I’ve worked on several Drupal updates and redesigns for university websites since I’ve worked at Duo, and the one thing that still surprises me is the level of intricacy needed for the sites. I don’t necessarily mean that the sites are complex, but rather, the planning and organizing of content is more complex than your normal consumer-based site.
Why is that?
Think about it. Imagine you are the owner of a website that sells pet products. Who is your audience? Pet owners. That seems simple enough.
But think about a university. Who is their audience?
- Current students?
- Prospective students?
The answer is all of the above. Now the reality is that not all of those audiences carry the same weight, but they all are key users of the site. As a result, planning how to organize content on the site can be challenging.
Now the reality is that some of the content overlaps between audiences. Let’s take a quick look at what content each audience may be interested in.
- Interested in: Career services, school directory, intranet functions
- Interested in: Admissions criteria, current student work, job-placement information
- Interested in: Donor information, school news
- Interested in: Bio page, faculty research, intranet functions
- Interested in: School directory
- Interested in: Admissions criteria, job-placement information, school news
The challenge with all of these audiences and their overlapping interests is that you want to direct each audience down a specific path, but you still want to leave room for any audience to jump into another audience’s path. That is why it is imperative to prioritize your content. By that I mean you must understand what your high-stakes content is and what is not quite as important.
For many schools, admissions and job-placement information are usually considered high-stakes content because prospective students and their parents are critical to the future of the school. But that is not true across the board. Some schools, for example, are in the envious positions of having more applications than they can handle. In that case, prioritizing future applications is not as important as generation a boost in funding. With that example, alumni needs and donor-specific information is what becomes high-stakes content.
My point is that in order to prioritize your content, you need to first be able to prioritize your audiences. You can’t have each and every one of those audiences I mentioned be your primary audience. It’s just not possible. Your site will inherently become disorganized and hard to navigate because you’re trying to do too much for too many people.
Pick your top audience. Pick the content they’re most interested in. Then begin the organization.
Drupal makes this part really helpful because you can filter and present content in any number of different ways. Say, for example, that it is really important to highlight your faculty and their achievements. Drupal can provide you with multiple avenues to present the same content in different navigational structures. What that means is you don’t need to commit to displaying content in only one way.
So, let’s say you land on a professor’s bio page. Here is what you would conceivably find as you scroll down her page:
- Hero image of her teaching
- Contact information
- Academic areas of interest
- Courses she teaches
- Biographical information
- A marketing department-created video of her talking about why the school is a great place for prospective students to attend
- News articles quoting her
- Her latest research
- Testimonial quotes from past students
Now let’s say you click one of her academic areas of interests and you end up on a more general landing page for that area of interest — let’s say documentary filmmaking. Among the content that appears on that page is information about every professor who teaches documentary filmmaking. Instead of just listing her name and the top content from her bio, though, you can use Drupal to customize what content appears. So perhaps on this page, you decide to have courses she teaches and student testimonials listed at first, and then the user can click a button for her bio page to learn more about her.
The options are just about limitless. It all just depends on who your primary audiences are and what content you want them to access.