Saturday, February 26, 2011

Flexible Home Page

The great failure of current college website design is the inability to address major events without completely interrupting the overall site. When a team wins a major event, or the institution is hosting something (or more than one something, especially), the default way to deal with it is a splash page or a pop-up

The Gallagher's Mallet of website design, a splash page shows you have no real finesse. A pop-up shows you have no respect for your readers. Both methods have been proven by research to not increase click through. If your bypass is hard to find or buggy code, it will drive users away to other information sources until the splash ends.

But what to do when you have something that is extremely important? Working with NeuLion, I created for a variable home page override that takes one, two or three major events and uses them to replace our rotator at the top of the page. If you click there before 9 a.m. this morning, you'll see what I did for our gymnastics team's win over Florida -- not only upsetting #1 but also gaining the program a first-time ever share of the regular season SEC title.\

This all started from a combination of trying to provide editorial direction to the content on the college website. What's the point of generating a lot of content if you can't fix it to certain points to enhance your message? Corporations can because they have dedicated custom sites with full-time programmers. News organizations don't because, well, they know the same research that says splash is bad web business.

But back in the day, we could have a furniture type headline across six columns proclaiming VICTORY IN EUROPE. Extra, extra, read all about it. Then I remembered back when we did our own coding, we did that. I'd just drop in a COLSPAN table row on top of our current index and voila -- banner headline. Combined with an existing piece of dead coding left over from a previous corporate project at NeuLion, variable front page was born.

When we are full wide with one story, it looks a lot like a splash page. However, our masthead remains in tact -- with all the navigation to allow you to go where you want to go, say if you are a baseball fan. It is timed to go off (that's the 9 a.m. reference) or on (did this a lot with football games pre and post). And, all the stories that would have been in the five-story rotator now live right below the photo.

Obviously, a key in this is good images, and we're blessed with that at Arkansas via Wesley Hitt.

This was designed to work with our promotions for home events -- a two-wide for the two basketball games of a weekend, or basketball and gymnastics and a three-wide specifically for the fall (home soccer, home volleyball, preview tomorrow's football).

With some changes in our structure, this isn't being used as much as I envisioned it, but yesterday gave me a great opportunity to put the full-wide to work again. For example, we did the same with a special bowl wallpaper when we were selected for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

If you didn't get to our homepage in time, I put a small screen cap of the whole page here. If you want to know more about how to get this set up (especially for you NeuLion folks), I'd be happy to help.

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