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Why Your Church Website Doesn’t Need To Be “Original” (Plus, What To Do Instead)

Originality is overrated.

It’s a red herring that creative minds tend to obsess over. Even though it doesn’t really matter. By the way, I know this because I do it myself – a lot.

But in my experience, the more I obsess over the illusion of “originality,” the more likely I am to neglect the parts of a creative project that are actually important.

Let’s use your church’s website as an example.

There are 3 duties every church website is responsible for. Originality won’t help you with any of them.

When you’re working on your church’s website, originality should be the last thing on your mind.

Here’s why: there are 3 duties every church website is responsible for. And guess what?

Originality won’t help you accomplish any of these 3 duties.

(in fact, it will probably hurt them)

Keep reading.

Free Bonus: Click here to download The Perfect Church Homepage Infographic – a complete visual breakdown of the essential elements that every church website homepage needs

The 3 duties of every church website

There are 3 duties every church website must fulfill to successfully do its job.

They are as follows:

  1. Make a good first impression
  2. Provide helpful information & next steps
  3. Rank as high as possible in search engines

This is the holy trinity of church website design.

Everything your church website does and aims to do can be assigned to these three principal duties.

Want to know the best part? Originality won’t help you accomplish any of these three tasks.

Let’s take a look at each.

Job #1: Make a good first impression

The primary duty your church website is responsible for is making a good first impression.

Originality won’t help you make a good first impression online. In fact, according to Google – it’ll only makes things worse.

In 2012, in conjunction with the University of Basel in Switzerland, Google published a research paper about the role of visual complexity on websites and how it influences a person’s first impression.

Here are a number of core findings from the research:

  • First impressions on a website occur within 50 milliseconds or less (0.05 seconds or less)
  • Websites with low visual complexity were perceived as highly appealing
  • Users love simple and familiar designs

To quote Google directly, “Users strongly prefer website designs that look both simple and familiar.”

According to Google, users love simple and familiar designs

But wait there’s more…

If your church’s website design is not simple and familiar to the average user, this can contribute to a negative first impression and damaged expectations.1

Beyond that, recent research shows that negative expectations of a brand can lead to a downward spiral you’ll want to avoid.2

The vast majority of church websites make poor first impressions

To say that church websites generally make poor first impressions would be an understatement.

The team at Nucleus conducted a case study that analyzed more than 1,000+ church websites from North America and around the world…

The findings?

Only 3.8% of websites analyzed made a good first impression. Meaning, 96.2% of church websites failed the first impression test.

This is why the Nucleus framework exists. We engineered the design of Nucleus with one primary goal: make a good first impression every single time.

The design is simple. But more importantly, the design is familiar.

Forget originality. When it comes to first impressions, simplicity and familiarity win the day.

Free Bonus: Click here to download The Perfect Church Homepage Infographic – a complete visual breakdown of the essential elements that every church website homepage needs

Job #2: Provide helpful information and next steps

The second duty your church website is responsible for is providing information and next steps.

Here’s a short list of what that could mean for your church:

  • Service times
  • Location(s) and directions
  • Contact information (phone/email/physical address)
  • Sermons and message notes
  • Giving
  • About us
  • Beliefs
  • Staff
  • Prayer requests
  • Giving
  • Calendar
  • Podcasts, videos, and blog posts
  • Kids ministry
  • Student ministry
  • Event registration
  • Ministry signups
  • Small groups
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Baptism
  • Salvation
  • Missions
  • Finances
  • And more…

Simply stated, when a new visitor or existing member of your congregation lands on your church’s website, they want it to be easy to find what they’re looking for.

Here’s what the Senior Project Manager at Bing had to say about the duty of websites:

“Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you.” – Duane Forrester, Senior Project Manager at Bing

So how do we accomplish this?

Going back to the research published by Google, users love designs that are simple and familiar.

Why does this matter?

Because browsing your website should be easy. Finding information should be straightforward. And the best way to accomplish this is to lean on established web design principles that users are familiar with already.

Originality is overrated

Job #3: Rank as high as possible in search engines

The third and final duty your church’s website is responsible for is ranking high in search engines.

According to Forbes, 97% of people search online for local organizations.3 And 46% of all Google searches are local.4

What does this mean for you?

It means that everyday people in your community are searching for a church. They’re searching for hope, community, and purpose.

But instead of checking out a local church service, they’re first searching online.

Every day people in your community are searching for a church

Of course, this leads to the inevitable question: how can my church’s website rank higher in search engines?

For starters, here’s a checklist for optimizing each page on your site.

Beyond the basics though, there’s one SEO metric that I’m focusing on more than any other: dwell time.5

1 easy way to rank higher in search engines

As it turns out, Google (and other search engines) pay a ton of attention to how long the average user spends on your website.

Duane Forrester, the Senior Project Manager at Bing, had this to say about dwell time:6

“The time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website tells a potential story. A minute or two is good as it can easily indicate the visitor consumed your content. Less than a couple of seconds can be viewed as a poor result.”

But that’s just part of the story. Check this out:

The average dwell time for a top 10 Google result is 3 minutes and 10 seconds.7

Look:

This is straightforward and makes a lot of sense.

Bottom line: Search engines want to provide the best possible experience to the people that use their services.

Imagine these two hypothetical scenarios:

  1. A person searches in Google for the phrase “churches in Fargo,” clicks on the third result, and spends three minutes on the page
  2. A person searches in Google for the phrase “churches in Fargo,” clicks on the first result, but spends only three seconds on the page

Which scenario do you think Google will treat more favorably? Three minutes or three seconds of dwell time?

Three minutes of course!

Search engines want you to have a great experience with their service every time you use it. To make this happen, search engines need to send you to a website that answers your questions and/or solves your problem.

Simply stated, search engines want to offer you relevant search results. And dwell time is a good indicator of relevance.

Want to know the best part?

Increasing dwell time can be fairly straightforward. Remember, first impressions on a website happen in less than 0.05 seconds. And what makes a good first impression? Simple and familiar design.

Forget originality. To increase search engine rankings (including dwell time), strive for simplicity and familiarity in your web design.

First impressions on a website happen in less than 0.05 seconds
First impressions on a website happen in less than 0.05 seconds

Originality doesn’t exist

By now, I hope it’s obvious how unhelpful originality in web design can be.

Originality won’t contribute to the 3 core duties of your church’s website – familiarity and simplicity are the driving factors behind those.

And we don’t stop there…

Originality can actually work against the core duties of your church’s website when left unchecked.

On the other hand, you might be thinking to yourself:

“Okay, Brady, I get it. Following best practices when it comes to web design is the preferred approach. But can’t my designs at least be unique or different? I don’t just want to copy another church?”

Here’s my answer to this question:

Several years ago, a web series by Kirby Ferguson was published titled Everything Is A Remix.

And it changed the way I viewed creativity forever. Not just with web design – but in all disciplines. The thesis was simple: Everything is a copy. Everything is a remix. Nothing is original.

Here are a couple of examples:

In manufacturing: Ford Motor Company founder, Henry Ford, the man who made it possible for the average person to own an automobile, said it like this:

I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work…Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.”

In film & television: TVTropes is an online platform that compiles frequently used storytelling conventions (tropes). They say it this way: “It’s pretty much impossible to create a story without tropes.”

In storytelling: A 2004 book by Christopher Booker detailed how every story ever told can be distilled down to one of the seven basic plots.

In the Bible: “There is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Bottom line: Originality doesn’t exist – at least not in the way most people imagine. At its best, originality is a combination of previous discoveries and inventions – a remix of pre-existing works, fashioned into something new.

Conclusion

The pursuit of originality can be a noble pursuit.

But it is also deeply flawed and unhelpful – especially when it comes to web design.

There are 3 duties every church website must fulfill to successfully do its job.

They are as follows:

  1. Make a good first impression
  2. Provide helpful information & next steps
  3. Rank as high as possible in search engines

Each of these duties is most fulfilled when your church’s web design is simple and familiar.

It’s true:

Your church’s website is your most important marketing tool. And when it comes to your church’s website, choose simplicity and familiarity over originality.

Free Bonus: Click here to download The Perfect Church Homepage Infographic – a complete visual breakdown of the essential elements that every church website homepage needs

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