The primary idea I have in my head for the homepage is to be as minimalistic as possible. Fastweb.com is a great example of this. Now, we obviously have a more robust feature set, but I think this site, as a whole, does a great job of laying out exactly what the site down.
Our own site should mimic this same look and feel. At no point, do we want a user to feel confused by what we are offering. My initial thinking for the layout goes something like this:
At the very top will be a 726x90 ad spot, with the possibility of adding a “wrap” advertisement should an advertiser want it.
From there the logo/tagline at the top: “College made easy!” or something like that for the tag line.
To the right of that will be a login/register button with the option of users being able to login via their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, in addition to Yahoo and Google accounts. We’re not a social network, we have no desire to compete with either of the social networking sites. We are a resource.
Directly underneath the logo will be our tab bar. Easy to read, easy to use, easy to understand. No clever tag lines that could ultimately end up being confusing like what we had prior.
“Home” “Universities” “Scholarships” “Financial Aid” “Study Abroad” “Ask a Question!” “Shop”
Looking at those links, it’s very easy for anybody to understand what they’re doing and where they’re going.
Underneath the tab bar is a nice graphic area that explains through pictures (not a video) what we do and how we can do it. This is a must, embedded videos slow down a homepage and require a user to click to start it. We do not want to create this kind of barrier. Somewhere in this area we’d like a big “JOIN NOW” button to make it really easy for a user to head over to our registration area, where we can, once again make it very easy to register via an account, be it through our own system or through their favorite social networking sites.
Below that we’ll want a couple different sections:
For highlighted/popular articles we have on the site concerning schools, culture, etc.
A special area where we can put in a graphic of our choosing. This section is for in-site ads for special promotions like: “Enter our $500 essay contest!”
One of our original goals was to literally be a competitor to Facebook or MySpace. This time around, however, we absolutely do not want to compete with social networking sites. While we could offer services that allow our users to communicate with each other, we aren’t looking to drive people away from Facebook.
So, with that said, a user’s profile should only contain information as it applies to our various areas of the site.
What scholarships they’ve applies to.
What schools they’ve applied to.
Financial aid tips and tricks depending on their information.
“Take an aptitude test!”
“Ask a Question” responses.
Stuff like that should populate a users personal profile on the site. We want them to be able to go to their profile to access ANY part of the site they’ve ventured into. Making their profile as easy and complete as possible makes the entire experience less confusing for the user and if the experience is less confusing and more helpful then we increase the chance of said user returning time and again.
Additionally, through the profile there will be a great way to introduce a “point” system, maybe a high score, that shows how active a user is being. For example, if said user asks a question they get 10 points. If they answer a question they get 50 points. Points could be used to meaningless at first, but could be used in the future toward prizes, etc. “First to 100,000 points get a scholarship!” or something like that.
One of the biggest hurdles a student faces is deciding which school he/she wants to go to and which is the best fit. Making this section easy to manage and less confusing will be a key deciding factor the success of the site.
As such, upon entering this portion of the website, the user should be greeted with big buttons that immediately segregate the colleges based on type:
“Community” “4-Year” “Business” “Law” “Tech” “Art” “Online” “Culinary” “All”
Clicking on one of them will show a user some sponsored school ad, as well as a geographic map for a user to click on. It’s big, nice and interactive. Very “swooshy.”
Additionally, should a user not know what they want to major in there will be place on this page that says: “Find out who you want to be. Take our aptitude test.” Clicking on this will take a user to an aptitude test that will ask them a series of questions to help them figure out what they like and what they may enjoy majoring in. After the test we can also show a list of sponsored schools, the student may enjoy.
Upon finding a specific college, the user can then click on it to reveal information about anything they want to know in an easy-to-read manner. Average class size, male:female ratio, majors offered, school population, price per semester/quarter and anything else we deem important.
Finally, once a user has figured out which college or colleges he/she wants to apply to they can do it right from our own site. “APPLY NOW”. From there, we’ll populate what we can from the user’s profile to fill in the online application, to take off some of the burden, and then allow the user to fill out the rest.
Upon submitting the application and paying the fee, we’ll collect our affiliate fee from each college.
From there, the user can manage his/her applications on their profile page. Ideally, we’d like for users to be able to check the status of their application (approval, denial) via our site, but that would largely depend on whether a college would want to use said system instead of snail mail.
The scholarships section will probably be our most complicated section of the site, luckily, unlike with Fastweb, filling this kind of stuff out will be entirely optional. The reason why it’s optional is because it’s going to require tons of information and that’s a huge drawback from using Fastweb.
Upon landing on the page, the user will be greeted with a series of similar buttons as on the “Universities” page only this time it will read as such:
“Athletic” “Academic” “Contests & Promotions” “Grants” “All”
Clicking on any of them or the “All” button will take the user to the most recently listed scholarships available. From there a user can view them.
Clicking on an individual section will allow a user to segregate and sift through the various types of scholarships available. For example, under “Athletic” a user can search to find all soccer, or football scholarships available. A handy scholarships-only search bar will be present so that a user might find any query they might have.
Given our host of written material from the past few years we’ll also have a small section for helpful articles on scholarships that users can browse through.
When filling out information on scholarships, we’ll provide helpful advertisements towards sponsored schools in case one of our users finds they’re more interested in a culinary school or art school.
Finally, we have our shop. The possibilities are endless in this area depending on how much traction we gain, but we can plan to sell everything from our own apparel and non-licensed clothing, to books/ebook downloads, discounted student software, etc. Essentially become a one-stop shopping location for student based items.
Essentially we’ll want to mimic Amazon.com’s look and feel (no ads). Give users a very familiar navigation and let them run wild. We can separate the shop into various sections to allow for easier navigation.
While we’ll highlight our own clothes and items that we make, the important part is to let our users know that they can buy anything and everything they want from our store for the upcoming semester/quarter.
Finally, it’s also highly suggested that we have a “buy back” books program where we can facilitate in the buying and selling of used books. This is a highly profitable area as we can buy back an $80 book for $40 (depending if it’s out of use or not) and turn around and sell it back for $55-$60 making a nice profit but also giving a great discount. We’ll need to research an exact pricing model, but I think this could be the biggest money maker on the site if we do it correctly.