Structure is everything. Granted, the recipe to a great web site contains a lot of different ingredients, including web design and development, content, social media, SEO, analytics…the whole nine yards. But a good foundation will allow these elements to work at their best, leaving you with a site that doesn’t only look good, but functions well too.
What’s more is that structure dictates content. In a previous post about writing for the web, we spoke about different practices that make for good online content, including everything from formatting to optimizing keywords. But before the writing starts, laying down the main components of your site will give you a clear understanding of the type of content you need to fill it with.
Consider audience, resourcefulness and purpose as the elements that make up the skeleton of the content on your site. Keep in mind that even though your college or university site is already up and moving, you can still evaluate the structure of the site to make sure that you have the right type and amount of content.
Here are three essential steps to strengthening the overall structure and content value of your website.
1. Define your audience
The only way to properly evaluate the content on any given web page is to think about the type of audience that will be visiting that particular page. To help determine your audience members, first breakdown the demographics of your website visitors.
For higher education marketing websites, the most common audience groups are:
- Current students
- Prospective students
- International students
- Faculty and staff
- Parents and alumni
- Partners and sponsors
- Participating community members (i.e. volunteers)
Does the current content on your site speak to all of these demographic groups? By mapping out your audience this way, you will have an easier time understanding which pages or level of information you need to expand on. To be truly effective, your site needs to reach out to all of its target visitors.
Take a look at how McGill University has a distinct navigation menu for each of their audience groups.
By choosing a demographic group from the options given at the top of the screen, the navigation menu below will change accordingly. What this does is allow the McGill site to be structured based on audience, and thus ensure that their visitors land on the pages they want to go to quickly and without getting lost.
2. Measure value and resourcefulness
Once you understand who is visiting your site, you can gain a better grasp on what your visitors are looking for. This brings us to our next point of evaluation: does your site’s content provide each group with the information they need?
Determining exactly what your visitors want to know will determine the type of content that should exist on your site.
For example, what sort of information do prospective students want to know? Here are the main pages that this demographic tends to visit:
- Program options
- Admission requirements
- Financial aid
- Housing options
Do all of these pages exist? Can they all be accessed directly from the homepage? If not, can they be found relatively easily?
You want to make sure that your visitors have an easy and enjoyable time discovering the answers that they have. If these top-tier pages are hidden under layers of other parent pages, then you run the risk of having visitors leave the site before finding what they were originally looking for. In other words, missing or hidden pages can potentially cause you to lose a new lead.
Another element of ensuring your web content is resourceful is providing your audience with information that they don’t realize will be useful to them. To continue with our student demographic example, here are a few examples of content pages students may not think to look for but would be interested in if they found it:
- Alumni mentor programs
- Community engagement initiatives
- Research achievements
- International study options
- Specials events or publications
3. Determine the purpose of each page
Every page on your site has to have a distinct purpose. The main Program page, for example, serves to inform visitors on the list of program options offered at your college or university. The purpose of the Contact page is to let visitors know the easiest ways to get in touch with you. All this seems obvious, but it’s possible that in between edits or redesigns, a few pages slipped between the cracks and exist with outdated content or no real function.
The visitor demographic and the purpose of a page will shape the type and amount of content your site needs. For example, the Housing and Residence pages will likely be visited by prospective students and parents. With this in mind, you will be able to craft your content in such a way that it will appeal to those specific demographics. Knowing that prospective students will be the primary demographic visiting that page, it is reasonable to include relative information that you think the visitor would want to know.
George Brown College International Student Housing page is a great example of how to integrate relative information on a given page by considering the target audience group. Make note of the right hand sidebar In the yellow box.
George Brown is aware that the group most likely to visit this page are prospective students, and therefore directs these visitors to other pages that they will likely be interested in, such as tuition costs and city guides.
Does your site have all the information that your visitors are looking for? Are there instances where content exists in more than one place, causing your site to have unnecessary duplicate pages?
As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, a solid website structure will directly affect the management and development of the content on your site. Once you have the structure of the site down, it will be easier to create the words to fill it up!
What practice has been useful for you when evaluating or creating content on your college or university website? Does structure play a role? Let us know!