SSP home page content review continued

With our initial content review of the main navigation tool complete we will now turn to reviewing the remaining content on the TRIO SSP home page in detail.

Let’s do a count of individual elements on the home page. We will use the groupings we described in an earlier post:

  • A notice about a class closure – 1 item
  • A list of program benefits – 7 items (counting the intro)
  • A collection of links to resources/information about upcoming semesters – 11 items
  • A photo album of SSP events – 8 items
  • Instructions about how to make an appointment with an advisor – 1 item
  • A list of upcoming event dates – 3 items
  • A TRiO SSP icon/badge – we won’t count this element because we migrated it to the main navigation tool

We have a grand total of 31 unique elements that a visitor to the TRIO SSP Web site can evaluate and utilize. We have two content headings that are in use to organize the elements: Welcome 2007 Freshmen, and Photo Album. A longer text description stating “Here are some links that may help you as you look forward to the coming semester:” paired with a horizontal rule separates one group of elements.

The physical dimensions of the home page in pixels is: 771 x 2074. On a computer running with a resolution of 800 x 600, a visitor has roughly 3.5 screens of information to scroll through, at 1024 x 768 there are roughly 2.7 screens of information. So, with the information presented on the home page, a standard user will be unable to review and consider all options without scrolling. If all of the information is valuable and necessary — this may be okay. Otherwise, we may have to weed out some of the excess.

Taking a closer look at the content

Our first element on the page is an announcement box:

I like that an effort has been made to make the announcement standout from all of the other content. We can conclude that this information is for current SSP participants, and that the announcement is time sensitive — at some point it will be removed from the page.

NOTE: as we progress through the content, let’s keep a list of what purpose the information serves, who the audience is, and if the information is actionable.

  • Announcement
    Purpose: to inform
    Audience: current students
    Actionable: no

The next set of text is:

Welcome 2007 Freshmen!

Welcome to TRIO SSP, a place where participants learn to have fun while achieving their personal and educational goals.

This is a general headline and welcome message. These are pretty standard on Web pages. While friendly, the message doesn’t really fulfill any other function. I suspect that we, as Web users, are learning to filter out this type of text. It doesn’t hold much value, information, or item for us to act on as a visitor to the site. If we were using this piece of text to promote TRIO SSP to potential customers, then we would want to be more specific about how students learn to have fun while achieving their personal and educational goals.

  • Intro text
    Purpose: salutation
    Audience: prospective students
    Actionable: no

After the welcome message we have a line of text and then a list of benefits. We will be looking at each benefit individually.

Some of the benefits of joining TRIO SSP include:

  • Two FREE WMU credits in Fall 2007! As a freshman you have enrolled in our two-credit FYE 2100 class and will receive a tuition grant from the WMU Provost to cover the cost of this course (at least $400). FYE 2100 counts toward graduation and will include college-level academic skills and co-curricular activities.

As written, this is describing benefits of being in the TRIO SSP program.

However, the heading for the first benefit is bold and draws more attention than the intro line as a visitor reads this content. So we might infer that this information is for prospective customers. Or, it might be for current students. The problem is that who the announcement is intended for could be ambiguous — depending on how you read the text. If I can get “Two FREE WMU credits in Fall 2007”, do I have to be a TRIO SSP participant to qualify for the benefit? Or, can if I simply take FYE 2100 and have tuition for the course covered?

If this is only re-stating a benefit of the program (i.e. all TRIO SSP students must take FYE 2100), then this text might be better suited for the ‘About TRIO’ page, or an ‘Intro to TRIO’ guide page.

  • Two free credits
    Purpose: inform
    Audience: prospective students?
    Actionable: no

Let’s continue looking through the benefits text:

Attend Fall Welcome at a Discount! Get a jump start on your college experience with Fall Welcome. Arrive on campus early, get acquainted with campus and your classmates, buy your books, and learn about the WMU experience from faculty, staff, and students. If you receive a Federal Pell Grant, you are eligible for the Kellogg Scholarship which will cover $150 of the $220 cost of Fall Welcome.

This text is describing another benefit of the TRIO SSP program. If we thought of the TRIO SSP program as a process or series of events, then attending Fall Welcome is likely to occur near the beginning of the process. We may want to consider having an ‘Intro to SSP’ section that covers all of the things that students will participate in — this would serve as an overview to prospective customers, as well as an introduction for new program participants.

It seems like this text also might need more detail about how a student would go about receiving the discount on Fall Welcome, any relevant deadlines etc.

  • Fall Welcome at a discount
    Purpose: inform
    Audience: prospective, current students
    Actionable: no

The remaining benefits text follows a similar pattern to those we have examined thus far:

  • Priority Registration! Each semester you will have the ability to register for classes on the first day of registration (before most of the other 19,000 WMU undergraduates). Get the classes you need when you need them.
  • Scholarships! All SSP participants are eligible for yearly Spirit Scholarships. If you receive a Pell Grant, you are also eligible for a $200-$600 SSP scholarship every year.
  • Caring, Knowledgeable Staff! SSP’s well trained, knowledgeable and compassionate professional and student staff are always here to help you solve problems and celebrate successes.
  • Lots More! Leadership development opportunities, volunteer experiences, use of our computer lab and laptop borrowing program, scholarship opportunities, cultural enrichment activities, employment opportunities, graduate school preparation, career exploration. . . .

All of this is informational text and is not actionable. Most of this seems like it belongs in the ‘About’ page rather than being on the home page. It is possible that this text is here because there are different recruiting cycles during the year — and the text was necessary for recruitment into the program. However, during our initial project meeting it sounded like most of the students in the program are hand picked — so recruitment wouldn’t be the main goal of the site. If any of these items are actionable or time sensitive, then it would likely be better to present them in a different way — for example, in an event/announcement area on the home page with links to full detail.

The next section of the home page contains a series of links:

Here are some links that may help you as you look forward to the coming semester:

This section might be easier to use, in terms of determining purpose/function, by adding a simple, short heading: “Helpful links”, “Get ready for Fall 2007”.

The first link in the list, “Read more about TRIO SSP!”, duplicates our ‘About’ link in the main navigation. If students don’t understand what TRIO SSP is by this point in time, then we have done something wrong in our customer service process. This link probably should not be here.

There is a link to the Photo Album. This is also a redundant link — the photo album is displayed directly after this section of ‘helpful links’. I would recommend cutting this link.

The next two links are about the Math Placement Exam. This exam is an important step for new students to find the right mathematics course to start in. I would recommend merging these two into one item or guide about the Math Placement Exam.

We have a link to Academic Advising for Undergraduates. This link would benefit from some additional detail about why Academic Advising is important and valuable. The same holds true for the General Education Guide — when the link is presented by itself, with no context as to what the guide is and why it is valuable the visitor is left to figure everything out for themselves — they have to explore each link, go to a new page and start the information evaluation process all over again.

Finally we have links to other Center for Academic Program services as well as to University Curriculum. Each of these links are essentially referrals to other sites/services. We need to think more about how we go about doing referrals. Do we want to make them look more like advertisements? Should they be presented in the context of a case study or guide? We will revisit this issue later on in the case study.

At the end of the main column, we have the “Photo Album“. It would appear that these photos are being presented to the visitor in order to show examples of what TRIO SSP students do during a typical semester.

Let’s review the Web stats to see how many people have been looking at the photo albums.

From July 13, 2007 through August 12, 2007 stats for the photo albums were:

  • Staff retreat – 5 views
  • Welcome picnic – 7 views
  • Pumpkin decorating contest – 1 views
  • Learning styles seminar – 5 views
  • Can drive – 0 views
  • To do show – 2 views
  • Mini-curriculum fair – 2 views
  • International festival – 6 views

So, out of 813 total page views, the total views for all of the photo albums was 28. Roughly 3% of all page views were of the photo albums. If these albums are intended to be a useful tool for demonstrating the community and value of the SSP, our current implementation is not performing well.

We may want to consider moving the information to a different place on the page (e.g. not at the bottom of a page a user has to scroll through three screens to get to). The photos might work more effectively if we showed one at a time, included a caption about the event, provided a link to a photo albums or case study page that provided more detail. From our set of photos we could randomly load one out of 30 or more photos at a time. This content might also perform better if presented along with relevant event announcements. For example, if October were coming up we might want to promote a pumpkin carving contest and show photos from last year.

The remaining content we have to review resides in the right hand column of the home page. Here we find one bit of text that tells students to “Call to schedule an appointment with an advisor” and three important semester dates.

We may want to consider a re-write for the advertisement to include a value proposition: “Want to graduate in fou
r years?
Get your academic plan together! Call (269) 387-1234 to schedule an appointment with an academic advisor”.

The important dates might benefit from a heading. Without text explaining what these dates are, we have to spend a little extra time figuring out why the dates are there, and why they are important to us. Most of these dates might work more effectively with a ‘start of the semester’ check list.

Conclusions

All in all, most of the content on the home page is ‘good’ in some way or another. However, it may not be placed in the right location. We have a lot of text that seems to belong in the ‘About’ page. We have historical material in the photo albums that could be a good tool, but are not performing as desired in their current location. Finally, we have a large collection of links that might benefit by being reorganized into a ‘start of the semester’ check list along with important dates.

We are done with our initial content review of the home page. Our next step is to think about what options we have for improving the home page.

Are there any patterns we see? Are there groups/categories we can use to organize our content? What should we be doing with the home page? What type of information should students be able to get from the home page? Are we serving all of our audiences with the information presented?

Think about these questions. What do you think would work?

Tomorrow we will be having our project team meeting. We will be talking about some of these questions. In our next post, we’ll talk a little more about improvements to the home page.

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