Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Home Page Branding Photos/Spotlight Stories

An examination of how the main photo area on the home page is used.

In looking at the home pages of the Top 20 university sites, I kept looking at the main photo area of the pages. Though some of these pages may have many photos on them, there is virtually always a "main" photo prominently placed on the home page (see graph, below).

And, of course, I was supposed to look at that main photo. That's what it's there for: to catch and hold the viewer's attention. And as you can see, most universities give the most important real estate on the page to these photos.

So, guessing that it might be important, I decided to take a look at exactly what universities were doing with these photos.

First of all, I decided to add 10 universities to my list of the top 20. I guess I'm just getting bored with the same old 20 home pages. These were randonly picked out of the Google search results, somewhere on page 6 or 7. The additional 10 are as follows:
  1. USC
  2. Oregon State University
  3. Vanderbilt
  4. University of Connecticut
  5. Rutgers
  6. University of Wyoming
  7. Washington State University
  8. Michigan State University
  9. SMU
  10. University of Montana

All of the 30 sites had some sort of main photo area, even if it was relatively small. Of the 30 home pages, 7 (23%) were using a Flash-based animation for the main photo area. Twenty (67%) of the sites had photos that randomly changed, either as part of the Flash animation or upon refreshing the page. Six sites (20%) had photos that only changed periodically (once a day, once a week, etc.).

Twenty-three (77%) sites included at least some text with the photo, ranging from a short caption to a story headline and/or teaser. Half of the sites tied the photos to some sort of feature article or spotlight story, and even more put a link with the main photo area (67%). Those sites that were not using the main photos for a feature or spotlight linked to a variety of things, from a slide show of the campus to a mission statement to a eCard builder.

Photos of What?

The subject of the photos also varied, with some campuses focusing heavily on faculty and research and others more evenly spread out between faculty, students, etc.

Totals in the above graph don't equal 100% because most sites had changing photos that featured multiple subjects.

Of the 15 sites that used the main photo area for links to features/spotlights, 12 (80%) had photos of research or faculty. Only seven (47%) had photos/stories of students.

Of the 15 sites that did not use the main photo area for links to features/spotlights, 11 (73%) had photos of campus scenes (environment, buildings, etc.) and only 3 (20%) had photos of research or faculty.

People or Scenics?

On our campus, there is some discussion of what the ratio of people photos vs. campus/nature photos should be. The "consensus" (i.e., two people threw out that number) is that 3 to 1 is proper.

In order to see what other universities were doing, I tried to look at every photo on the sites (19 of the 30) that had randomly rotating photos (as opposed to photos that only changed daily). I broke down the photos into categories where the photos were primarily of people, primarily of the campus (though people may be in the photo), scenics (areas not on campus), sports and other (most commonly art or research oriented).

The results were as follows:

As you can see, people-oriented photos are only slightly more common than photos of the campus. If you add the sports-oriented photos to the people photos, the gap widens a bit. But overall, there is a fairly even balance between campus/scenic photos and people/sports photos.

To me, this makes sense. I never had any desire to visit the University of Wisconsin or the University of Montana until I saw just how beautiful their campuses and environs were - as revealed by the photos on their home pages. CSU, Chico has both a beautiful campus and a beautiful setting; those should be exploited in attracting prospective students to visit the campus.

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