The Doctrine of Design 1: How to Quickly Improve Your Website

The Doctrine: Pareto’s Principle

Pareto’s Principle, otherwise famously known as the 80/20 rule, states that 20% of variables in any system create 80% of the effects. For example, 80% of a town’s traffic happens on 20% of its roads.

I have heard this thrown around in church settings for years, as in, “Twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the serving around here!” Or, “Twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the griping around here!” Both are true.

The percentages can vary up to 10% in each direction and aren’t important. What is important is the understanding that a small percentage of variables create a large percentage of effects.


How to Apply It

Most church websites stink. (Newsflash, I know.)

One of many major design flaws in most bad sites is clutter. Most sites have lots of links and buttons that get very little traffic. According to Pareto, 80% of all of those links are useless. If we bring out the things people actually want to click on, we can dramatically improve the usability of the website, which in turn will increase user traffic. Here’s what to do:

1. Start with Your Data.

Analyze your site data (if you don’t have site data, set some up, wait a month and then come back to this page). I’ll experiment with my blog. Now that I have been online in my current configuration for a year I have some good data to work with.

2. Look for Trends in Visitor Paths.

Most traffic comes in from the same few sources and search terms. This isn’t really all that helpful. What is more interesting is what people do once they’re on the site. How many stay? How many leave? Of those who stay, what do they click?

The data shows me that right now my overall exit rate is 68%. This refers to the percentage of people on average who left my site after viewing a page. The exit rate from my home page is 57%, which means that 57% of people clicked on my home page and found nothing else worth viewing and left. My goal is to lower this figure, if possible.

I also see that just like the rule states, 80% of my traffic goes to the top 20% of posts. This presents two problems. One, not all of these posts are reflective of where I want to take the site (my 2008 post on frogs? really?), and two, four of the five categories in the navigation bar are useless.

Of those who stay, the vast majority click Home, About Me (which means they’re probably new), Books, Leadership, or – surprise – 5 Things, an apparently underused variety pack of topics mashed under one banner.

3. Make New Plans According to Traffic Patterns.

If you’ve ever sat in a long line at a traffic light you know the frustration of poor attention to design. You wish somebody would improve traffic. In the same way, I need to improve my site traffic by

  • reducing the number of navigation links
  • getting rid of stuff that isn’t getting clicked on
  • accentuating the positive

I decided to leave Communication as a link, because it’s a central part of the site’s brand identity.

I have also decided to start doing more with my dusty “5 Things” series.

4. Redo Your Site.

Here are my old and new navigation bars, which of course you can see above as well.




We’ll see what it does to my exit rate. Any further ideas?