Did you know that over 130,000 different people visit websites managed by Web Design & Support every month?
The Internet has brought people together in ways barely imagined and has provided a revolution in communication as profound as Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press almost 600 years ago.
Information can be transmitted at the speed of light in a fashion that ignores borders and censors. Profound thoughts or mundane ramblings all have a place in the biggest marketplace of ideas ever conceived.
While all this rhetoric might seem a bit hyperbolic, it is still true. Through your website you have access to an unprecedented reach; the ability to share your exploits and communicate your mission with thousands of people ranging from prospective students to your current staff.
Here are a few tips to help best utilize your website.
Common Pages & Features
Some pages belong on all department sites regardless of unit or purpose. Here’s a run down of the information every site should have:
- Welcome/About: A few paragraphs touting your department or program’s history and mission to introduce visitors who are curious.
- Meet the Staff: A list of all staff members in your department and their individual contact information, usually at least phone numbers and email addresses. Can also include photos and a short biography at the department’s discretion.
- Contact Us: A generic contact information page that lists the department’s full postal address, its office location, and administrative phone and fax numbers.
Remember Your Audience
Whenever you write or update your website consider the group that you are primarily interested in reaching. Information for prospective students will be organized very differently than information for current students or faculty and staff. If your site needs to serve more than one audiences it can be a good idea to split up the information into sections for each.
For example, you might have a section for prospective students titled “Interested in majoring in X?” While a section for current students could be called “Important Forms for Current Students.”
Information is easier for your audience to find if you label and organize it specifically. Instead of having a long page named “Resources” for example, consider breaking that page up into more specific categories. When naming the categories, approach the question of what to name these links from the perspective of “If I were…” If you were a future student, what would you be looking for? If you were a current student? A faculty or staff member?
Share the Load
websites at Southeast using the RedDot content management system allow more than one person access to make updates to departmental websites. This means that it doesn’t fall on just one person in your department to keep the website up to date. Depending on how important your website is to your department’s communication strategy and how large the site ends up being, you should consider having more than one editor and delegating responsibility of maintaining different sections to different editors.
Web Design & Support can also provide your department with a “generic” username and password for your student workers that will allow them to make updates to your content as well. Keep in mind that any updates made by student workers would have to be reviewed by the department before they are made public.
Know Your Limits
Certainly there are a lot of possibilities open to your department when creating a website. You can have photo galleries and feature videos and a news section that can give your audience updates on relevant events and departmental accomplishments.
Before requesting every feature in the book, however, it’s important to consider what you will actually have time to use. Since your department will use an internal editor or editors to maintain the site after it is built, it will be up to you to keep any dynamic content, such as a news and events section, “fresh.”
With that in mind, it is important to consider how much time departmental editors will have to make updates to your website and how central the site is to your department’s overall communication strategy. While it would certainly be wonderful to have every department maintain a full-featured and frequently updated website, given the limited resources everyone must deal with that scenario simply isn’t possible.
So it is recommended that you take stock of how much time you expect to be able to invest in the content of your website and plan its features accordingly. The general rule of thumb is “no content is better than old content,” so if you are not certain you will be able to maintain a news section then it is better not to have one at all.
This rule also applies to any information you have on your site. Specific information about courses or events is certainly very useful to your audience and it is highly recommended that you make it a priority to include such information. But if you cannot, then it is better to keep the information on your site general so that if it is impossible to keep up with the changes you need to make people are not relying on the old information they find online.