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Your Homepage. It’s Your Brand.

August 21, 2011

A colleague of mine was telling me that his daughter has a job as a switchboard operator at the college she’s attending. He said she’s the voice of the college since she’s the first voice callers encounter. And I thought, she’s probably not the voice of the institution because most callers never call the main number. At my institution for instance, I’ve never dialed it. I dial direct numbers straight to the person or department I need on campus. Gone are the days when the switchboard operator handled all calls.

Such is how many web and digital strategists view the university website homepage. Because of search engines, search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, search engine marketing (SEM) tactics, and the habits of Gen X and Millennials, many people bypass the homepage and go straight to the content for which they’ve been searching, either because they know where they’re going, or because we direct them there.

This certainly is the philosophy I encountered at the eduWeb Conference in San Antonio earlier this month. So much so in fact that one presenter even made an aside comment to let the campus battle over homepage turf so that you may quietly accomplish what’s really important elsewhere on your website.

I certainly understand. At Concordia, only one of our optimized search terms takes visitors to our homepage, our pay-per-click ads (PPC) take our prospects straight to custom-made landing pages, and analytics tell us that many of our visitors never land on our homepage.

Even so, as we began to redesign our website one step at a time, we began with our homepage for two reasons.

Brand Culture

All of the above should tell you that there is obviously a lot of customization of web pages/experiences going on with university websites. An MBA site ought not look anything like an undergraduate admissions site. And you’re doing something wrong if your school of humanities site functions like your university advancement site.

Even if these different sites all fall within brand standards–and that’s a big “if” considering the decentralized nature of higher education marketing–they are each likely to emphasize a different message and have unique design elements. How we design professional studies, and what words and phrases we use to describe it, will vary greatly from what we do with the liberal arts.

The homepage, however, is where your university brand resides.

At Concordia University Irvine, it’s the place where we tell stories about who we are as a Lutheran academic community of the liberal arts and professional studies. It’s where we communicate our brand culture through a Twitter feed and a calendar of upcoming events. And it’s where we share a short statement about who we are for those who are interested in learning more.

Sure our homepage is a less traveled path to our website, but it’s so much more than that.

Brand Politics

This past year as we began to redesign our website a section at a time, while also launching a new branding campaign, our homepage was the logical place to start because it represented the whole university. If we began with undergraduate admissions, we would have blown out some of the brand boundaries in order to create a site fit for Millennials. If we started with our MBA program, it would have focused on professional studies instead of liberal arts. Not a wise thing to do politically.

But by beginning with our homepage we painted a picture for the executive team and board members of where we wanted to go with the brand and the website, and we were able to gain trust and build excitement for the changes.

Your homepage is not some inconvenience for web or IT staff, or a political turf not worth the fight. It’s where your university brand lives. And that deserves your attention.

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