Secret Formula to Capture About Page Readers

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How much thought do you give to your About page of your website? Until recently, I hadn’t thought much about them either. Yes, I know, we need to cover the basics—who, what, where, when, and how—on these pages, but really, can it be that hard?

According to John Hyde, who wrote “About Pages: Good, Bad, and Missing,” it can be. Hyde says that, although users seldom choose to form a relationship with businesses (or, in our case, a school) because of an About page, they often come to these pages to get a feeling of who we are, “who lives behind the websites” to find out whether the like what we are and what we value. According to Hyde, “About pages help users put our heretofore anonymous organization into perspective.”

In the competitive atmosphere of higher education, drawing students, staff, and faculty to our university can be a challenge. By providing good About pages, we are helping our various schools and departments fulfill their missions to bring the best to campus.

After reading Hyde’s article, I decided to quickly review some of Notre Dame’s sites to see how they measured up to Hyde’s  5 Ws of About pages (who, what, when, where, how) as well as an added one (call to action). (Hyde also has other good criteria, but I’ll touch on those later.) While the call to action might be an arguable requirement, I would argue that even having an added “Contact Us” button or link (even if in the header of every page of the site) would help make users feel more “at home” and comfortable, knowing we are inviting their contact.

Here’s how a few of our sites stacked up. (Note that the last site is not ours; it is Hyde’s. I wanted to make sure the doctor took his own prescription!)

Who What Where How When CTA (University of
Notre Dame)
x x x x The University of Notre Dame, founded in 1842 by Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., of the Congregation of Holy Cross, is an independent, national Catholic university located in Notre Dame, Ind., adjacent to the city of South Bend and approximately 90 miles east of Chicago (College of Arts & Letters) x x x x x x Separate contact page within About
x x x Uh oh! We have work to do!
(Center for Social Concerns)
x x x x Separate history/staff/quick facts sections

(School of Architecture)
x x
(English Department)
No About page
(Notre Dame Security Police)
x x x x (Notre Dame Fire Department) x x x x x x Separate contact page within About (Provost’s Office) x x Separate biography, directory, and other pages (Registrar’s Office) No About page (University Health Services) x x x x x x/
Welcome letter rather than specific “About” section.
(John Hyde)
x x x x x x/
I’m John Hyde. I’ve been improving websites since 2006. I’m based in York, England.

With a new client I look for the easy wins. This makes everyone feel good.

Did you notice that the University home page covered who, what, where, and when all in one sentence?

Some of these were “stretching” to cover all five Ws. Some were better written than others. But just reading these, I’ve a new appreciation for a good About page.

What are your thoughts? Does it matter, for instance, that some sites don’t have an About page? Or that some don’t have a call to action?


Now that I’ve completed this little exercise in reviewing some of our sites and making notes for future edits, I think I should take some of that medicine Hyde offered and drank. I need to fix my About on this blog. And then offer some suggestions to those who maintain the AgencyND site. Thanks, Mr. Hyde!