you would have REALLY pulled that one apart for sure. Well just had to give you a wake up call. And yes I am still sticking up for my friends, myself, and anyone else who does a site like we do. So have a great day and God bless.
    In God’s Love

  2. Very enteraining stuff there Judy … my personal favs are “public bashing sheet” and your assumption that I’m not conservative (I know for a fact that this has some of the regular HYCW members ROTFL).
    Which indicates that you are unaware that we are all trying to learn from each other’s mistakes here. If you would actually take time to read some of my articles. why do you think I have an entire category entitled “Yank the Plank Outta My Eye?” There you’ll see that some of the harshest criticisms have been aimed at my own past transgressions …
    … from which we all shared and learned from because we realized that we’re critiquing the techniques used, and not the individuals … well except for this article … which after yesterday’s “love notes” were only used to get us to take a gander at Dr. Nielsen’s fine points.

  3. Gee Dean does that mean you are going to change your site to look like ours? And I did read a lot of your “things” when I was in here last night but that doesn’t mean I agree with you no more than you agree with me. I am glad you were so entertained by my mail this morning and got such pleasure out of it. Gosh, I bet you may be one of these people that drink pop or soda for breakfast instead of coffee, hmmmmm. God bless.
    In God’s Love

  4. Goodmorning:Well it is my time to add my two cents or really it is worth alot more than that.God be with me as I am really fuming right now.I wanted to get in on this last night, but for some reason I wanted to keep my cool.But this moring I see that you are still talking about Heavens Gates and my good friend John.Also Judy is my friend and many others.Let me say that I will stand behind John on his site all the way.Guess what I live in Calif about 5 hrs drive from that cult.And when I met John when he first began his site Heavens Gates I never even thought of this cult in Calif.There are many cults that kill people.The one in Ark…and I have a Nephew that lives in that town, and he is a wonderful Christian..John and Heavens Gates has brought many lost souls to the Lord and or back to Him.I also have a Christian site and a site for our Children.Being the Grandmother of a little girl that was Murdered by her own father, and in a small town in Wash, now do I need to put everyone in that town down? No, I have even made friends with a couple over the interenet that lives in that town.So much for that deep hurt in my Daughters life and mine too.This morning I read that your still talking..And you say if you were a betting person you would bet that John and Judy are Penticostal or FreeWill Baptist.Well what is wrong with that? As long as they have given their lives to the Lord and are Christians..Guess what I am ? I was raised in a Free Will Baptist Church..Then My Parents moved all of their family to another town and I was saved in a Southern Baptist Church.Yes I am a true Born Again Christian.I have been for almost 50 years now.But I do love Free Will Baptist and Penticostal..I also have Uncles that are Ministers in both Churches..I am not sure what you are, but that is not for me to say or down you, it is God’s job.I do say this, clean out your own life and also point that finger at someone and see if you can do it without 3 fingers coming back at you..It can’t happen.This is something that I just can’t believe, this site of bashing Christian sites and anyones site.John and Heavens Gates is one of the best Christian sites that I know of.I have gone there every day since it has been on.I do feel the presence of God in that site too.I will be praying for all of the ones that are doing the bashing.. Kathy is also my good friend and since she is off due to being sick…I was just at her site yesterday looking for a Christmas graphics set for my Christian site..So that does show you that something is wrong when you said you can’t get into her site.Oh it might be the white curtain, let it load and it will let you in..I do not like talking about how sites are decorated either.There has only been ONE Perfect person every walked this earth..And there never will be again…God Bless..Carolyn

  5. You said:
    the owners of both sites are most likely conservative, possibly Pentecostal or Baptist, definitely law-abiding individuals … except for when it comes to the rules of the road that govern the Information Highway.

    Dean, I think you have gone astray. There are no rules of the road on the information highway. There are guidelines for the effective use of the web to convey information.

    I looked at the website reviewed yesterday and many of the ones linked from that site. Many are quite touching. But, they are not trying to convey information, in the sense that most of your readers would understand it. They are creating a mood or telling personal stories. Animated graphics and background music are part of that mood or story. Don’t try to impose your rules on people that are not playing your game.

    If you want to review a church website that *is* trying to convey information, have a look at my church’s at http://www.unitedchurch.org.

    Thanks for all you do.

  6. Bill, as always, thanks for intellectually honest debate and disagreement.
    There are rules … there are absolutes … some apply to Salvation … some apply to the web.
    Volumes of usability research, testing and experience all say the same thing, people on the web aren’t in the mood to be put in the mood … they are seeking information.
    A site like the one mentioned yesterday has several stirring poems that no one will see because the site will not index well with search engines, uses branding that will be confused with a suicide cult, takes too long to load and is hostile to those with visual disabilities.
    In other words, their compelling message is being hidden under a bowl stuffed full-o-glittery stuff that does nothing but consume bandwidth.

  7. >>A site like the one mentioned yesterday has
    >>several stirring poems that no one will see
    >>because the site will not index well with
    >>search engines, uses branding that will be
    >>confused with a suicide cult, takes too long to
    >>load and is hostile to those with visual >>disabilities.
    >>In other words, their compelling message is
    >>being hidden under a bowl stuffed full-o-
    >>glittery stuff that does nothing but consume bandwidth.


    Those last two paragraphs should put to rest anyone’s misgivings about what you meant. Anyone who has a beef now is doing so merely because they have an issue with constructive criticism in general. This really is an emotional issue – people put lots of time into some not-so-good sites. Ask me – I know. They do so with little or no training, and it feels good when we pull up the URL for the first time and there is something there. Any church/ministry which allows a member to engage in critical marketing without some kind of training is making a big mistake. My congregation, and my denomination included (nope, not a Baptist or Pentecostal – but I try to be law abiding…). It doesn’t have to be a degree, and you don’t have to go out and hire someone to do this. It really isn’t rocket science – I know, because I am not a rocket scientist. Just some basic principles…


  8. 2 cents:

    i need to build a church website later this year and i appreciate all of the critizism that dean offers. ive ‘stolen’ a ton of great design and functionality tidbits from this place. how will i react when my site is evaluated? quickly, i hope. . .the churchmembers deserve the fastest loading, easy to read and well thought out website that i can build.

  9. As much as I agree with Rich, I think Dean has jumped into another world on the web, of which neither he or I know much. I just spent some time looking at sites from on this page:
    All of the sites look similar to Heaven’s Gates.

    Yes there are better ways to build a website, but there is a cultural aspect, too. I need a metaphor…

    Can we come in with computers at a farmer’s market and expect the sellers to appreciate the better way to complete transactions? They are more likely focused on the clients they know come to the farmer’s market. If they had a cash register and UPC codes like Wal-mart, would they sell more? Would their customers be any happier?

    Something is different…Otherwise I would find at least one christian poem blog when I search google.

  10. >> This really is an emotional issue
    Emotional reaction and careful reasoning and thought are mutually exclusive.
    Let’s be careful, especially in this text-bare emotionless medium we’re contrained to work within!
    - Frank


    I’ve never met Dean in person–my first contact with him was a critique of my website (http://www.healyourchurchwebsite.com/archives/2002_10.shtml)

  11. >> This really is an emotional issue
    Emotional reaction and careful reasoning and thought are mutually exclusive.
    Let’s be careful, especially in this text-bare emotionless medium we’re contrained to work within!
    - Frank
    I’ve never met Dean in person–my first contact with him was a critique of my website (http://www.healyourchurchwebsite.com/archives/2002_10.shtml)

  12. Just wanted to say “Amen” to your recommendations. Number 9 is extremely important, and I think it’s a problem we face in a lot of situations. We get so wrapped up in the realities of our congregation and denomination that we don’t make an effort to explain things to outsiders in terms that make sense.

    P.S. I posted my guess about who forbids all doughnuts in the comments to my blog, Dean. ;-)

  13. Good Evening Dean. I apologize as Satan was trying to get to me last night and I was upset and angry. But today God is in full control and I am very happy now.
    I took your advice and added a mouse over, dropped the second page and straight to the index page.
    I will be checking your other suggestions as time allows as I still work full time.
    I am not a ministry Dean, just an old 61 year old man living at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and Heavens Gates started as something for my family, but has caught on like wildfire and been seen around the world.
    Oh on my religion, I was raised baptised and confirmed in the Episcopal church, but when I moved here I started going to the Baptist church.

    And its name?

    Are you ready for this Dean lol???

    Heavens Golden Gates, Staunton, Va

    And what a stir this has caused lol. You must have a very large amount of viewers.
    I’m getting emails from churchs and church groups supporting me from all over the country.
    And hits a day on Top Christian 1000 are going over 2000 since your review.
    http://www.christiantop1000.com/ It updates every hour at 3 minutes after the hour.
    hehehe Satan you lose again. God Wins as He always will and I am so happy today.
    God Bless and thanks again for the review Dean,

  14. Ahhh… the fellowship of kindred minds. I love it. God is so good!


  15. All this kinda reminds me of my first personal website (which I built on my own with no previous experience) — I had different background images on every page and an experienced tech friend told me to lose ‘em. It was hard lol. I thought they were pretty :)

    But after more time spent surfing the Web I realise how I as a user am irritated at having to wait for slow-loading pages because of the large/many graphics… I realise how obscure navigation makes it hard to explore pages and therefore hard to find stuff I wanna find… and I’m starting to find my eyes hurt from all the animated gifs (the less pictures that move, the better!). So I know if I really want visitors to read my content, I have to make it easily accessible, not drown it out in colours and fancy fonts and lots of pictures. Even though I’m tempted to add all those frills to make things look prettier.

    It’s not about looking alike, thinking alike, dressing alike, or doing things alike; neither is it about following a set of rules. It’s simply about making a website more user-friendly so that its mission (to touch lives & bless other people) can be accomplished more effectively.

  16. Hi all, I’m really enjoying this discussion, a great thought point I’ve been pondering in the last couple of weeks. Something along the lines of “how does one create an experience online?”. This from a design point of view, I love the accessibility side, I love the pure design side. Something which I have lost in the last couple of years is the “experience” of the web. This would be a wholy seperate issue to getting information across, which may not necessarily be the point of the internet in the end!

    How do you “experience” the Net?

    p.s. I think the review was taken without an important context, in that I mean the understanding of Dean’s character in his postings was probably not known…

  17. > Hyperlinks should look and act like hyperlinks.
    > So quit fiddling around with them.

    I don’t see any hyperlinks on this page. I just see some strangely colored words at random intervals. ;-)

  18. May I offer a pastoral viewpoint to all?

    1st, let us not forget to love one another, as I am sure you all do.

    Maybe equal with that, what does this squabbling look like to the non-believers?

    Then, isn’t it interesting that the constructive criticism from Dean, perceived as “negative,” has indeed had a positive benefit in attracting more attention to the HGs’ ministry?

    In the end, when we look around, it is a beautiful sight to behold the church, the body of Christ in all its variety and variations. Please consider that we have different personalitites and experiences, and these can and should be used as the toolbox full of instruments the Master uses. And in whose hand are these to be found? Your’s, mine, or Another’s? (Hint, it is appropriate to capitalize refernces to Deity.)

    In Christ,
    Bro. Monte

  19. Oh, the REASON I was here in the first place.
    On “Laws of the Information Superhighway.”

    It didn’t seem to be on the top ten list, and your church site at Redland does it “right.”

    All websites should readily identify their location. WHat if I see a site in Washington state, and I live in SC? I can enjoy it, but am not likely to attend. SO, when surfing for places to attend, it is good to see the physical “bricks and mortar” location prominenetly given on the home page. Obviously this does not apply to purely information and idea sites.


  20. Bro … remember, I was paraphrasing Jakob’s list … I’m currently working on one of my own.
    Poorly used Title tag and missing location, dates, times and contact info are definatly on my list.
    So is thinking the height and width attributes of the IMG physically reduce the size and bandwidth/download time of your image …
    To name just a few …
    BTW, thanks for your insights on your previous post. You raise some points that we all need to consider on a daily basis.

  21. Ants: excellent observation. I know I am often locked into a view of the web as information channel. But it needn’t be that way. As an example, see Sacred Space at http://www.jesuit.ie/prayer/ . This is a wonderful site that has nothing to do with “information”. And it’s very well done, from a geek point of view.

  22. Bill,

    Yes, Sacred SPace is a good example of what I couldn’t think of the right words to say. We don’t have always the same “mission” on all these sites. In fact, there could well be more of what might be considered “performance art.”


  23. Dean,

    You make a reference to “my list.” (should I look for another, as J the B asked?) Have you made your own “Dean’s List” that I missed? I am new to reading this page.

    Lacking a physical address that is easily found is REALLY a pet peeve of mine on an information site. One of the reasons that it might not get the attention in books and classes on website creation is that a business wants to generate the cyber-customer ordering online, whereas churches ideally need the warm bodies in close fellowship.

    Thanks for your efforts, even when misunderstood.

    A couple of years ago I suggested to an overly emotional youth director that she should not mix type styles so much, especially in the middle of a sentence. And that some styles are best for headings and others are more readable. Unfortunately, she was a deacon’s wife, and within a week I was asked to resign as the pastor for being critical of her efforts. No good deed goes unpunished.

    Bro. Monte

  24. * JOHN *

    I’ve been trying to answer your tech. questions via email … but your anti-spam measures keep bouncing me.

  25. Ants, you might like this article from A List Apart: The Narrative Web. It’s all about creating an experience for the people who visit your site. The article is written with commercial site designers in mind, but I bet it could work really well with church websites, too!

  26. 11th Rule -which most church sites, and yes, even healurchurchsite violates (on every page)

    “Be brief and to the point”

    We want the info, not obtuse blogs.

  27. I dunno Neil, I’ve seen some of your work on your
    S Software site, especially your articles.html … perhaps you need to pay a bit less attention to the speck in my eye …

  28. Hi Dean, I had nearly forgotten all the commotion that my site Heavens Gates caused until the article came up on my counter referrals this morning.

    Sorry butI never seen the post in November that you were trying to email me and was being bounced. I have a new spam control now which I can OK anyone if they don’t reply to the confirmation email. Its the best I have seen. It uses your address book and all others have to reply to a confirmation email. I was been flooded with junk and spam but since the web spiders can’t read or click, now it has gone to zero. Check it out http://www.mailwiper.com/cgi-bin/a.pl?mailwipr&3939
    God Bless,
    Heavens Gates http://www.heavens-gates.com/