Don’t turn your front page into a splash page

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 ask that question of the Westwinds Community Church of Jackson, MI – based in part on some advice offered by Cynthia Ware in her post 4 Simple Steps to Improving Your Website.

First this clarification: When it comes to Cynthia Ware, I would strongly advise all my cult members to add her most excellent Digital Sanctuary website to their blogroll (do this now, I’m watching). However, in a recent analysis she offered of the Westwinds Community Church website – I think I must respectfully disagree – to a degree with some of the advice offered.

In her  4 Simple Steps post she correctly identifies some emerging technologies that can add life to an otherwise static church website; these being:

  1. streaming video
  2. blogs
  3. podcasts
  4. fresh content

So no problems there. However where we diverge greatly in opinion is when she writes:

The web site of Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan is a good example because with out being overly flashy or polished it provides evidence that their church is responding to the changes in our culture …

You can click into their landing page to see

Note the emphasis mine – and for good reason.

One of the other links all good HYCW cult members should have on their blogroll (please do so now if not, I’m still watching) is Vincent Flanders’ Web Pages that Suck. Specifically his page entitled “Biggest Mistakes in Web Design 1995-2015.”

Specifically I would like to draw everyone’s attention to point #2 – where Father Flanders reminds us of this important tenant of the faith:

A man from Mars can’t figure out what your web site is about in less than four seconds.

And quite frankly, the Westwinds page is such a web site. Here are just 5 reasons why:

  1. The <title /> reads “This Week | Westwinds” instead of “This week at Westwinds Community Church, Jackson, MI 49203” – considering many search engines index their URLs on the page title – which one do you think will provide better results for a new resident of Jackson, MI seeking a community church experience?
  2. Using graphics for text – again, a situation where the content, though fresh, does nothing to help users get to the site via Google, simply because there’s not much there for Google to index.
  3. Employing a DuHTML menu that is almost mystery-meat-like in its implementation as displayed below:
    As one can see from the snippet above, a user must first get past the “noisy” graphics to see the “+” sign, then must be net-savvy enough to understand that the “+” sign means the menu will open – provided one’s browser is up to the task.

    Why does the designer insist on hiding the following church essentials under a bowl or basket of Javascript: Sunday Services, Kids, Students, Media, Who We Are, Contact, etc … ?

  4. They employ a “this week” blog-like approach, but provide no alternate link to an RSS feed. In fact, there is no RSS feed I could find associated with said blog. This was okay back in 2003 when David Winer was still figuring it all out – but in 2008 – we need the feed.
  5. Grey text against a black background, except where fire engine red was used to shout something church-speaky, and/or blue to identify linkable points of ineterest using “click here” … all below the fold … instead of simply creating a context-oriented linkroll on the right hand column; that btw would be nice if it worked with smaller screen resolutions.

In short, while Cynthia is right in asserting:

  • podcasts are a great way to present sermons, tutorials, lessions, etc …;
  • so is steaming video (and/or screencasts);
  • blogs too, along with a way to detail upcoming events by ministry;
  • fresh content, which the three technologies above help deliver.

Where I disagree is putting them all on the front page, or constructing a front page around said technologies in such a way that one’s 2008 frontpage looks and functionally works more like a splash page from 1998.

Or as Gillian Carson asserted in article entitled “Turning visitors into users:”

Thousands of people may be visiting your site every day, but if you don’t convince them that they should be using your product, subscribing to your service, or registering in some way, then your web app’s homepage is simply not doing its job.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment in love so we can all learn from it!