Thursday, July 19, 2012

www.YourSchool.edu

The purpose of the homepage of a school, college, or university is to assist the Admissions department in attracting and recruiting the best talent possible to your organization.

As such, the home page -- www.YourSchool.edu -- needs to be reliable, visually attractive, quick to load, easy to use and navigate, and it needs to facilitate the process of converting of converting users into customers.

Key Concepts

Reliable -- your organization's web site needs to be up and running all the time.  If an end-user goes to your homepage and it's down, the sales process is dealt a major blow.  If the end-user decides to come back to the site later (which they may not), their opinion of the organization is likely to be damaged.

Attractive -- your organization's web site needs to be visually appealing.  This goes beyond having a pleasing color palette with crisp, high-resolution graphics; it's about having a web site that builds a relationship of trust and high expectations with the end-user.  It demonstrates that the organization, collectively, feels that it's (virtual) appearance is important.  It demonstrates that the organization expects a lot from itself and, by extension, from it's students; the organization is successful and high-performing, and so are it's students.

Bear in mind that an increasing number of prospective customers are viewing your organization's web site through a mobile device.  A design that looks great when viewed from a desktop with a gigantic, high-resolution monitor may not look very good at all when rendered on cell phone with a screen small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Quick -- people have an increasingly short attention span.  Prospective students are unlikely to wait for your web site to load -- especially if it loads slowly -- when they believe that your competition's web site will load much faster.  Slow load times place unnecessary friction on the sales process.

Again, consider that more and more prospective students are viewing your organization's web site through a mobile device.  A web site with many large images or that embeds video may make the site unusable from a cell phone.

Easy to Use -- if a user is confused about how to use or navigate your organization's web site, it's possible that they'll move on to another school's site.  Moreover, if they have to interact with menus that involve multiple clicks and require the latest and greatest browser with cutting-edge JavaScript support, the probability of that user converting into a sale decreases quickly.

Facilitate Sales -- ultimately, it's all about sales.  Unfortunately, many schools that I've worked with tend to distance themselves from the concept of sales.  The reality is that the Admissions department is the organization's sales team.  The number one priority of the Admissions department is attracting and retaining the best talent possible.

Friction that inhibits the conversion of prospective customers into actual customers is detrimental to the organization's future.

The organization's home page is one of the Admissions department's primary tools.  As such, the organization's home page needs to be focused on assisting the conversion process of transforming prospective students into actual students.

Given that the primary focus of the home page should be assisting Admissions, functionality on the homepage that does not assist Admissions is actually detracting from the ability of the Admissions department to perform their core responsibilities.

For example, suppose Information Technology (IT) had a prominent link to their support / ticketing system.  In theory, this sounds like a good idea -- it makes it easier for staff, faculty, and administrators (oh, and the customers -- the students -- they can use it too) to have their computer issues resolved.

However, there's a cost associated with this link.  That prominent position on the web page can't be used for functionality that helps Admissions convert prospective customers into actual customers.  Moreover, consider the number of students who made their decision to attend a college based on a prominent link to a tracking system.  Here's a hint -- it's not a lot of people, if any at all.

There is a solution to all of this.

The home page -- www.YourSchool.edu -- is your organization's glossy brochure meant to bring in the best talent possible.  It serves no other purpose.

The home page is made as independent as possible from the rest of your web site.  Ideally, it should be hosted in a cloud environment backed by a Content Delivery Network (CDN) so that even if your organization's connection to the Internet goes down, the data center loses power, a database bites the dust, etc. the home page is still up and running.  Given the cost associated with hosting through Google's services -- including Google App Engine and Google Sites (especially after HTML box functionality was released) -- there is no reason not to deploy to their scaleable, redundant, high-performance, fault-tolerant environment.  In fact, Google App Engine can often be used for free and can be frequently integrated with your organization's on-site Content Management System (CMS).

But what about all of your organization's links to Information Technology, Human Resources, and the rest of your colleges services?

Your portal.

Related links

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Wes Dean, a Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist and a Google Apps Trusted Tester, is Principal of KDA Web Technologies, a Google Apps Authorized Reseller.  To learn how Wes and KDA Web Technologies can help you, go to http://www.kdaweb.com/.