Why Your Fancy Web Site Sucks

July 12, 2007 by

Your web site really sucks when you try to be fancy. Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Front-Page-Guy with your blinking animations and scrolling text. But I’m also talking to you, Mr. High-End-Web-Guy with all that stunningly beautiful functionality few people care about or use.

No matter our skill set, we all fall victim to the insatiable desire for fanciness. I know I did. I had lots of resources. I was working in a big ol’ church with a big ol’ budget spending lots of time and money creating new features that, once implemented, were rarely used by more than 5% of our congregation. That’s right. I wanted to innovate. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be fancy. Too bad I didn’t actually create something useful.

Fancy web sites suck. So, here’s how you can keep things simple:

  1. Write fresh, new content and put it on your web site.
  2. Repeat step one multiple times daily.

Content keeps people coming back. Content meets the needs of your congregation and your community. They want to know what’s happening at the church. They want to know what your pastor is thinking. They want to know how your children’s minister feels about the latest kids movie. They want you to speak into their lives.

Sounds simple, right. So, why do so few churches do this? I think it’s because we’re all too busy treating technology and the web like some kind of novelty item. Newsflash: the web isn’t new anymore. You don’t need to experiment with it. You just need to use it, and use it well.

Look, there are a handful of churches (and I do mean probably less than 10) who have the resources in place to innovate on the web. Let them do it. Let them create the new functionality and push the limits and do the new stuff.

Let them take the risk that nobody will use it. What do you say the rest of us just cut out the fanciness and get back to the basics. If you are not updating content on your web site at least once a day, you don’t have time to put energy or resources into anything else.

Great content, all the time. Great content, all the time. Master that and then we’ll talk about that fancy new media player you’ve always wanted.

Post By:

Tim Wall

Tim Wall used to be a full-time pastor of technology, communications and what not. Now he leads worship at his church, he blogs (sometimes), and he also works for Element Fusion, a company that builds web-based software products like Sky and Light.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

32 Responses to “Why Your Fancy Web Site Sucks”

  • Mickey
    July 12, 2007

    Great article. I agree completely.

  • Paul
    July 12, 2007

    Amen! I couldn’t agree more. I administer several church websites and most of the functionality that is so important to the web team get used by less than 5%.
    Great point.

  • Chad
    July 12, 2007

    These are great thoughts. How about some links to where this is working good, simplicity and function. What are your favorite church sites that do this well?

  • The Aesthetic Elevator
    July 12, 2007

    Particularly fed up with non-functional all-Flash websites . . . They often contain content I’m interested in, but navigating them is such a pain I often won’t stick around.

  • Tim Wall
    July 12, 2007

    Hey Paul. I honestly don’t have examples of places doing this well. I’m sure there are some out there, but I just haven’t come across them.
    I think the ideal is a simple site that makes use of blogs and calendars really well. I’d love to see blog posts from multiple church leaders updated regularly. That’s where I think we should be spending their time.
    There are individual church leaders who do well with blogging, but I haven’t seen that idea carried into the church website very well.
    I’d love to know about it if you or anyone else have any examples of this being done.

  • Tim Wall
    July 12, 2007

    Sorry, Paul. The above comment was actually directed to Chad. I thought the names were above the comments but actually it now appears that they are below. Sorry for the confusion!

  • Mean Dean
    July 12, 2007

    I agree, and would only add one more qualifier.
    The church website not only needs to delivery refreshing compelling content on a near-daily basis …
    … but much of the content should include, or be followed with actionable items and/or conversion goals.
    For example, rather than worry about a Flash-based slide show, let’s delivery content that convinces people you’re not a cult and that it’s safe to drop your kids off at the the VBS program

  • Leo Crosby
    July 12, 2007

    Easy way to do this is with a simple blog from any of the great services out there. It’s cheap and user friendly.

  • myles
    July 12, 2007

    totally agree…most (read: nearly all) should use the free resources out there to deliver their church websites. Not many have the resources to innovate like a wordpress, flickr or feedburner.
    and if we build our own little enclaves on our own little websites, then it’s not really following the philosophy of getting out into the world!

  • Chris Cree
    July 13, 2007

    Great Post! I beat this same drum daily in the direction of businesses. Too many of them have very pretty websites that are failing miserably at actually improving their web presence.
    Day after day I encounter businesses that have spent tons of money on sites that… well, they basically suck.
    Like myles said above, so many of the better web publishing resources are very inexpensive (or even free with the right expertise) that there is no reason churches can’t have an incredibly effective web presence.

  • st. Mars
    July 13, 2007

    Love it!! & YES: please have some designers list their favorite church web sites!! I happen to like http://www.mosaic.org/ . Thanks…(my churches site needs a 2.0!)

  • st. Mars
    July 13, 2007

    oh…& I’d love to see a youth group site that was nothing but a video blog that was updated twice a week! That would be easy & fun & ‘sticky’. (youth group sites usually suck too….even if they have one….+ aren’t all kids on the Web & Youtube surfin’)

  • Travis Gates
    July 14, 2007

    Your Hired!!
    I deal with this everyday working with churches and ministries so it is refreshing to hear other brave soldiers out there spreading the word.

  • miracle
    July 15, 2007

    Sorry but I’ll be the first to disagree. Yes, churches need more than flash produced brochures, but the answers you provided are not completely correct. Fresh content, even daily is good, but it is not going to put a website as a useful resource. Look at all the blogs that are updated daily but have very little traffic to them. Also, name anyone in the church who can submit new content multiple times a day? No, this is good, but not the answer.
    The purpose of a church website is a resource to be the church outside of the church. Simply allow the members to connect, grow, give and be servants more than just one day a week. Adding fresh content simply by posting new information for the church to read will not cut it. They need discussion boards to discuss theology and praxis, prayer boards, resources to get involved and be servants inside their communities and the global communities, links to good websites, and a place where people can add their voice to the church. Basically, the point is not continuously adding fresh content, but setting up a place where the church can be the church outside of the church

  • Keith Rowley
    July 15, 2007

    I absolutly agree. As director of communications and also webmaster at my church I know I do not have time to update the website on more than a sometimes twice weekly basis. And getting the pastors and other ministry leaders to submit new content for the weekly newsletter by the deadline is a weekly struggle. None of us have time to continuisly update our website.
    I also agree that ideally the website would be one part of a larger network where members of the church can continue to deepen relationships outside of the church building.

  • Tim Wall
    July 16, 2007

    Miracle and Keith,
    Thanks for throwing in some differing opinions. However, I’m not really sure that we’re disagreeing all that much.
    Miracle, a lot of the things you mention that should be included on church sites are really just types of content — prayer needs, resources, links. And if they need a place to add their voice, why not post content in a blog format and allow comments so that the discussion can take place much like it is here on this blog.
    I don’t agree that we need discussion boards on church websites. I just don’t think that most people will actually use them, and I guess that I don’t agree that we can truly extend all aspects of “the church” into the internet. I think the internet has certain things it does well, like communication, and other things, like building community, it only does well if a person is really committed to the process. Most people aren’t up for that.
    My only other beef with what you guys have both said is the idea that “we don’t have time to put out fresh content daily.” I’ve served in church full-time as a communications director and believe me, I know where you’re coming from, but I guess the point of my article is that I see us focusing a lot of time and effort in other directions that I would consider less important.
    And, hey, I’m speaking to all church leaders here. I think the burden should be shared. Communication is the job of everyone, not just one person on a staff. I know the struggle it is to get others to participate. But the point I’m making is those are the battles we should be fighting. We should be putting our effort into prioritizing communication and content across the board.
    Just my two cents. Thanks for participating in the discussion.

  • Miracle
    July 17, 2007

    yes, discussion boards and prayer boards are types of content, but the content is not the point. You make it seem as if content is the answer to fancy design when it is really serves the same purpose of design. Having good content is just as important as having a good design, but having it doesn’t mean the website will be useful. If the only thing on a website is one picture of Jesus and it helps the church to be the church then one can’t ask for more. Basically, fresh content can just as much be a distraction as a fancy design.
    I like fresh content and I like a good design, but we lose the real purpose when we make these the point.
    You said that you can’t extend all aspects of church on the internet, what do you mean by this? I don’t think everyone will use the internet, but I don’t see anything that cannot be done on it for those who are comfortable with it.
    Discussion boards are a very good thing, but I do agree that it is a waste most of the time. It takes alot of work to keep them vibrant, and in most churches they just aren’t ready for it.
    In your entry you were expressing the need for being updated multiple times a day. I think this is a little excessive. Daily is good, if it is possible. I think once to twice a week should be the goal for most churches. Any less than that it will become unreliable.

  • Tracy
    July 17, 2007

    Look at Google.com – Simplicity Rulez…

  • Tim Wall
    July 18, 2007

    Hey Miracle,
    I think you have misinterpreted one thing I said. When I say “fancy” I am not talking just about design. In fact, I’m talking more about fancy functionality than fancy design, but I do think both can get too much of our focus.
    When I say “you can’t extend all aspects of the church onto the internet,” one example of what I’m talking about is community. I think there is a very, very small minority of people in the world right now who might experience some aspect of true community online. I think it is an area that lots of people are exploring to see where its limits are. I think that eventually, they are going to realize that there are limits to community on the web, and I think there will always be a need for live, in-person community.
    That said, even if you believe that community can take place on the web, my point is that very, very few people are really looking for that, so why spend time developing the functionality and facility to make it happen on the church website.
    Like I said in the article, there are a handful of churches that have the resources to pioneer in these areas. I think the rest of us should let them be the explorers and we should focus on doing what the web does best right now — communication.
    I appreciate all of your thoughts as they have made me think through some things a bit further. I am working on some possible follow up posts to this one perhaps with some more specifics so, if the folks at CMS are willing to publish them, perhaps we can continue this discussion (not to say I wouldn’t welcome any further comments here as I would).
    By the way, I think that updating once a day is a good goal. I said “multiple times daily” in my step by step and I think that would be the ideal, but perhaps that is too aggressive for everyone as you have said.. One time a day should, I think, be a minimum for everyone to shoot for.

  • Miracle
    July 18, 2007

    I agree partly with your thoughts on community through the internet. There are alot of people whom don’t trust or feel comfortable with the internet when it comes to community connection. But community is the largest growing section of the internet, especially with young people. Myspace, Facebook, Youtube, Digg are all the most popular sites on the web and they are entirely community driven. On a lesser scale, faith sites like Ginkworld (which I help run) and The Ooze are nearly all community driven. I think creating community on the web is not something with a limited audience.
    Anyway, community versus communication is not our discussion right now (maybe we can work on an article together for CMS). I do agree that adding fresh content one time a day should be a goal that most churches should shoot for. As long as it doesn’t become a distraction of the greater goal.
    Shoot me an email if you want to converse some more miracles83[at]aol[dot]com

  • Bob Brown
    July 18, 2007

    Jakob Nielsen ( http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000723.html ) has written:
    Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

  • Dustin Frampton
    August 9, 2007

    Good points………i’m still new to this and working towards applying these to our site……..

  • Ruben
    September 10, 2007

    I think the church website should be like the church bathroom: Clean, well stocked, and functional! In short, they exist to serve the Body. There are plenty of other things to focus our attention on, like people. So when we overemphasize the website I think we’ve done a dis-service.

    People ultimately need interaction/relationships.

  • Ministry Management Guy
    September 11, 2007

    Most churches simply want their website to serve as a brochure. That’s their idea of being “out there”. They need to dream bigger, this post will help. Thank you for it.

  • WileMark
    September 11, 2007

    My, my, my….. isn’t FREEDOM a wonderful thing. Perhaps, if we try… we’ll all eventually learn how to use it exceptionally well! Although, we may eventually learn that in order to use ours efficiently,… we may have to let some of ours extend to the use of ‘others’?

  • Blake
    September 12, 2007

    I’ll just throw my church website out there for consideration: FBCgT.org. It’s run on WordPress. I’ve got multiple people learning how to update it. I’m getting the pastors on board with blogging (Worship Pastor’s Bible Study and Executive Pastor’s Leadership Blog). I instituted a members-only forum very recently. We’ve got some nifty video+presentation stuff I just added via vcasmo.com.
    In some ways this content-heavy structure was out of necessity because I’m not a graphic designer. But in other ways I want the church body to know what’s going on as well as to have an online community that will extend their relationships past Sunday mornings.
    I think I’ll be redesigning in December and trying to figure out what’s necessary to keep. I want to go simpler, but I still want everything there.

  • john parker
    September 12, 2007

    I agree but I’m stumped at how to set up a daily blog that isn’t in my space. I know a website has to be simple. I’m sure my folks don’t go back very often because a. they don’t have a computer b. in our country town dail-up is still happening thus staying online doens’t. 3. no new content…help on the simple blog with feed back & rss (I know no what I do!) John

  • radrob
    September 25, 2007

    I really don’t understand why having a nice looking website is such a problem. I happen to like creative, artistic sites that are original. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I find many church websites to be very unimaginative. What’s wrong with creating a site that is artistically expressive. If non-christians see us as bland and uncreative, what kind of message does that send.
    I don’t know why flash content is hard for people to understand. It’s really simple. There is a button. You click it. You are definately entitled to your opionion, but if you don’t like fancy websites then don’t design them. Try and respect other peoples artistic talents and creativity instead of grumbling and complaining. Our world sees to much of this from the church. There are lot’s of websites out there that I don’t like but I don’t write blogs complaining about them. To each his own.
    My youth group happens to enjoy our website that has flash, video, and God forbid “an MP3 player” It has plenty of information on it about what we do. If people choose not to watch video and listen to music, then they can just “read”. It’s not rocket science.
    Final Thought:
    If your church can afford a full-time web master who can enter content every hour on the hour then more power to you. But don’t criticize others because they don’t.
    And you might want to find a new more loving way to share your opinion. I don’t remember Jesus telling anyone that they sucked! Even if we do suck, which we all do I might add, he is the only one who has the right to tell us, since He definately didn’t suck. I’m definately guilty of using the word “suck” to refer to things, but I’m very careful about who I say it to. And maybe I shouldn’t say it at all.

  • Chris
    October 31, 2007

    First off, Tim great post. I couldn’t agree more.
    I have spent a lot of time speaking and trying to educate churches on why fancy is not better not to mention the tacky factor. As an SEO/PPC Specialist I cringe when I get a request for a search engine evaluation and they have an all flash site because there is nothing I can do to optimize the site. I keep hoping that churches will get the fact that visitors are going to go to their site before they actually visit and if they seem some gaudy and or flash website they will carry that impression with them whether they actually attend or not. Keep up the good work!
    “I don’t know why flash content is hard for people to understand. It’s really simple” Here is my response both technical and opinion.
    First – Opinion: If you have a church website that is built in flash the chances of someone outside your congregation finding your site in a search engine becomes slim to none as the search engines are equipped to read Flash. What good is a site if no one can find it?
    Second – Fact: Here is Google’s Opinion on Flash
    “You may want to consider creating HTML copies of these Flash pages for our crawler. If you create HTML copies, please be sure to include a robots.txt file that disallows the Flash pages in order to ensure that our crawler doesn’t recognize these pages as duplicate content.”
    “Flash is inherently a visual medium, and Googlebot doesn’t have eyes. Googlebot can typically read Flash files and extract the text and links in them, but the structure and context are missing. Moreover, textual contents are sometimes stored in Flash as graphics, and since Googlebot doesn’t currently have the algorithmic eyes needed to read these graphics, these important keywords can be missed entirely. All of this means that even if your Flash content is in our index, it might be missing some text, content, or links. Worse, while Googlebot can understand some Flash files, not all Internet spiders can”

  • I learned long ago the kiss way of doing things. “Keep it simple stupid”. Websites that have lots of crazy stuff and no content are quick to be left. It makes me sad when I see churches with fancy website designs and nothing to offer!

  • I try to tell people almost every day that the flashy banners and eye candy is no good. I had a church the other day ask me to look at their site. They were so proud of their opening page (a flash movie with a bunch of catch words) that they forgot to pay attention to anything else. The site really sucked!

  • Ernest
    July 28, 2011

    Nice Tim! Simplicity and sharing great content is key!

Leave a Reply

Web Sites