Handling Common Website Misconceptions

Often a web team gets into a difficult conversation about their website. These stem from common website misconceptions. Some decisions have several solutions that depend on many circumstances. To make matters worse, personal opinions often interfere. Here are a few difficult arguments I have encountered over the years. I also included the considerations you need to solve them.

The Coveted Home Page

Everyone thinks their content needs to be on the home page. This is because nobody wants to think their ministry is not important. A rule in marketing is that if you are marketing to everyone, then you are marketing to no one. The same applies to your home page. If you feature everything, you are featuring nothing. The extra clutter will make it more difficult to see what your users are actually looking for. The tough part is rank ordering your church's priorities. This is difficult because something has to be last. Your top "X" priorities make it on the home page. If you want to draw traffic to other areas, make your navigation more intuitive. This way your other content is still easy to find, but not adding clutter.

Above the Fold

I will dispel the myth. The fold as a definitive line no longer exists. Think of all the desktop, tablet, and phone screen sizes and resolutions. Unfortunately the fold does exist for your boss or committee. They look at the website on their device and see a line where content no longer displays. It is our duty to remind them that that line changes based on a myriad of factors. Instead we must focus their efforts on content priority. How you rank order the content on your site helps determine what gets the most attention. Also, consider its visual priority, with size and white space as major factors. It is true that objects at the top of a page get more attention than those at the bottom. But everything cannot live at the top of the page. Just like on your home page, you must prioritize each page's content.

Proprietary Formats

Putting content into a proprietary format is sometimes the equivalent of locking it away. Sometimes it makes it completely inaccessible. The two most common file types are portable document files (PDF's) and Adobe Flash animations / movies. Many web browsers and computers cannot open these files. Instead of putting movies into a Flash object, use a more open standard format. Sometimes PDF's serve a unique purpose. One example is content you expect to be printed, such as a weekly bulletin. An alternative is to create a page with print-friendly formatting. This way search engines can more easily index it. Plus you can link to the page via social media. Maybe save some paper and post the link as a QR code for visitors to scan.

Website Platforms

My first websites were just static HTML documents. The idea of moving content into a database seemed like too much work. That is until I saw the amazing things you could do with a robust content management system. I played around with a few before I settled on WordPress. Just know that I have seen great implementations of Squarespace, Joomla, Drupal, and Bootstrap. Yet there are others in the web community that are far more passionate about their website's platform. I honestly do not care what platform you pick. The best website is the one you regularly update. With that in mind, choose the platform everyone can understand and use.

Native App vs. Mobile Website

There are many reasons to have a native application for your church. They have a more regular usage rate, and they have the ability to send push notifications. This is helpful if you publish daily content, or want to send out reminders. Yet a good mobile website has a much smaller price tag. Plus it is more universally accessible, and not dependant on a device or operating system. The easiest way to determine if you really need a native application is your publishing calendar. If you deliver new content on a routine basis, then native may be the way to go. If you only put out a weekly bulletin and a sermon recap, then you are likely wasting your money. If there is no new content, users will have little reason to make regular visits.

Action Item

There is no major action item for this article. I hope my brief summaries and focus areas help you find a solution at your church. Also, use tools like personas to focus conversations on users and not personal opinions. If you have a problem area that is not listed, please leave a note in the comment. Or you can contact me directly. If one of these has helped you, please leave a comment. Thank you and I pray your difficult conversations go well!

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.