A single paragraph can save your site

Just like the young childless couple who buys a four-bedroom house in the right school district, you have to think of the future when you’re planning or replanning your site.

That doesn’t mean you blow your budget on custom css and programming, the digital equivalent of marble floors and gold-plated faucets.

Think of it more like preparing for the elements with insulation that’ll keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

So what’s the web equivalent of blowing R49 into the drafty old attic? Better yet, what threats are the equivalent of winter cold and summer heat?

Threats to insulate your site from include top down decisions, like, “You will put this 800-word letter on our department’s page.” That could blow out your design, bore visitors to the site who aren’t looking to read a treatise, and above all, damage the authority your site desperately needs to be successful. Another threat might be a departmental homepage that starts with 20 links but over time bursts its seams and now has more than 60 links.

How do you manage threats like this?

It comes down to a single paragraph and a single committee.

Use both to outline to mission and audience of your site. Then answer any homepage question by referring back to your paragraph.

Hammer out the text of your paragraph by answering these questions:

What are the outcomes you want visitors to your site to have?

For example, do you want them to:

  • Learn more?
  • Fill in a web form?
  • Contact you?
  • Have an interactive experience?
  • What is the mission of your website? Why have a site at all?
  • Who is the primary audience and what are their primary functions on the site? What are the business purposes of their visits?
  • What strategies will you use to communicate or complete the transaction? (feature articles, static content, video, interactive components?)

Keep it to a paragraph. This is our site and these are our audiences. Any decisions made about the site must serve these purposes. This is your digital front porch, and you’ll likely have way more visitors to your site than you will to your front desk — so it is important.

Get the buy off you need on your paragraph from your dean, director, VP, whatever. Argue over your paragraph. Hash it out. Come as close to chiseling it in granite as possible. Fight over it — not your site.

This is the approach we take with the UO home site. Members of the editorial board routinely refer back the overarching mission of the site as they evaluate requests for links and changes to the home site.

Start writing your paragraph now. It might not always work. But you’ve begun the strategic process of managing your site. You’re at least shopping for the insulation you need.