Report: 96% Of Church Websites Fail The First Impression Test [Case Study]

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Believe it or not: your website is your church's most important marketing tool.

Think about it…

Every single day people in your community are searching for a church. But instead of checking out your service, they’re first checking out your website.

What's the bottom line?

97% of consumers search for local organizations online.1 And 46% of all searches on Google are local.2

97% of consumers search for local organizations online

Your church's website is the frontline for your entire ministry. It's your most important marketing tool. It's where first impressions are formed. It's where you get discovered. It's where new visitors are introduced to you.

Sadly, most church websites make miserable first impressions.

To make a point, my team and I conducted an extensive case study that analyzed more than 1,000+ church websites from 30+ different countries.

All the results are documented below.

Keep reading.

Free Bonus: Click here to download the full first impression case study of more than 1,000+ churches from 32 different countries

Who are the churches in this case study?

Compiling the data in this case study was no small undertaking. The study includes more than 1,000+ different churches randomly selected from more than 30 different countries.

All fifty states from the U.S.A. are represented in this case study. All ten provinces from Canada are represented as well.

The case study required a team of nine people to complete.

The case study consists of more than 1,000+ different churches from 32 different countries

The case study consists of more than 1,000+ different churches from 32 different countries

Here's a more detailed breakdown of the churches represented in the case study:

  • 1,008 total churches
  • Churches from 32 total countries
  • 48.9% of churches in the study are from America (all 50 states are represented)
  • 9.4% of churches in the study are from Canada (all 10 provinces are represented)
  • 8.9% of churches in the study are from U.K.
  • 5.0% of churches in the study are from Australia
  • Churches from 28 other countries as well (Nigeria, Indonesia, France, Sweden, Germany, Ukraine, Cambodia, Kenya, Portugal, Greece, India, Netherlands, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Jamaica, Ghana, Malaysia, Romania, South Africa, New Zealand, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Italy, and Columbia)

How did you choose which churches to include?

You might be wondering:

How did we choose which churches to include in our analysis?

Answer: We tried to be as random as possible.

Here's the process that we followed…

  1. Visit Google.com and search for the phrase, “Cities in [insert state/province/region/country here]” (Example: “Cities in California”)
  2. Select a small handful of cities from the region in question
  3. Using Google.com again, search for the phrase, “Churches in [insert city/region here]” (Example: “Churches in Bakersfield”)
  4. Visit the church websites listed on the first couple pages of Google and run them through the test

By identifying churches for the case study in this way, we were able to randomize the selection process as much as possible.

Most importantly, this process of selection allowed for us churches from a wide variety of demographics, regions, denominations, ethnicities, weekly attendance size, etc.

Introducing: The 5-Part First Impression Test

Every church included in this case study was put through a simple & straightforward first impression test.

The goal of this test was to answer a single question: Does this church's website make a good first impression? Yes or no.

The goal of this test was to answer a single question: Does a church website make a good first impression?

The first impression test consisted of five parts. With each of these five parts, a church earned either a “pass” or a “fail” grade:

  1. Does this website have a primary focal point?
  2. Is this website responsive?
  3. Does this website load reasonably quickly?
  4. Does this website include stock photos of people's faces?
  5. Does this website have easily accessible new visitor info?

To successfully pass the first impression test, a church had to earn a passing grade for all five parts.

Simply put:

The first impression test measures the baseline for what a church website should be.

At the very minimum, your church's website should meet the five criteria measured in the first impression test.

To make a point, here is a list of criteria your church's website DOES NOT need to pass the first impression test:

Another thing to mention is that the first impression test only takes into account your website's homepage. Why? Because first impressions are made in an instant. It takes just about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not; whether they’ll stay or leave.3

Remember: Every single day people in your community are searching for a church. But instead of checking out your service, they’re first checking out your website.

Decisions are being made about your church based entirely on your website. And once a poor first impression is made, it takes considerable effort to undo it.

The first impression test measures the baseline for what a church website should be

The first impression test measures the baseline for what a church website should be

What kind of first impression is your church making?

Look:

The bar for passing the first impression test is low. To pass the test, your church's website requires five simple elements:

  1. A primary focal point
  2. Responsive design
  3. Reasonably quick load times
  4. Zero stock photos of people's faces
  5. Easily accessible new visitor info

Fair enough?

Let's dive into the results.

Free Bonus: Click here to download the full first impression case study of more than 1,000+ churches from 32 different countries

Results: 96.2% of church websites fail the first impression test

To the utter dismay and shock of my team and I, a whopping 96.2% of churches failed the first impression test.

Of the 1,008 churches we tested: 970 failed. Only 38 passed.

Upon seeing the results, the first thing I did was question the test. Was it too difficult? Was it too demanding?

8 out of 10 church websites tested failed more than one part of the first impression test

But as I dug into the data a bit more, I was shocked to find that – not only were churches failing the test – but it wasn't even particularly close.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 church websites tested failed more than one part of the first impression test.

  • 80.5% of church websites failed more than one part
  • Only 19.5% of church websites failed a single part
  • 27.1% of church websites failed two parts
  • 32.2% of church websites failed three parts
  • 17.6% of church websites failed four parts
  • 3.6% of church websites failed all five parts
  • Just 3.8% of church websites passed the first impression test

And we don't stop there…

Let's take a look at each of the five parts of the first impression test.

Part 1: 76% of church websites lack a primary focal point

Of the 1,008 church websites we tested, 76.1% lacked a primary focal point.

231 church websites passed. 777 failed.

But you're probably wondering:

What is a primary focal point anyway?

Simply put, a primary focal point is the part of a website that you see first. It's where your eye is drawn when you see a website for the very first time.

According to a study from Google, website designs with “low visual complexity” were found to be most appealing to users

Seriously though, who cares about primary focal points? Why did we include this as the first part of the first impression test?

To make a point (pun intended), according to a study from Google, users love simple and familiar designs.4

Google explains it like this: “You click on a link to a website, and after a quick glance you already know you’re not interested, so you click ‘back’ and head elsewhere. How did you make that snap judgment? Did you really read and process enough information to know that this website wasn’t what you were looking for? Or was it something more immediate?”

The key findings from Google's study were that websites with low visual complexity were perceived as highly appealing.

A study from Northumbria University revealed that the “feel” of a website is the main driver of first impressions

But that's just part of the story…

A study from Northumbria University revealed that the “feel” of a website is the main driver of first impressions.5 Moreover, of all the feedback given to the researchers in this study, 94% was about design (complex, busy layout, etc.) – only 6% of feedback was about actual content on the websites being analyzed.

Here's the good news:

You don't need award-winning, world class design to make a great first impression. Recall the study from Google: website designs with “low visual complexity” were found to be most appealing to users.

The baseline for low visual complexity is a primary focal point. Without it, visitors to your website will become confused and are more likely to click away – this is also why you should never use a church website slider.

This is why we've engineered every Nucleus to have a primary focal point – it's built into the fabric of Nucleus. When a new visitor lands on a church's Nucleus, their eyes are drawn immediately to the main headline and feature card – this is the primary focal point of every Nucleus.

Of course, if you're unsure of what a primary focal point actually is, below you'll find two examples – one website with a primary focal point, and one without.

Bottom line: Websites with low visual complexity make the best first impressions – a primary focal point is a must on every website homepage.

When a new visitor lands on a church's Nucleus, their eyes are drawn immediately to the main headline and feature card – this is the primary focal point of every Nucleus

When a new visitor lands on a church's Nucleus, their eyes are drawn immediately to the main headline and feature card – this is the primary focal point of every Nucleus

This website does not have a focal point - where is your eye drawn? There are too many elements on this visually complex homepage

This website does not have a focal point – where is your eye drawn? There are too many elements on this visually complex homepage

Part 2: 40% of church websites are not responsive

Of the 1,008 church websites we tested, 40.2% lacked responsive design.

603 church websites passed. 405 failed.

In May of 2015, Google made a startling announcement: “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”6

In 2017, worldwide mobile traffic accounted for 52.64% of all Internet traffic

Since that announcement, the increase of mobile Internet browsing has only intensified.

So much so that in 2017, worldwide mobile traffic (smartphones + tablets) accounted for 52.64% of all Internet traffic – not just search – ALL Internet traffic combined.7

What does this mean for you?

It means that if your church's website isn't responsive (meaning, it doesn't adjust its size and structure based on the dimensions of the device it's being viewed with), you're creating a frustrating experience for the majority of the people visiting your site.

According to Adobe, nearly 8 in 10 of consumers would stop engaging with content that doesn’t display well on their device.8

Knowing that the majority of traffic to websites comes from mobile devices, we engineered Nucleus mobile first. Meaning, when we began imagining the platform, we first imagined what it could look like on a phone – before we ever imagined how it would look on a desktop computer.

Bottom line: More than half of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices. If your church's website isn't responsive, you'll be surrendering the majority of potential traffic coming to your website.

Part 3: 38% of church websites fail the speed test

Of the 1,008 church websites we tested, 38.3% failed the speed test.

622 church websites passed. 386 failed.

To properly measure the speed of a website, we used one of the industry-leading tools for measuring the performance of a website: Pingdom Website Speed Test.

Performing the test is simple (you can test your own website right now): paste in your URL and click ‘Start Test'.

If your website loads in 3 seconds instead of 2 seconds, 2X as many people will leave your site without visiting another page

To pass this part of the first impression test, your church's website needed to earn a score of 80 or above (a letter grade of ‘B' or higher). This score is measured according to Google's PageSpeed performance grade. Read more about Google PageSpeed here.

Why does this matter? Who cares how fast a website loads?

This is crazy: If your website loads in 3 seconds instead of 2 seconds, 2X as many people will leave your site without visiting another page.9

1 extra second in load time equates to twice as high a bounce rate.

As if that's not enough, mobile pages that are 1 second faster experience up to 27% increases in conversion rates.10

But wait there's more…

Early in 2018, Google announced that starting in July 2018 “page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.” They're calling it the “Speed Update.”

Simply put, the speed of your site directly affects how search engines like Google will rank your site in search. And if you want people to find your church when they're searching online, you'll want to show up as high in search ranking as possible.

Bottom line: Page speed is critical to making a great first impression – and directly affects how your church's website is ranked in search results.

Free Bonus: Click here to download the full first impression case study of more than 1,000+ churches from 32 different countries

Part 4: 32% of church websites contain stock photos of people's faces

Of the 1,008 church websites we tested, 31.7% contained stock photos of people's faces.

688 church websites passed. 320 failed.

I'll keep this short:

Photography is an amazing way to introduce your church to a potential new visitor and make a good first impression.

On the other hand, using stock photos that include the faces of real people – real people that do not attend your church – is disingenuous and deceptive.

Imagine this:

After moving to a new city, you search online for a local restaurant that serves great hamburgers. You visit a restaurant's website and immediately see a picture of a mouthwatering burger. “This is great – let's go here!” you think to yourself.

You get in your car, drive to the restaurant, and order the burger. But when your server presents you with the food that you've ordered, instead of seeing the mouthwatering burger you saw on the restaurant's website, you see a flimsy mess.

“This doesn't look like the burger I saw on your website,” you'd say to the server. To which she'd reply, “Oh yeah, that's not the burger we serve here. We just found that picture online.”

Using stock photos of people on your website that don't attend your church is disinegnous and deceptive

Now:

If this happened to you, how upset would you be?

Not only was the photo on the website deceptive, but you got in your car, drove all the way to the restaurant, thought you were getting one thing but instead got something completely different.

Do you see the parallel here?

It's deceptive and disingenuous to use stock photos on your church's website – stock photos that include the faces of real people that don't attend your church.

With that being said, if you want to use stock photos of nature, architecture, hands, feet, Bibles, etc. – go for it! Just don't use stock photos on your website of real people that don't attend your church.

Want to know the best part? Stock photography is completely unnecessary! You can shoot stunning photos of your church without a camera…for free! Here's how.

Bottom line: The use of stock photography on your website that includes real people – people that don't attend your church – is disingenuous and deceptive. Don't do it.

62% of church websites do not have easy to find new visitor information

62% of church websites do not have easy to find new visitor information

Part 5: 62% of church websites do not have easy to find new visitor information

Of the 1,008 church websites we tested, 61.7% did not have easily accessible new visitor information.

386 church websites passed. 622 failed.

Imagine a new visitor walks into your church on a Sunday morning. But instead of being greeted and welcomed, no one acknowledges them at all. They step into an unfamiliar environment and are left to fend for themselves.

If you're a pastor or church leader, imagining a situation like this in your own church probably makes your heart sink.

It takes considerable effort for a visitor to attend a church for the first time. And when they do, we want them to feel valued, welcomed, and comfortable.

Sadly, most church websites do not function in the same way.

Most websites didn't make any effort to acknowledge potential new visitors on their homepage

As my team and I analyzed each of the church websites included in this case study, we each had a unique perspective. None of us had attended any of these churches before – we were being introduced to them for the first time through their websites.

And while some church websites welcomed us with sections/buttons that said “Plan A Visit” or “I'm New” – most websites didn't make any effort to acknowledge potential new visitors on their homepage.

Attending a new church for the first time can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. To make things easier, dedicate a portion of your church's homepage (ideally, a very prominent portion) to acknowledging and welcoming potential new visitors.

The Nucleus framework is engineered to do this exact thing. We recommend that each of our churches dedicate the first card on their website to welcoming new visitors. You can see this in action here.

Bottom line: If a new visitor walked into your church on a Sunday morning and wasn't welcomed or acknowledged, it would be disappointing. Similarly, make sure your website's homepage has new visitor information readily available and easy to locate. Looking for an example? Here's how we do it within Nucleus.

Free Bonus: Click here to download the full first impression case study of more than 1,000+ churches from 32 different countries

Conclusion

First impressions are made online.

Every day people in your community are searching for a church. But instead of checking out your service, they’re first checking out your website. Sadly, 96% of church websites fail the first impression test. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nucleus is uniquely constructed to make great first impressions for your church – every single time.

From single-click templates to fillable message notes and advanced integrations, Nucleus is unlike anything else. Why just have a website, when you could have a Nucleus?

Join more than 1,000+ churches already using (and loving!) Nucleus.

Click here to see what sets Nucleus apart – and never make a bad first impression online ever again.