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Communications Design Industry Discussion, Inspiration, & Tutorials

Aug 21, 2017

Website: Still a Great Marketing Tool

By On 09:55

I have a potential freelance design client who wants her small charter school website to be everything to all current existing, and future potential audiences. It’s always eye-opening to have these preliminary conversations about the goal of the site. She has every confidence that the designer—whoever she chooses to complete this project—will be able to translate the mission, vision, and voice of her school using the web medium—as well as cram in every single tidbit of information onto the homepage, with text links, widgets, and social updates galore. I’m equally confident that she will come to understand the reality of the new site through a little research.

Basically, I told her ‘No’ your site can’t and shouldn’t be everything to everybody. Your site should tell the story of educational excellence, academic rigor, and nurturing mentorship for your students. It should be a useful portal for information gathering...This tool is primarily a sales pitch and secondarily an information hub, wrapped up in your inviting (and truthful) narrative. This means that your entry page will not be all things to all people.

To best explain my point I opened several browser windows with university websites and have her scroll the first page of each, asking her questions as she did this:

  • Message: What, if anything can you guess about this organization from the page?
  • Audience: To whom does the page speak?
  • Action: What if anything do you want to click on, on this page?

 Click to view the mobile home pages of the following universities: Morgan State University Website, Gallaudet University, Loyola University Maryland, Delaware State University, and the newly redesigned Notre Dame of Maryland University: 

I took simple screen shots of each segment of each homepage and stitched them back together. What do you
think are the most and least effective sites...do they achieve their goal of marketing the unique
university experience..inviting further investigation, answering questions?

In looking at these seemingly unrelated (to her project) websites this client was able to look objectively at the content and come up with her own insights and conclusions without my forcing the issue.

  1. There is a balance of information, words, and images that makes a site appealing.
  2. There is the need for compelling story-telling to invite your audiences to dig deeper. A successful homepage tells your story and offers valuable information
  3. Offering too much OR too little information to your audiences means an unsuccessful design. Which means that you have paid a graphic designer, and spent hours creating and updating content, and maybe even learning a new content management system for very little return on your investment.

After this brief exercise I was able to restart the conversation of the goal of her redesigned homepage and we narrowed her target audience to this: parents of high achieving elementary school students…obviously we dug a bit deeper for a more precise definition of the audience, but that’s the basic gist. After this was established, we discussed the secondary/tertiary audiences. They won’t be left out of the site design, but the information will be placed strategically, to guide visitors’ journey through the site, as they select the audience to which they belong.

There is always more than 1 audience for this the of project. However, in speaking effectively to your primary audience you can—at times—speak just as clearly to others.