The Great Home Page Debate

One of the great things about Catholic schools are the diversity within them. You’ve got all sorts of different departments, clubs, and teams under the same roof as part of the same larger organization.

They have one thing in common, though, they all want resources, and they all want visibility for they do. The office administration wants to get the calendar in front of as many people as possible because it makes their lives easier. The soccer coach wants to promote the soccer team because, well, that’s his team. Each group needs something.

The Home Page

So based on this fact, we can probably guess what happens when a new home page is being designed for a Catholic high school: everyone wants a piece. The administrators who deal with getting information to parents want links for parents on the home page. Athletics wants scores and pictures on the home page. The IT guys who maintain the portal want a login right smack dab on the top right hand corner.

The reasons for this vary in specifics, but the underlying reason is just one: the home page is prime web real estate. Who wouldn’t want a little piece of the home page action? Everyone sees it, and you can capture some eyeball attention if you are place prominently.

Un-clutter The Home Page

As we’ve written about here before, we have different groups communicate to, and our home page is a prime place to do it. Who are we communicating to here? The unconverted. Like we wrote about in our Information vs. Communication post, we are primarily communicating to the Unsold on the home page.

Because of this, we need a targeted message, and the chances that that targeted message is going to miraculously come to fruition if everyone’s demands are met is slim to none. So instead, let’s get down to what we can do to ensure that everything goes in the right place.

Set up a Gate Board

Yes, you read that right. We are suggesting setting up a board, just for the home page. Sounds crazy, but if you have the right administration around you, it can be very, very handy.

This is a very important board, but it serves one of the most important purposes of the entire marketing outreach: deciding what the first impression of thousands of visitors is for your school.

Putting together a Gate Board is easy. You just need three people:

1. You. If you are reading this and you understand and agree with what we say about communication on the home page, then congratulations! You are a prime candidate for heading the gate board. You are also the organizer, so you can ever wear a special hat if you want to.

2. Someone High Up. Now we’re getting sneaky, but we need to. Get someone – a VP for Advancement, your President, anyone with clout, to be on your board. Sit them down, tell them how important it is that we communicate the right thing on your home page, and that the school needs their clout to do it right. It’s not like you are asking them to dress up in the mascot costume and serve lunch. Tell them it will take almost no effort on their part whatsoever, you just need to send a message that being on the home page is a big deal.

3. Someone Lovable and Respected. You can probably guess what we are going for here. The Gate Board needs someone like an old priest, nun, or teacher everyone loves. Let him know the low-down, and your trio is complete.

Once you have your trio, and the other two understand and are sympathetic to the cause of the gate board and the need to communicate effectively to help the school (this is very, very important or else you just ruined your Gate Board), then you can now meet once a month for 10 minutes to accept/reject front page content proposals. For things that require urgent attention, do it through e-mail.

The key is if you have primed your Gate Board members correctly, they should be in the same mindset as you – communicating the vision of the school and putting the best foot forward on the home page. Requests for having today’s lunch on the home page should be handily rejected, and by no less than two well respected people (and you). Not to say that you aren’t well respected.

Now you have an effective barrier between you and the rest of the school, and you can work on communicating the vision and the message of your school.

Building Paths

So, what does go on the home page? You know in theory, but now you have the control.

A good way to figure out what needs to be communicated is to see if other content can be put into a path that would make sense for the visitor. Here are some examples:

  • Parent Forms: Parents -> Forms
  • Mens Soccer Schedule: Athletics -> Soccer (Mens) -> Schedule
  • Alumni Events: Alumni -> Events

Those all can be placed into the hierarchy of the site, because the path to get there makes sense and can be followed by the person looking for the content.

However, sometimes we come across something different, for example, a Capital Campaign mini site.

The big differences between the CC mini site and parent forms is that a.) the CC communicates the vision of the school and raises revenue b.) the people who are looking at the CC mini site are mostly “The Unsold” (meaning they need to be sold on the vision to donate) and c.) Many of the people who we want looking at the CC mini site may not be looking for it at all.

Putting the CC mini site under Development -> Capital Campaign doesn’t make any sense in this case. It is a vision communicator, and a revenue generator, two things that make it prime front page material. Therefore, it needs to go on the front page in some sort of highlighted, graphical way.

You can figure out most of what needs to go on the front page this way.

Front Page Material Attributes

Many things that belong on the front page share common attributes. Home page material should do one or some combination of these:

  • Communicate the school’s vision
  • Help raise funds in some way
  • Spotlight something that puts the school in a good light
  • Spotlight something that communicates the school’s vision
  • Provide important, timely information on something urgent (IE, a Haiti Relief drive)

Support a Clean Home Page with a Logical IA

A clean home page that communicates loses its impact if you don’t have a logical system of paths and organization (your Information Architecture) for the rest of your website. We’ll talk more about that next week, but in the mean time, take a good, hard look at your home page and see if you need a Gate Board!