All public-facing websites in the Academic Health Center (AHC) should have an "About" page, unless there's a compelling reason not to have it.
We want people using our websites to be assured they can find basic, essential information that explains what they are looking at: What organization is this website for, what do they do, and why do they exist? Also: What is their full name and place within the University of Minnesota? This is critical for building trust and credibility.
When do I use what label? (About, About Us, About the Center, About the Department....)
It's about the tone you want to strike with your audience, and the story the rest of your navigation tells... and how much space it takes up. The web team will provide guidance on labeling when we work on your site organization.
Just getting started? These recommendations account for many different needs across the AHC, and are meant as prompts for you to create an about page that fits your needs. It's not necessary to follow ALL of these, which could be overwhelming and not make the most sense for your unit.
The essentials for an about page are a brief summary of your unit (what it does, why it exists, and why it matters—such as an overview of the education, research, patient care, community engagement, and other offerings it provides), and including the mission statement (if you have one). Follow these web writing tips to use subheads and bullets to make content scannable.
The purpose of an about page is to...
Help people understand what the unit (college, school, center, department, etc.) is and why it exists.
Establish trust and credibility with your audience.
Have a place to provide more information to users that is specific to the college/department such as:
- Mission statement
- Vision and values statements
- Location and contact information
- Information about the dean/chair/board
- Organizational structure (leadership, departments, centers, units, etc.)
- Community outreach and impact activities
Some of this information may be contained within the about section vs. all on a single about page.
Users expect to find...
- A summary explaining who you are, what you do, and why you exist.
- Learn about the purpose, mission, and impact of the college/department.
- Location and how to contact the college, school, department, or center/institute.
- View the history of the organization, how long has it been around? What is important about it?
- To understand the organizational structure/hierarchy of the college/school.
- At a glance information with key facts and figures.
- Learn more about the unit’s leader(s) including the values they support.
- Learn what community impact the college/department has in Minnesota and beyond. What value do you provide?
- Learn about what is happening in a specific department/unit/etc.
- Access newsletter or sign up for mailing list of newsletter.
Some common sub-pages in an About section are:
- Faculty & Staff, Staff Directory, etc.
- Leadership, Board of Directors, etc.
- Our History / History of the Department, etc.
- Community Impact / Our Impact, etc.
- Our... Partners / Collaborators / Sponsors
- At a Glance
- News / News & Events / Events
- Visit Us
- Giving to [unit name]
- Employment / Job Opportunities (if needed beyond U employment site)
- Contact / Contact Us
...and more are possible!
Please keep in mind that sometimes it may make sense for these pages to live elsewhere on your site, e.g., Faculty & Staff and Contact each having their own section if you'd like to give them more prominence.
Don't worry about things being "buried" in your about section, though—it's always possible to help make content findable by linking to it from relevant places across the site... and asking other sites to link to it.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Basic information about a college/department is hard to find or does not exist. Include it in the about page.
- While it's helpful for your home page to have brief information about your unit (such as a tagline and/or a one or two sentence overview/summary), do not weigh the home page down with mission, objectives, and other details. Instead, house this more detailed information on your about page.
- Many current About pages in the Academic Health Center have a photo of the dean or chair and a “welcome” letter. This letter typically repeats the content on the homepage or the about us landing page. You can adapt the letter content as about page content.
- About pages and their labels are inconsistent across AHC sites and contain a variety of content. Follow the guidelines here to help avoid that.
Content maintenance needed
About pages should need relatively minimal maintenance.
Organization structure should be modified as changes are made within the unit. Something changes, update it right then.
Annually or bi-annually these things should be reviewed and updated:
- facts and statistics, including any mentions of years and numbers
- community impact and other examples and stories that could be freshened
- dean/chair/leadership photo and information.
For more information
Make your About Us page count. The About Us page is one of the top places where prospective students go when deciding if a university is a good fit for them. Unfortunately, this area is a missed opportunity on many university sites, with too much content that is dull, uninformative, and feels like generic ‘marketese’. Universities aren’t alone in having subsatisfactory About Us pages (in our study of About Us pages, the average satisfaction rating was 4.6 on a scale of 1–7), but that’s no excuse. Improve this page by leading with an informative summary of your school. Write this summary in plain language, and offer an easy-to-scan fact list. If you really want to make an impact, showcase a video that will give a sense of your school and will appeal to a broad range of users.
Start telling your story the moment people land on your site. At a minimum, write brief summaries emphasizing a few impressive facts. As people click through the main pages they should gain a fuller understanding of who you are, what you do, and why you exist. Ask yourself, “If users only skim the top pages in About Us, are they getting a coherent story?”
In many cases, what new users need most are great highlights written in a scannable format. Summaries are appealing because they provide context and reduce the amount of effort required to click through layers of content.
We recommend providing About Us information at 4 levels of detail:
- Tagline on the homepage: A few words or a brief sentence summarizing what the organization does.
- Summary: 1-2 paragraphs at the top of the main About Us page that offer a bit more detail about the organization's goal and main accomplishments.
- Fact sheet: A section following the summary that elaborates on its key points and other essential facts about the organization.
- Detailed information: Subsidiary pages with more depth for people who want to learn more about the organization.