Avoiding Dark Patterns

Although I encouraged you to apply common marketing techniques to your church's website, there are many online marketing tactics you should avoid. There devious and deceptive methods meant to trick people into decisions they would most likely not choose outright. These are called dark patterns, and range from annoying to illegal. Churches and their websites must be open and transparent with their intentions if they are to be trusted, and them at all costs. This article aims to help your church in avoiding dark patterns.

Just like you cannot trick someone into following Jesus, you cannot trick someone into joining and participating in your church. Yet some aggressive marketing techniques may seem like the right approach, especially if you are desperate to grow your church. Growing a newsletter subscription list, or increasing donations are noble endeavors, just not if you obtained your goal through trickery.

In my previous articles, "Structuring Your Call to Action", and "Donations on your Church Website: Influencing The Outcome", I gave you pointers on how to influence a user's actions. Some may hear that and think I was advocating the usage of dark patterns, yet I disagree. Nowhere in those articles did I advocate the manipulation of deceptively written content or pre-selected defaults that benefit the church. Next I will delve into how to avoid using these patterns while still accomplishing your goals.

Confusing Content

Do you use double negatives or complex language to hide your true intentions? Are you using confusing text to say that you really are going to spam that person with your weekly church newsletter? Did they unknowingly agree to a weekly tithe, rather than a one-time donation? Use the plainest language when your visitors complete any sort of transaction. Ensure that they know exactly what they are signing up for by using short, simple statements, and enumerating your points with numbered or bulleted lists.

Deceptive Defaults

When someone requests more information about your church, you may use very plain language to ask if they wish to receive your weekly newsletter mailing list. The problem creeps up if you have "yes" selected by default. Default values play a major role in a user's decisions; and it is your responsibility to select ones that are not deceitful. If you want to increase the subscription rate of an opt-in newsletter; create a better call to action that includes compelling information as to why they should join. If you cannot find any, then perhaps you should abandon the idea or even project for more useful endeavors.

Action Item: If you currently employ any of these techniques, either take those page flows down immediately, or initiate a high-priority project to alter them. If a committee made these recommendations based on an online marketing book, please reiterate that while the church is selling something; they are charged to accomplish it with love, not trickery. Underhanded techniques will not forge the relationships that hold a church together. Finally, given recent anti-spam legislation, it may even be illegal to bombard people with unwanted emails.

For additional informations, check out this site on dark patterns.

Note: This article was inspired by A List Apart's article "Dark Patterns: Deception vs. Honesty in UI Design".

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures' "Used Cars"

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.