It took longer than expected, yet at the same time was easier and more exciting and fun than expected. The excitement and fun came from my need to create something that I can see and “touch” (virtually counts, I guess) even though I work in an environment that calls for long-term patience to see the fruit of labor.
I renovated the African Christian College website.
It started out with updating out-of-date information. This included adding our newest board members, changing our curriculum, 2013 applications, and other information. In many ways routine content updates as things change and evolve. The overwhelming amount of content without visual communication really nagged me (especially the home page). And I’m getting hammered with data and commentary on the need for mobile-friendly websites (which we also lacked). So, I began to look for a change.
The site is built on WordPress using the Genesis framework, so I went to StudioPress to find a new theme. Surprise! The theme I had already purchased for ACC had just been completely redesigned and I loved the new, improved look. This meant I only had to spend time and no more money to improve the site. So, I went for the new look. I think it vastly improved the look and feel of the site — and forced me to fill some content gaps I didn’t complete before.
The main challenge, though, came in messaging. Our audiences are very diverse, yet at this time we’re keeping everyone on the same URL. There is little comparison between the two primary audiences: American individuals and churches who help financially support ACC and African youth considering Christian higher education to earn their college degree. Yikes!
Here’s what I chose:
- I focused the main message of the home page on recruiting students. These messages also communicate values and information to our supporters that helps fill the information gap for them.
- Yet, the main call to action on the homepage is to sign-up for our email newsletter — primarily a supporter action at this point.
- The far right sidebar changes audiences to hit the big issues — Our vision (a supporter message), About Us (links for both), Financial Aid (for students), Sustainability (for supporters), and Our faith (for both).
- The other sidebar attempts to appeal to both audiences in the majority of its content (latest posts from students, recent news), but does deliver audience specific content (donate link, degree information, ways to help links).
- Changed the tone of voice. I felt the third person, technical talk was too formal for both audiences.Incoming students want to hear about life at our college and learn about our programs in a way they can picture themselves as students. The comments I receive from supporters is a desire to hear more stories in a more “chatty” way that helps them feel connected.
- More visuals. The original site was ready for pictures, but never got them. This time I forced myself to include more.
I think this is vital to a good feeling for both audiences.
- These visuals included images from our new recruiting materials and tags we use in them. Our descriptive tag words (Intellectually Rigorous. Practical. Spiritual. Relational. Affordable.) are found on appropriate pages. Our main recruiting tag line (Study God’s Word. Serve God’s World.) is reserved for the home page and maybe one other place.
One of the side benefits of the update theme from StudioPress is that it is developed with mobile responsive design. It’s not perfect (particularly our logo at the top), but it responds to the device the user is viewing our website — collapsing things to be better viewed on a mobile device or ipad or smaller desktop window — rather than forcing the pinches, zooms, etc. to read content. It also means I can manage one website and no longer worry about the need for a separate, mobile site. (Here’s an interesting case study on mobile vs. responsive design I received in my reader this week).
Did I miss the mark? Was this balance right? What decisions would you make differently in communicating to these diverse audiences? As someone who likely fits one or both of the audiences, you’re the expert I need to improve my online communications.