Heal Your Church WebSite

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

Riot at Ephesus Revolution: art project or effective web site?

I’ve always liked ChurchMarketingSucks.com – which is why I leapt at an opportunity afforded by one of their interns when they asked for assistance reviewing a new church/community web site in a blog post yesterday. I like to classify such sites as “too cool for school.”

With Apologies to Acts 23-27:

‘About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Web. For a man named Wheaton Guy, a designer, who made silver sites of Flash, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the freelancers in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of the Internet this Dean Dude has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that sites made this way are not highly usable. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the tools of the great corporation Adobe may be counted as nothing, and that they may even be deposed from their magnificence, we whom all Asia and the world adore.”’

I’d like to start this site review with the WikiPedia’s definition for marketing conversion, which reads:

“In marketing a conversion occurs when a prospective customer takes the marketer’s intended action. If the prospect has visited a marketer’s web site, the conversion action might be making an online purchase, or submitting a form to request additional information. The conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who take the conversion action.”

Just as your church has a purpose and personality, so will your organization’s website. The question for both is – will they meet their conversion goals? In the church, this is generally measured in baptisms, discipleship, tithing, etc … In terms of the web, this is generally measured in terms of getting individuals off the Web and into the doors of your church, charity or other community organization.

The website at Ephesusrevolution.org, as aesthetically pleasing as I think we all find it, has sacrificed usability for the sake of artistry. This is fine if one’s church website were an art project, but from reading the content – as difficult as that was on this site – I don’t think that is the intended goal of said site.

Meaning, I think the problems that afflict this site can be summed up in a noteable meme from usability guru Jeffrey Zeldman whom in his book ‘Designing with Web Standards‘ asserts that sites suffer often suffer a usability hit because graphic designers “dig Flash.”

I’d take this thought one step further and assert that many of the following usability problems I found at Ephesus Revolution were things that get in the way of an average joe looking for a new place to commune, things implemented I suspect because an artist dug them, such as:

  • Kicks in music w/out users permission: could be problematic for persons surfing from public and/or work bound places;
  • Gratuitous Flash: clobbers the primo real estate of the front page without deprecating for some non-Flash instances – and when it does – doesn’t offer all that much in terms of compelling content that will get me in the door. It’s also really annoying the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time I have to navigate back to the home page;
  • Light gray text on a white background: which on laptops is next to impossible to read;
  • Medium gray text on dark gray text: hard to read in any context;
  • Tiny text: I’m starting to wonder if this community isn’t entirely youth oriented – incredibly hard to read even with my new glasses on;
  • Mystery Meat Navigation: who we are, what we do, how to find us – all important concepts – but not necessarily great menu choices, especially when they’re not obvious that they’re links until I do the mouseover thing – provided I have JavaScript ready to rock;
  • Welcome statement: lots of church-speak that basically reads like a mission statement that Vincent Flanders would suggest reads like all others with the “all babies must eat” meme;
  • Context-less image links along the bottom: nice graphics, but without context are meaningless to a visitor, for example “Displace Me Invisible Children” … when all I wanted were some text links along the bottom? That goes for all the sub pages as well;
  • I shouldn’t have to dig for the days, times and location of the gatherings – nor would I put each of those on a separate page as generally one likes to print and/or text themselves all that information into a single neat bundle;
  • I consider podcasts compelling content: don’t hid them under a bush of anonymity via a tiny 17×17 pixel image that not everyone gets yet – all the way at the bottom left of the page;
  • Church Speak: too many terms in menus, screens, events, etc… that make me feel all the more like an outsider to the message of the Gospel – almost as if I have to learn some sorta cool-hip code before I visit.

Note, Ephesus Revolution took A LOT OF SKILLED TALENT and DESIGN KNOW-HOW to create. I find it a very good example of a very good looking site, that may want to scale back some of its devotion to aesthetic artistry in favor of a bit more practical usability. I’m sure that whomever developed this has got the talent to figure out this missing balance. I might first start by reconsidering the size of the 740×325 pixel Flash animation that doesn’t appear on my default browser.