Subdomain Use in Catholic School Web Design

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Catholic school sites are complicated. Considering this, I’m always surprised at the very small number of Catholic schools that take advantage of subdomains for organization. We think they are a great tool for organizing a large site like a Catholic school one.

Let’s take three common sections of a Catholic school site:

  • Academics
  • Alumni
  • Athletics

The traditional way to handle this is to simple create a section in your url for each of these. So you’d have:

  • www.yourschool.com/academics
  • www.yourschool.com/alumni
  • www.yourschool.com/athletics

What’s wrong with this? Nothing, really. It’s a pretty common model, and it makes sense. However, I think we can do one better.

Not Different Sections, Different Entities

In the above examples, each part of the site like Alumni is a section, and the school itself is the main section. That’s fine for most sites, but for Catholic school sites, the divisions go beyond just different sections. They are different entities.

Think about it: your alumni exist in a whole different realm than your current students. The content from the two are so different and the goals are so different they almost warrant different sites. The same with your academics and your athletics and your admissions. (In fact, many Catholic schools do have different sites for groups like alumni.) Each one is a separate entity within your organization, not just a section. The difference is admittedly subtle, but it exists.

If those separations are entities, then what are sections. Football, for example, is a section of Athletics. Courses is a section of Academics. Again, the difference is subtle. We’re talking about shifting your main level navigation items into entities, and your 1st level sub navigation into the main level of those entities.

The Result

Going back to our examples, here’s what they look like in subdomain format:

  • academics.yourschool.com
  • alumni.yourschool.com
  • athletics.yourschool.com

In each one, we’ve replaced the www with our different entity names. That way the football section can become:

athletics.yourschool.com/football

Much cleaner, and much more direct. The home page can still be:

www.yourschool.com

That’s where you put general information about your school, as well as contact info. It depends on your situation, but you can even use a subdomain for a campaign, such as:

the2010campaign.yourschool.com

Dealing with Different Subdomains

Any host worth hosting with can create subdomains, and usually this means different folders on your FTP server for each subdomain you create.

Some sub domains may need an entirely different system, such as athletics, since the functionality is so different. Most sections, though should share files using absolute server paths. That way, when you change the header on academics.yourschool.com, the header will change on all the subdomains.

Of course, this can be controlled pretty finely, and should be tailored for your specific technical setup. A good first step is looking at the CMS solution you are deploying (if you are using one) and seeing if there is support for subdomains.

Conclusions

On many websites, subdomains are unnecessary, but on Catholic school websites, they can be an extremely effective way to tame the massive amount of data that the site collects and displays.


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