What does it profit your church or charity’s website to have the most beautiful web pages ever designed if it doesn’t convince people to visit your church, engage in your ministries, or at least inquire for more information? Today I review a graphically and technically impressive church website that is more an entertaining art project than effective ministry tool.
In an article entitled “Turning visitors into users,” Gillian Carson asserts:
Thousands of people may be visiting your site every day, but if you donâ€™t convince them that they should be using your product, subscribing to your service, or registering in some way, then your web appâ€™s homepage is simply not doing its job.
Amen sister! Point well stated, and one that immediately came to my mind when I was recently emailed a link to a church website by a talented graphic designer excited with their work. The site is beautiful to behold, displays advanced CSS and Flash techniques, and certainly the result of hours of pain-staking labor.
Unfortunately, somewhere in the process, this art project has also functionally rendered most of the web pages into a series of eye-candy splash pages.
Art Project versus Functionality
Unlike most sites I review here, this labor of love obviously ‘breaks a vase’ … unfortunately it also appears to pour its contents onto the feet of potential parish participants, instead preaching to a choir of cool people. Perhaps this sentiment from Jeffrey Eisenberg, the author of “Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results” who writes:
You have goals for your business. You have goals for your prospects, whether those prospects are businesses or consumers. You want them to make purchases, or subscribe, or register, or become a lead online or have your online presence compliment your offline efforts. Your goals should be reflected in your conversion rate;…
Meaning, Christ uniquely charged the Body with the task of serving one another in our efforts to save one another through the mercy and grace of His sacrifice on the Cross. This happens when we get to know one another, and getting to know one another doesn’t happen until we meet one another many times until we understand how to serve one another.
Hip-hop versus Classic Rock
As someone who not to long ago himself moved to a new community – I cannot described in words the functional frustration I felt when encountering gorgeous graphic design sites such as the NCC-ws.
Perhaps because along with alot of ‘pop’ presented also made me feel like they were calling me ‘pop’ … in the pejorative. That is that I was not young, hip nor cool enough to be part of such Christian bodies.
Here are just some of the factors on the NCC-ws that brings me to this opinion:
- Assumption that 1280×1024 resolution rules the roost;
- Assumption that everyone has a high-speed connection;
- Assumption everyone’s installation of Explorer is version 7;
- Menus and context include quite a bit of NCC-specific church speak;
- None of the 800×342 images on each page show anyone over age of 30;
- Employs tiny dark gray text against black background is hard for those of us over 30 to read;
- Home Page uses Flash-animated slide show on the home page to deliver search-engine type information;
- Puts the most compelling content is below the fold, rendering location & service time information at the very bottom, using graphics to display text.
There are other elements, but these are the ones that jumped out at me within the first 90 seconds … fifteen of which were spent waiting for the page to load, another 15 figuring out that there was actual context hidden below the huge, splash-page like graphics atop each page … and this only after switching browsers to accommodate the Flash animation on the home page.
Graphic Design versus Web Development
That’s actually not going to be so hard for NCC because it’s obvious to me that there’s a talented graphic designer at work here. That said, there is also quite a bit of compelling content whose light at this time is unfortunately hidden beneath a Flash-driven basket.
Below is a generic list of conversion goals I’d suggest the folks at NCC-ws tweak to meet the needs of their particular community:
- get seekers in the door
- get relocated visitors in the door
- get casual visitors to dig into the web site
- provide online support for lay ministries
- provide online support for staff ministries
- provide a provide a platform for congregation-wide communications
Once these goals have been refined, I’d spend some time considering how to better highlight the large body of content that already exists. It took some time, but I found it – yet like a light hidden under a bowl – its utility was minimized by the overuse of over-sized imagery.
I’d see if there was a way of adding sermon notes to accompany the podcasts. Not everyone has an iPod yet, let alone understand how to lock-n-load last week’s sermon via iTunes. Some compelling textual content would help such individuals understand the theology of the church, while making it much more visible to search engines than it currently is currently the case. Oh, and don’t forget to link up the RSS feeds for both those information streams.
I think employing some more direct metaphors for essential information would help. Don’t be clever with the times of the service, rather as dull as it sounds, use an unordered list block so that information is easy to easy to cut, paste, SMS and/or print. Likewise, leverage some Google API goodness, deliverng a calendar for events, and maps for the directions page.
The small white text against a black background is almost as unreadable as the gray menus against the black background. Be kind to us older laptop users – I know the new gamer generation is more visually oriented – but some of us still prefer printed text when it comes to making important decisions such as which church to attend.
As for all the Flash – don’t force it on the user – rather put them in control. If the object here is to provide fresh content, do it with excerpts describing upcoming events, studies, and sermons. That said, I see a ‘graphics’ page here, so make that a place to view the ‘Animation’ of the week. Syndicate that as well.
Finally, a bit of testing wouldn’t hurt. For example: using one of the browser testing tools I wrote about the other day, I see that the Ministries page has some issues with the still popular Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.n.
Moreover, I’d not make the mistake of assuming I’m the user – but rather have the site functionally vetted by having members across all ages and platforms give the site a whirl. I’d implement this both in the comfort of their homes, but also by pulling some aside into a classroom one Wednesday night to observe them attempt to accomplish simple-but-common tasks associated with the site’s conversion goals.
As always, I’m not offering these ideas in a vacuum, but rather as a result of 25 years experience and alot of reading. Here are some interesting related links I came across while putting together this post:
- NetMechanic: Splash Pages May Drown Your Site
- Entertain the Vote: Tips for Developing a Flash Animation
- SEO: Flash Is Evil. Five Big Reasons Not to Use Flash
- Conversion Goals part Duex: 1st impressions count!
- Readers’ Comments on the new Top-10 Design Mistakes
- Website Design â€“ What Not To Do!
- ThinkVitamin: Turning visitors into users