Know Your Audience

As we move through 150 CMS websites, upgrading to our latest template, we have been getting a number of disheartening requests for featured homepage content. Because of this, I would like to offer a friendly reminder to know your audience.

Example 1: An Academic or Donation Website?

We had one academic department wish to ask for donations boldly at the top of their homepage. My question is: what is their main mission? I would hope that it is to attract and educate students and not to simply raise money. Obviously, attracting donors, connecting with alumni, and securing sponsored research is important. I get that. However, if I am a 17 year old high school student looking at your program information and I’m asked about donating as my first interaction with your department, do you think I will come to Michigan Tech?

Example 2: Are We on the Internet or an Intranet?

Another academic department recently held a large committee meeting to discuss their new homepage. To my dismay, they repeatedly referred to their homepage as something to serve their faculty and staff. Michigan Tech has more than 7,000 students and less than 500 faculty. I can guarantee you that prospective students make a far larger portion of our 20 million yearly web visitors than internal faculty and staff. If I am a 23 year old prospective graduate student interested in 3D printing and I find internal forms and a staff handbook on your department’s homepage, do you think I’ll keep digging or leave your website?

Moral of the Story

Your website is your most important marketing tool. It is meant to serve external users and is meant to cater to your most important one or two audiences before the others. If I’m a prospective student, my tolerance for trying to find information will be low. A donor with ties to the university will have a bit more tolerance. A faculty member who needs to update their advising information will have more tolerance yet. And a staff member who has to download a form as a part of their job will have the most tolerance. I’m not suggesting to hide your internal information completely. But, it doesn’t necessarily need to be one click off your homepage either. Don’t forget about Hick’s Law.

Can you still put a giving button on your homepage? Sure! Can you still have a link somewhere to your staff handbook or departmental tools and forms? Yes. I understand the need. But, by golly, please do not make these things the focal point of your homepage or even your navigation. A prospective student will not tolerate a terrible user experience. A staff member may grumble about one extra click to find their form, but they will at least be motivated to follow through. A donor who is committed to supporting your department will still give even if there isn’t a donation billboard flashing at them the second they load your website.

Once you know your audience, you can figure out the user intent then design your pages for the best user experience.

Let’s make and keep our websites awesome.

Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager