Unifying Multiple Sites

Kansas web firm Titus D is doing a multi-site project for Cottonwood, Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the needs of developmentally disabled adults. The organization has a main site, a site for their industrial arm, a site for one of their major fundraisers, and fourth site for one of their most important services.nonprofit website

Right now, the four sites are unrelated but linked to one another in various ways, giving visitors a sense that they’re leaving one site for another at times when they don’t expect that.

Since the sites have different audiences and goals, the organization had a hard time figuring out how to connect them better while still keeping them appropriate for their various target groups. They turned to designer Darren Moore.

Darren has been doing the organization’s print media for some time, and he decided to create a WordPressMU site, or multisite, based on the look he developed for them.nonprofit fundraiser website

I’m rewriting the content to suit the new design. We’re not thinking so much of search, since the organization occupies a niche without much competition, but we’re thinking a lot about usability.

The “before” version has four sites, very entertwined by links but with little in common.

The “after” version will disentangle the relationships among the sites and give them similar looks and structures, distinguished by differences in color and typography.

Here you can see a couple of mock ups Darren has prepared. Notice how the design and the features of WordPressMU support the goal of unifying the sites:

  • Each design uses a header with the logo of the particular branch of the organization in question, a gallery, and panels, with a wrapper below the header and navigation bar. The colors vary. Both of the examples here use jewel tones with a batik texture, while the site intended to appeal more to a corporate audience had flat colors, but the basic layout is the same. Visitors going from one to another won’t feel as though they’re being redirected to a strange site against their will.
  • Each design uses a rotating banner gallery. The organization has a lot of photos that they want to use, and the multiple banners on each site will give them an elegant way to do that, instead of sprinkling the images around the sites as is currently the case. Darren’s sorting the images among the sites to give a more uniform feel, and using different visual effects at each site, again distinguishing them while keeping them complementary. The rotating banner or gallery is, however, the most arresting feature at each site, so the feel of each site will be similar for visitors who travel among them.
  • By each rotating banner is a News panel that will call news stories from a central, combined News page in the admin section. Since WordPress lets us categorize the stories with multiple categories and then call them to the front panel by category, each site can have the most appropriate stories. When a story pertains to all the sites, it can be entered once and then pulled out to all the sites with just a click or two.
  • While the panels below the gallery have entirely different content, the visual layout keeps them organized and similar in appearance. They can hold text, videos, pictures, or lists of links and still seem harmonious. The updated text gives the sites a consistent voice, too. A more usable design will make the site more accessible to the population Cottonwood serves, and more appealing to the companies who use their labor force and warehousing services.

The WordPressMU set up will also make it easier for the organization to keep up their sites. One CMS, one log-in, and one media library will make it more likely that the staff will be able to update their sites frequently. The improved structure under the hood will make the relationships among the sites clearer to the search engines, too, assisting people looking for functions and services of the organization without knowing which branch handles the particular element they have in mind.

While this particular organization is already well known and highly respected in their community, any organization with multiple websites should be aware of the issue of trust. A clutch of related sites with completely different appearances can appear less trustworthy, especially if visitors are shuttled among them by internal links. A highly respected organization, on the other hand, can share that respect with its lesser known branches by using harmonizing web design throughout its websites.


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