Does this web site work? Rockland Community College, the State University of New York (www.sunyrockland.edu). (First Click).
* It's easy to find what you need on this site; the information is presented clearly. By segmenting information into the basic areas of About SUNY Rockland, Directory, Student Life, Course Offerings, etc., the site allows visitors to find what they need quickly. There isn't any extraneous "stuff" to sift through.
* Displaying a shot of the campus center-stage on the home page is right on. But how about making it a link to a virtual tour or more pictures of campus, classes, students, and faculty?
* Placed prominently on the home page are links to two strong selling points for any community college--quick certification (Fast Track/Career in a Year), and ability to easily continue on to a bachelor's degree (Begin Your Bachelor's at SUNY Rockland). The promotional information provided within those links is smart, concise, and well written, and would snag the interest of any prospective applicant.
* Kudos for placing important phone numbers (Admissions; main number) right up front. It prevents the site visitor from having to wade through the entire site, searching for a way to contact real people.
* The navigation from the home page needs work. The site designers need to think about the audiences the site will serve, and top information resources. Use the information resource links to help develop a global navigation system that will appear on every page beneath the home page.
* There are just too many choices to make--literally half a dozen ways--to get information on the same item. For instance, clicking the Directory link on the home page, or any of the five other links throughout the page (four department links, and another Directory link) bring you to the same page. Not only is it confusing when the same term is re-labeled, but the sheer repetition detracts from what could actually be a simple navigation scheme.
* The design leaves something to be desired. Prospective college students and Internet surfers in general are accustomed to seeing the latest in sharp Web site design. Hate to say it, but this site says "behind the times" before anyone ever gets inside it.
* The look of the Web site is inconsistent. From page to page, the site is too diverse in style, with wildly varying margins, type-faces and sizes, and colors. Also absent is a consistent use of proportion/spacing, with pages looking either too sparse or too dense. Because most of the site's pages are quite text-heavy, the use of judicious graphic embellishment, visual balance, and consistency can play an even greater role.
* Visitors simply drown in an ocean of text on pages like Programs of Study. This information is important and shouldn't be dumped on a page! Here, a good site designer can be worth his weight in gold.
* The college needs to brand itself better. The home page presents the tag line: "Find yourself at SUNY Rockland Community College," but there are no supporting headlines or subheads within the site to add dimension to the theme. Photographs with captions and/or links to student profiles would be another great (and actually, obvious!) way for the college to support the "promise" of its brand.
* The home page attempts to list everything under the sun all on one page, acting more as a site map rather than an actual Web page. Reorganization of site elements--so that information is broken down into logical, digestible chunks--is essential.
* Use color, typography, and other style elements with consistency, to achieve visual balance. The site seems to have been constructed by multiple individuals who did not confer with one another.
* Don't skimp on the visuals. Use of photography, and other graphic elements will help to break up the tedium of a largely text-based page. The Campus Tour link--located within About SUNY Rockland Community College--is a good start at an attempt to consolidate terms/links and visual presentation.
* Some pages--the Campus Tour page, for instance--seem to be up, but not functional. Let your visitors know that, with a "We're Under Construction" message. I kept clicking away until I realized I wasn't getting anywhere!
* The emphasis on affordability is right on the money, on the Begin Your Bachelor's page, but shouldn't it be even more up front, in this day and age? I'm still waiting for the community college execs smart enough to use affordability as part of their slogan. How about, "Find yourself at affordable SUNY Rockland"?
* Form a cross-functional, cross-campus team to address the key issues of a) navigation systems; b) content accuracy, style, tone, and contribution to marketing efforts; c) design quality and continuity; and d) ongoing maintenance and site updates. I'm certain there are staff, faculty, and students on SUNY Rockland's campus who are dying to have a more robust site that provides service and information.
* If resources (people and funds) aren't available on campus to bring the site up to a very basic level of functionality, begin looking at some thoughtfully designed higher education Web sites: Baylor University (www.baylor.edu) and Elmira College (www.elmira.edu) are two solid examples, and Washington State University (www.wsu.edu) is an excellent model. Using sites such as these as jumping-off points, develop a list of goals and objectives.
* Conduct a market research study to determine the very best positioning strategy for the school, and verify the top information needs of the site's key constituents (prospects, parents, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, etc.). Pulling information from prospects and their families should become as important as pushing information to them.
* Use marketing (and writing) professionals to develop content; solicit faculty assistance in developing content for academic-related sections and pages; visit with Student Affairs staff when it's time to rework the student activities pages.
* Adding a content management system to the site will help avoid broken links, outdated information, and vast differences in design and navigation presentation from page to page. A content management system can also help disperse across campus the work of developing new pages and maintaining existing ones. Asking a Webmaster to develop effective recruitment marketing content is tantamount to asking the president of the college to run registration. Webmasters are a great resource for college campuses, but their expertise typically lies in the technology arena.
WEB SITE EVALUATION PANEL:
Stephanie Geyer directs the Web Site Development and E-communications Services for Noel-Levitz (www.noellevitz.com), consultants specializing in higher ed student recruitment, financial aid, student retention, market research, publications, and Web development.
Kathy Grayson is the parent of a college student.
Ken Lalli is professor of Web and Graphic Design at Norwalk Community College (CT), and a freelance designer.
Liz LeFrancois is a guidance counselor at Bristol Eastern High School (CT).