When we set out to redesign our church’s website last year, we knew the task wasn’t going to be easy. We had a long list of features that we wanted and a desire to give our visitors a faster website with a better mobile experience.
Now, this isn’t to say our previous website was horrible, but we had three issues that needed to be resolved:
Proprietary Platform – Our website was originally built on another company’s platform. This made data migration next to impossible. So we new that had to move our website to a platform where data migration would be easier and the platform was widely supported by an online developer community (i.e. WordPress or Expression Engine).
No Mobile Presence – Our website offered only a desktop experience for our mobile visitors. We knew this was a problem as our mobile traffic was gaining and would soon eclipse mobile traffic by late 2014.
Lack of Clarity on the Homepage – It was obvious that we were trying to give everything the same amount of attention on the homepage. There were too many calls to action, buttons and a menu that was filled with low traffic items. We needed to bring clarity to our homepage.
I’m proud to say that I think we resolved these issues and we also created a better user experience with our new website. However, there were some hard lessons that we learned along the way. Today, I’m going to cover six key lessons we learned from redesigning our church website. If you’re thinking of creating or redesigning your church website, I think the lessons that we learned could apply to you as well.
1. Fighting Feature Creep Is Harder than It Looks
Can we add this or do this? That’s the question I would get from most ministers when we were showing our progress on building the new website. While this question often led to some good discussions, it usually ended up with me saying, “Not with this version”.
It’s really tempting as you get closer to your deadline to add what may seem like small features. This is what we call “feature creep”. Soon over time those small features add up, and before you know it you’ve added more to your workload than you can handle.
For us, the reason to fight feature creep is not get out of doing more work. Instead, it’s about getting the website out the door. There’s a poster on the wall in my office that says “It’s not done until it ships”. If we continued to add more features, then our website would be delayed. We needed to ship.
2. Leadership Has to Catch the Vision Day One
When you’re redesigning a church website, you need your senior leadership on your side. So before we began showing the staff the website mockups, we first got sign off on the designs from our executive pastor.
By getting his buy-in early on, we had the authority to the make the changes that needed to take place. We were also able to fend off feature requests from staff because senior leadership had signed off on the initial designs.
3. Numbers Don’t Have a Heart
Since this was a redesign, we were taking something that had been around for at least five years and throwing it out the window. One of the hard parts of that process was that every ministry in the church had previously been given equal footing on the menu and the front page.
Our analytics however told a different story. Our numbers showed that our visitors wanted to know about new visitor details (time, place and location), age-based ministries (children and students) and watching archived sermons.
Since this is what our numbers were telling us, we knew had to focus on those key metrics and push everything else in the background. This meant that I had to have the hard conversation with ministries that had prominent homepage space and let them know that it was going away.
I was surprised and happy that most of our ministers looked at the numbers and came to the same conclusion we did. It also sparked conversation about what we could differently to elevate their ministries or if we need to start looking at other outlets (i.e. Facebook pages) to extend their reach.
4. Content Creation Is Much Harder than We Thought
One of the feature that I was most proud of was our Jesus page. I wanted Jesus to have a very prominent position on our website so that you knew what we believed and you could see testimonies about people who came to know Jesus.
While we got a lot of compliments for creating the page, I didn’t factor in the amount of work that it would take to keep the page current. On our old website, most our content was just a rehash of our bulletin. However, on this page I was asking for story-driven content which can’t be crafted overnight. We’re getting better at producing this content, but it’s not an easy process.
5. Protect the Homepage
Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) was notorious for being the gatekeeper of Google’s homepage. Other than doodles of the Google logo, she kept the front page pristine and made most of her decisions based on analytics. I’ve been a student of Marissa’s work for quite some time so it wasn’t lost on me how much we needed to protect the homepage.
If you were to look at our homepage when launched the redesign and compare it the one you see today, you’ll see that we haven’t it changed very much. We’ve renamed a few links and we’ve added a menu item, but for the most part it’s pretty much the same.
We believe that the homepage is one of the digital doorways to our church, so it has be kept pristine. We know that we have just a few seconds of a visitor’s time. If they find what they’re looking for, then it’s on to the next church.
Protecting the homepage is not easy. There will always be an urgent call to add a link or button. However, if you use your analytics as a guide, it will give you a good sense of what needs to be there and what doesn’t.
6. The Website Is Never Done
One of my favorite things about Gmail was that it always had the word “Beta” taggd on the logo. I know for some people that might seem unnerving, but for me it communicates that Google is always bring new features to the product.
Our church website will always be in beta. We will constantly be removing and adding features. Why? Because the web is constantly changing. Google is changing their algorithm, mobile devices are now more important desktops and video-driven content is on the rise. Who knows what next year will look like?
So will there ever be a time when we can say the website is complete and there’s no more work to be done? No. Instead, we look at our website updates much like software. We released version 1.0 in November, version 1.1 in February and so on.
For some people, the thought of never-ending project sounds like a nightmare. For me, I think of like a new challenge that is presented to us with thousands of new possibilities. Who can’t get excited about that?