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Know Your Audience and Design Accordingly

So you’ve decided you need an academic website? Maybe you’re a student, faculty member, professor, or you’re running a site for a campus group of some sort. Obviously who you are is important to the content of your site, but just as important is your audience. Who are you wanting to attract to your site? Who are you trying to communicate with? How do you serve your audience well?

Who is viewing your site, and why?

A website is a great communication tool, but you have to know who is listening. Your audience determines everything from the graphical tone of your site to the necessary functionalities, and even the organizational structure. Academic websites offer a space to connect, develop a controlled online presence, display accomplishments/awards, inform on current projects, post events and calendars, and so much more. In fact, the scope of academic websites is quite broad and functionalities depends greatly on the field of study and author’s ranking. Generally speaking, the audience of these types of sites are looking for one of three things: (1) an introduction to the person/group with biographical information and their relation to their field, (2) details about their publications, portfolio, research, services, or collaborators, or (3) contact information for various reasons, such as employment, speaking events, or collaboration.

How do you present yourself to your audience?

Of course, the reasons may be different for your specific site, but once you decide what those reasons are, you have a much better starting point. From here you can decide how you want to display yourself to your audience. As most sites are academic-purposed, you will likely want to present yourself in a clean, professional manner. This doesn’t mean your site needs to be overly fancy, but choosing a cohesive color scheme, using good-quality images, and organizing your information in a logical, easy-to-navigate manner will do the trick.

How does your audience experience your site?

Now we know who is coming to your site, why they are there, and that you have control over the visual impression you leave on them. But what do they need to do there? On a basic level, they will click through your menus, read about you, and view your images. For many academic sites, that will be enough to meet your needs and the needs of your audience, and that’s great. However, there are many other ways to share your information, like slideshows, videos, and music. Keep in mind that an audience for an undergraduate photography student’s site will be very different than that of a distinguished biology professor’s. Slideshows and galleries will be prominent features of the photography student, while the professor may offer pdf downloads and external resource links for students and an event calendar for speaking events and travel. Even still, a music artist may want to include video or sound clips of their performances, and a professor may want to host a discussion board.

Identify your audience, how to appeal to them, and how to best serve them. These are the keys to using your website to efficiently communication with your academic community.