We are often stuck seeing things from a singular perspective. For example, when I go to J.Crew's website, they expect that I will start to identify myself based on my gender, the type of clothing I am looking for, the color and size I want, etc. They have...

We are often stuck seeing things from a singular perspective. For example, when I go to J.Crew's website, they expect that I will start to identify myself based on my gender, the type of clothing I am looking for, the color and size I want, etc. They have organized their information and site navigation to let me follow this path, and for the purposes of shopping for a shirt or sweater, that works well.

However, when I visit a college or university Website, and I am often surprised to see the Prospective Students link in the main navigation, along with Current Students, Faculty, Parents, Staff, Alumni. Call me crazy, but shouldn't this Website be for the prospective students? If it's the link that is included in all the marketing and admissions materials, the link that is broadcast to the world as the place to find out about the school, the link that every prospective student and their parents will go to in order to find out more, then you bet - this site should be entirely for them. Prospects can include faculty, guests, anyone considering engaging with the school. However, relegating this very important audience to a small navigation item mixed in with the others is a big mistake.

The reason it's a mistake is because your audience won't do what you want them to. They will click into all the other sections, and you can bet money the "parents" won't exclusively spend time in the section just for them. They want the real scoop on what life is going to be like for their child. You see, they aren't looking for a black shirt sized medium. They are looking to figure out what your school is all about, is it a good fit for them, will they fit in? I would argue that you have to focus the entire experience of the public Website towards the prospective student experience, and direct your existing internal communities to "gateways" where they can get into sites developed exclusively for their needs.

Consider this - as a prospect, I am wondering what my life might be like "if" I was a student, or an alumni, or even as a professor at the school down the road. I know I am a prospective student right now, but I am investigating the possibility of becoming something else, and this "something else" is what I want to see and learn more about.

Typically the current students, alumni, faculty and staff are not going to be looking for the same information a prospective student will be seeking, and vice versa. So create the portals and intranets to serve your internal audiences, and stop trying to steer your audience to places they won't go. This will also save you the trouble of having to explain the confusion you have created by giving these prospects a gateway while also expecting them to navigate throughout other parts of the site, having them constantly wondering, is "this" for me?

Agree with me, disagree with me? Have an example of a college or university you think is doing things the right way? Leave a comment or a link, and thanks for joining the conversation!

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published January 5th 2010