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October 27, 2009

by Abhi Nemani, Still Below Average

At least they are trying. By now you have undoubtedly noticed the redesign of the homepage that launched last week, apparently only one step in a longer overhaul of the the college's entire web presence. But are we heading in the right direction? We all have our own opinions on CMC's homepage, but we're fortunate to now have some input from an impartial and experienced third-party. Unfortunately, the redesign didn't score so well. As Amy Jasper noted in her comment and on her blog, Nick DeNardis of EDU Checkup -- a site dedicated solely to evaluating higher education websites -- reviewed just days after the new homepage launched.  DeNardis gave the new site a grade... a grade that might nudge some CMCers towards early withdrawal: C-. EDU Checkup Scores

  • Visual: 86

  • Information: 68

  • Code: 60

  • Overall: 71% (214/300)

  • Grade: C-

He presents his comments in full in the video below, and pointing out a number of problems and making recommendations. His main points of criticism seem, however, like easy fixes:

"Please, please add a title to your page... People just don't know who you are." -- To see this for yourself, go to the page yourself and look at the top bar of your browser. It won't say ", Still Below Average «  The Forum" like this page does. It'll read something like "Mozilla Firefox". For now, it's literally a page without a name. This is a simple html fix, which shouldn't take more than a minute to add, but should help us in both search results and in social networks. (UPDATE: This fix was so easy that now the title has been added. Good start, CMC; now let's add keywords and a description, so the Google results don't just pull the text from the last news story.)

Axe the PDFs -- DeNardis points out that all the valuable information for majors -- the course, the requirements, etc -- are in the catalog which must be downloaded as a PDF and opened to view. That information should be available online, if for no other reason than it saves us all 3 or 4 clicks. It would take all of 5 minutes per major to copy + paste the text, but it'll make the site much more user-friendly.

Don't truncate the headlines -- What if, just after election day, the New York Times homepage only read "Obama W..."? You'd be pissed, and rightly so. Of course, the problem with the trimmed headlines on CMC's homepage isn't nearly as serious (see the "In the News" tab), but it's a silly setting, which only annoys visitors. For example, can you tell what this title is talking about? "Political contributions question part..." Didn't think so.

Two other issues bother me about the new homepage: unclear organization and just plain bad writing. Why are some stories in the left column and not in the "Features" tab? It's not clear where you should look first for recent news, nor is it clear that you should expect new content in either of those two locations. This ambiguity then forces you to focus on the big rotating images, which would be fine if all your saw were the large, high quality pictures, but then there are the words... "A Living, Learning Community," which seems best suited for a retirement home, "The Liberal Arts, Enlarging Perspectives," which for us just isn't really true, and the worst, "Leadership Starts Here," which for us just isn't really true, and the worst, "Leadership Starts Here," which at once conjures up images of Discovery Zone and means that we share a slogan with

From Leadertonic: What is Leadertonic? - An elixir that when generously applied increases leadership strength. - To be imbibed over ice for cool leaderfreshment. - The state induced by over exposure to Jeff's (the author's)voice ... as in "Doctor, he's gone leadertonic!" - The pearls Jeff has collected over 45 years and shares with you each week. Answer: All 4!Leadership Starts Here is dedicated to the reality that you, regardless of title, position or role, can lead change in the world around you to the degree you exercise your Passion, tune your Integrity and extend your Influence.

So at this point, I'm not sure what's worse: that it's hard for people to find us or what they think when they do. Nonetheless, here's to hoping that the next steps in the website redesign process address the cosmetic, structural, and messaging problems.

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