An optimized church website design can be a powerful outreach tool for a ministry. However, in order to be effective, a site must have two things: (a) good UX (user experience) and (B) a solid UI (user interface). These components, both UI and UX, matter for your church website.
Church websites have never been more important. Nor has the online space ever been more saturated. If you’re involved with your church’s website, it’s important that you do your best to optimize that site if you want it to make a difference. Both UI and UX matter for your church website.
Church Websites in 2021
Fifteen years ago church websites were a novelty. Over time, they began to gain wider acceptance in the mainstream Christian community. But even then, many churches didn’t buy into the hype, and even if they did, their sites were often unattended and in a woefully outdated state.
Then the pandemic started and the respect for church websites changed overnight. No longer were they a nice flourish or just another way to provide information to congregants and the surrounding community.
A church’s website became its lifeline to the world. As folks flocked to live streaming channels and social media platforms to stay connected, websites became critical online hubs for each and every ministry. Churches began to pay attention to their church’s website design.
This use of a secular tool for church purposes naturally brought up an interesting question: what aspects of a website are important for churches to care about? For instance, unless you’re selling Rosaries, you probably don’t need an e-commerce section for your church’s site. However, you do want to have a PayPal button or some other tithing option available.
Obvious factors aside, there’s one essential aspect of a church’s website that often goes completely unnoticed: the user experience.
The Importance of the User Experience
It’s tempting to look at a church website as a purely functional part of a ministry. After all, it’s just a glorified digital bulletin. It shouldn’t be flashy or distracting, right?
The hard truth is, if a church website doesn’t provide a good experience, it isn’t going to work properly.
Let me explain with an example. Say you arrive at a new church. As a visitor, you find a place to park and make your way up to the part of the building that seems to be the front door.
When you get there, though, you find that there are only windows — ten feet up off the ground. As you circle the building, you find that there are no doors anywhere.
Finally, you find a spot where you can enter by climbing a rope ladder and scrambling through a door high up off the ground. A bit weird, perhaps, but you decide that you aren’t going to give up on the visit quite yet.
Once inside, you find that everything is a complete maze. You can’t find the sanctuary, nothing is labeled, and no one is around when you need to ask for directions.
At some point, you’re going to give up and leave, right? That is if you can find your way back to the rope ladder, anyway.
A church website can often function in a similar manner.
If someone arrives on your site and can’t find what they’re looking for, there’s a good chance they’ll leave within a few seconds. Even if they’re willing to slowly work their way through the site, if things aren’t well laid out and easy to find, the visitor may ditch anyway out of sheer frustration.
If anyone is leaving your site simply because they’re frustrated and can’t find what they’re looking for, that’s already a problem. But things are even worse than they appear on the surface.
See, if your site isn’t meeting the needs of those using it, it can eventually lead to your church’s entire online presence slowly disappearing into the ethers of the internet — at least as far as the search engines are concerned.
Check out another article: How The Church Management Software Market Is Changing
Why Search Engines Matter
Now, at this point, you may be asking why search engines should factor into the equation. After all, we’re talking about a church website, not a business.
The thing is, search engines aren’t just a way to promote advertisements and make money. They also bring visitors to your church’s website — including critical traffic from local people who may be searching for a church.
This is why your site’s UI and UX are so important. If the interface that visitors are using or the experience that they have turns them off, Google will figure it out and stop sending new searchers to your site.
How will the search engine know? Thanks to Rank Brain.
What is Google Rank Brain?
Now, I’m not about to break down the nuances about how Google works. First, it would take much more than just one simple article. Second, we’re talking about church websites, not search engines.
Nevertheless, a brief description of how Google’s machine learning algorithm Rank Brain works can be helpful in grasping why UI and UX for your church's website are exponentially more important than so many people realize.
In short, Rank Brain is a form of AI that Google uses to help sort and present search results. It doesn’t just look for keyword matches, though. Rank Brain actually uses AI to try to understand a user’s query. As it matches unknown or new terms with concepts that it already understands, Rank Brain refines its results. So, someone searching for “church in Hamlin, New York” will likely be greeted with a list of actual churches in the region, regardless of whether those specific words show up on those organization’s websites or not.
Okay, so if Rank Brain is so smart, then why should you bother worrying about how your church’s website looks, right? After all, the algorithm will figure it out. Except that, yeah, that’s not the end of the story.
See, once Rank Brain offers results for a query, it tracks how users respond to those results. If certain parameters are met, it confirms that the results actually satisfied searcher intent. If the data is sub-par, though, it’ll change the SERP (search engine results pages) and push that site further down the list of results.
This is why, if you want your church’s website to actually be a helpful resource for your community, you absolutely must track the data from your site that Rank Brain is evaluating. From there, you can take steps to ensure that your site is properly ranking in the search results and showing up when potential visitors search for local churches.
So what data should I focus on, then?
This quick detour through the enormously complex system that is Rank Brain brings me to my point. There are three major factors that you should have on your radar if you want to positively impact Rank Brain’s ranking of your church website:
- Dwell time: This is the amount of time that someone spends on your website before leaving. The longer the dwell time, the more Google will consider that they sent the searcher to the right place.
- Bounce Rate: Dwell time’s close cousin is the internet term “bounce rate.” This refers to when someone visits a site and then immediately leaves without viewing more content. The antithesis to dwell time, you want your site’s bounce rate to be as low as possible.
- Click-through rate (CTR): This is the number of people who click on a search result divided by the number of people that the link is shown to. The higher your CTR, the better off your site will be.
If you can optimize your site for these three factors, Google should do the rest of the work for you.
Now, I’m not going to break down how to boost your dwell time, bounce rate, and CTR here. They’re nuanced concepts that are each worth their own future articles. However, here are a few tips to help you get started. And, what do you know, they all happen to focus on your website’s user experience (UX) and user interface (UI):
- Pay attention to your site’s navigation and layout, especially your homepage, so as to invite and not confuse visitors.
- Stay consistent in your presentation from one page to the next and don’t overwhelm visitors with too much information at a time.
- Put visitor-friendly options, like “about us” or “contact info” pages, on the left side of your menu and congregation-focused items, like “tithe” or “digital bulletin” pages, further to the right.
- Create a “Plan your visit” part of your website to help invite site visitors to become in-person guests.
There are plenty of more detailed elements of UI and UX for your church website that are worth investigating — like using optimized images or reducing your page loading speed — but the above tips are some of the simplest and most effective ways to get results quickly.
Remember to Track Your Data
As you make changes to your site, you have to find ways to track these data points. Without that information, you can’t judge if your website is actually helping or hurting you. There are free tools like Google Analytics that can help follow these stats. Some church site builders offer help keeping track of these numbers.
At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter how you track the data. Regardless of the tool you use, your site’s dwell time, bounce rate, and CTR are going to be the same. The important thing is that you find a way to monitor these items so that you can make sure your site is performing well and actually working as one of your primary outreach tools for your community.
Check out another helpful article:5 Chrome Extensions that Enhance Productivity
Improving Your Church Website with Data
The online world is overwhelming at times. Trust me, I know. Search engine parameters and algorithms are always changing. Website tools are in a constant state of evolution. People’s online habits and activities are always in flux.
With so much change, it’s easy to write off your website as a hopelessly outdated resource that your congregants can try to use if they want to and visitors won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
The truth is, though, your website is a critical lifeline to your local community. In most scenarios, a good site is more valuable than a sign in the front yard, at this point.Your church’s website is a critical lifeline to your local community. Take it seriously. Click To Tweet
So take your ministry’s site seriously, I’m begging you. Consider the kind of interface and user experience that it offers to visitors. Set up tools to track critical data like dwell time, bounce rate, and CTR, too.
If you can make small changes like these, you can turn your site into a powerful communication channel with the potential to reach out to every smartphone, computer, and tablet in your community. Once connected to everyone online, you become an ever-present and available option, inviting your neighbors to reach out and connect with your ministry and possibly even stop by for your next service.