Chapter Website Building
(or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the web)

Congratulations! You've been given the task of maintaining your chapter's website, or, worse yet, CREATING your chapter's website. What have you gotten yourself into?

First, relax. Creating a website for your chapter isn't as difficult a task as it used to be, thanks to the many tools that are available to create websites. We're not going to cover any of them in this document, but if you want to know more about tools that can make maintaining your website easier you should talk to your sectional or regional webmaster. They can help point you in the right direction.

What we're going to talk about here is how to DESIGN a website. Designing a chapter website can be a challenge, but you can make it a much easier task if you tackle it in a logical, organized fashion.

Before designing any website, you need to step back and think about who the CUSTOMERS for the website will be. Anybody who goes to a website is that website's customer. Why are they there? What do they want from this site? How easy can you make it for them to find it? Will the customer be satisfied enough to come back?

Who are the customers for a APO chapter's website? Some are obvious, some are not. Here's an incomplete list:

  1. Active Brothers in the chapter
  2. Pledges pledging the chapter
  3. People thinking about pledging the chapter
  4. Alumni of the chapter
  5. Brothers from other Chapters/Section or Region Staff
  6. People on campus who work with the chapter
  7. People in the community who work with the chapter
  8. Local News Media possibly writing about the chapter
  9. Parents of Brothers/Pledges in the chapter
Active Brothers need information about the day-to-day operations of the chapter: who the officers are, when meetings are, when events are and so forth. Pledges need much of the same information as well as information on pledging events. People who are thinking about pledging the chapter want to know what APO is all about in 50 words or less, and they want to know how much time they'd be committing themselves to if they pledge. Alumni want to know what's going on with their old chapter and how they can help out and when they can come visit and see old friends. Brothers from other chapters and sectional and regional staffers want to know about major events your chapter's hosting, and how they can get to you from potentially very far away.

People on campus and people in the community want to know something about this organization that's asking them for help or (even better) that's offering to help them, but the information they want will be slightly different. Local news media such as newspapers, radio and TV may visit a chapter's website to learn more about them before doing a story.

Finally, parents of brothers and pledges may visit the site, wanting to know what this APO thing is and why their son or daughter wants hundreds of dollars to go to a convention in the middle of Christmas Break when they should be at home with them, spending time with their loving parents. This is the chapter's opportunity to impress upon parents the positive qualities of the fraternity.

Once you've decided who your POTENTIAL customers are for your chapter's website, the next thing you need to decide is who your LIKELY customers are. If your campus is a small liberal arts school where nobody uses computers, it's not likely that Brothers, Pledges or prospective pledges will use the web to look things up about your chapter. If everyone in your chapter has parents who are petrified of the infernal machine, it's not likely that you need to worry about pitching the virtues of a sectional conference to them. Just like each chapter is unique, each chapter will have their own answer to the question, "Who is likely to be using our website?"

Just because a customer isn't likely doesn't mean that you shouldn't put things on the website for them--it just means you should minimize your effort to pitch information at unlikely recipients. Even if you don't think it's likely that someone will want to send your chapter a letter out of the blue, it's worth it to put your chapter's postal mailing address on your website. The effort on your part is minimal, and the information will likely never change, but you've easily and quickly provided a method for someone not on your campus to send you physical mail. Now you have your list of customers, and you've categorized them as likely and unlikely. The next task is to try and figure out what they WANT. What does a brother want when they come to your chapter website? What does a pledge want? What does a prospective pledge want?

This decision making process should take a little while. Brainstorming with other brothers and pledges is a good idea. Ask around. You'll get a lot of stupid ideas ("I want to be able to order Coke from the office fridge and have it delivered to my classroom"), but every so often, you'll get a gem of an idea ("I wonder if I could check how many service hours I have so far this semester using the website"). Don't worry if you don't know how to do it. Write the idea down and save it. Take all the ideas you know how to do and put them together.

Once you've decided what information your customers will want, now it's time to ORGANIZE your site. You could put each piece of information on it's own page, and then link to that page from the home page of the site. That' however, is not an easy way to navigate a website.

In general, the simplest way to organize information in a website is in a hierarchy, where you chunk information up into categories and then put those categories as menu items on the main page of the website. These categories tend to be generic, like "Service", "Fellowship", "Pledging", "Calendar" and the like. The great thing about the web is that a piece of information doesn't need to appear in one category only. It may be appropriate to put a link to service project descriptions under "Service", but you may also want to link to them from a page under "Pledges" that talks about the service your chapter does.

However, this isn't the only way that you can organize a website. Just remember this when you're trying to figure out how to organize your information: not everybody who will be looking at this site will be you, and some of them may not even come from your chapter. Try to think of how an outsider would see this site, and organize it to make it easy for them.

Finally, you need to put the site together. But that, my friend, is the topic for a document all it's own.


Here are the criteria used by the National Office to do their semesterly web awards. I've taken it apart and explained it so that you can make sense of each item and why it's used.

  1. Identifying Information on main page (1 point each)
    1. National Disclaimer (either displayed on the main page or linked)
    2. Link to www.apo.org
    3. Chapter Name
    4. Section Number
    5. Region Number
The National Disclaimer is a standard disclaimer that the National Office wants put on any website that identifies itself as being part of APO that isn't the OFFICIAL national website:
National Disclaimer: This electronic document is intended for public viewing and is solely for personal reference. It should not be considered an authoritative source nor an official publication of Alpha Phi Omega. Inquiries regarding Alpha Phi Omega and its official publications may be directed to: Alpha Phi Omega, 14901 E. 42nd Street, Independence, MO, 64055 - USA. "Alpha Phi Omega" is a copyrighted, registered trademark in the USA. All rights reserved.
This is important because the individual chapters do not hold copyright over the phrase "Alpha Phi Omega"--the fraternity as a whole does. Unless this disclaimer appears on a chapter's website, they run the risk of misrepresenting themselves as official owners of the phrase, and are opening themselves up for liability.

In short, it's legal mumbo jumbo that needs to be on at least your chapter's home page to cover your butts legally. It can be in very small print; in fact, as legalistic mumbo jumbo, it *likes* being in small print.

Similarly, the link to www.apo.org is important. This clearly identifies the organization that your chapter is a part of, and gives the user an easy way to access official information on Alpha Phi Omega.

Finally, Chapter name and Section and Region identification. These further identify your chapter's place within the national organization that is Alpha Phi Omega. Believe me, this strengthens the impression of being widespread even more than saying "National Service Fraternity."

  1. Contact Information (1 point each)
    1. email address
    2. postal mailing address
    3. office or other phone number
    4. location of office or regular meeting place
    5. Time and Place of regular brotherhood meetings
Contact information is always a good thing. Most chapters have a way to email someone in the chapter on their website, but many do not display a postal mailing address. What if the registration chair of your local sectional conference wanted to send your chapter a registration packet for the conference? They can get the address from the national office, you say. Fine. What about a local philanthropist who, upon reading about your chapter's good work cleaning up a local cemetery, decides to send you a $100 check as a donation? He goes to his computer to look you up... but he can't find a mailing address to send you a check. Oh, well. Your chapter is out 100 bucks.

It's good to provide as much contact information as is REASONABLE to do. If you have an office with a phone, post the number. If you don't have an office, don't feel obligated to post your president's home number. Every chapter should have some way for postal mail to reach them. If you always hold your meetings at 7:00pm on Mondays in 201 Brainerd Hall, then post that.

  1. Last updated
    Over 6 months (-2 points)
    3-6 months (0 points)
    1-3 months (1 point)
    2 weeks to 1 month (2 points)
    within 2 weeks (4 points)
    dynamic content (4 points)
    No time sensitive information whatsoever (0 points)
What good is a website if the information is out of date? It's reasonable for chapters to be expected to update their websites once a semester with the current officers and the calendar for the semester. More often is better. If you have the resources to make the site dynamic, that's best. If you can't commit to keep information up to date, don't put it in your website.
  1. Privacy concerns
    Home addresses of brothers available to all (-1 point)
    All pages are available, no privacy concerns (0 points)
    Some info only available to members (1 point)
This is a 180 from previous thinking, which gave more points for every bit of information being available to everyone. Privacy concerns are of greater and greater concern on the web today, and it should not be considered a good idea to publish everybody's home telephone number on a chapter website for every Tom, Dick and Harry to see. That's why having SOME things restricted to brothers only is a good idea. That way, a stalker can't decide that your chapter president's picture looks sexy, and then stalk her by calling her dorm phone, showing up in your office when she's scheduled to be alone, and sending her flowers on her birthday.
  1. Page availability
    All pages found (1 point)
    One link results in 404 (0 points)
    2 or more 404s (-1 point)
Every so often, a link goes bad. You should get points if you don't have any bad links, but if you have more than one, that's not good. If your site has bad links, people will start questioning the validity of the information that IS found.
  1. Handicap Accessibility
    Home page DOES NOT pass WAI Priority 1 accessibility checkpoints (0 points)
    Home page passes WAI Priority 1 accessibility checkpoints (1 point)
    Home page passes WAI Priority 2 accessibility checkpoints (2 points)
    Home page passes WAI Priority 3 accessibility checkpoints (4 points)
As a fraternity that's dedicated to helping people in need everywhere, it's a little strange that many of our websites turn people away based on disabilities. Handicap accessibility is a topic that's getting more and more attention in the world of web development. Since 1998, all Federal agencies that maintain websites have been required by law to make their information technology accessible to people with handicaps.

It behooves APO to also be a leader in this trend. Making websites handicap accessible is not a major undertaking, especially if a site is designed with handicapped people in mind. For instance, color-coding your calendar by putting meetings that happen in a room on one side of campus in red and meetings that happen in another room on the OTHER side of campus in green is not very friendly for a person with red/green colorblindness. You can still color code them, but you need to provide other cues to the viewer as well. In addition, you need to think about how the site would look if someone couldn't see ANY of the graphics, or how it would sound if a blind person was reading it with a screen reader or how it would feel to someone with a Braille terminal.

For more information on Handicap Accessibility:

  1. Speed of Access
    Less than 30 sec (on 28.8 modem) (4 points)
    30 sec to 1 minute (on 28.8 modem) (2 points)
    1 to 2 minutes (on 28.8 modem) (1 point)
    Over 2 minutes (on 28.8 modem) (0 points)
Not everybody is looking at your webpage over your school's local area network. Even if they do have a fast connection like DSL or a cable modem, there are a plethora of reasons that Internet traffic between their computer and your webserver could be slower than molasses in January. And the truth of the matter is that MOST people still use dialup to connect to the Internet. A great number of them even use AOL.

Don't turn these people away by making your webpage too slow to be usable.

  1. Images
    All images are found (1 point)
    1 image not found (0 points)
    2 or more images not found (-1 points)
Just like 404 messages, once in a while an image file disappears. If it happens more than once on a website, though, there's a problem.
  1. Use of Images
    Excessive Images (-1 point)
    No Images (0 points)
    Good Images (slightly excessive) (0 points)
    Informative Images only (1 point)
    Excellent Images (not excessive) (2 points)
Putting too many images on a webpage clutters it and makes it hard to read; in addition to making it so big it will take forever to download. Sometimes NO images are the best images, but a web page with nothing but text tends to be uninteresting to look at. The best kinds of images are the ones that enhance what the page is trying to say without detracting from the message. In the end, excessive is in the eye of the beholder.
  1. Use of Advertisements
    None (1 point)
    Link to Host/ Web design software (1 point)
    Banner Ad for Host/ Web design software (0 points)
    Other Ads (-1 point)
Ads are many times a necessary evil on the web. If a chapter cannot get space on one of their school's webservers, they may have to turn to free alternatives like GeoCities and Angelfire. These providers make money by selling advertisements that appear in your webpage.

There are, however, unobtrusive and reasonable ads. If you have a web provider that is willing to provide space for your chapter's website in return for a "Hosting donated by Hosting Company" link on the bottom of your webpage, you shouldn't be penalized for it. Or if you're using PHP to program a dynamic website, it should be perfectly OK to put a small "Powered by PHP" graphic on your site that links to PHP.net.

  1. Navigation Ease
    Navigation depends on browser back buttons (-1 point)
    Links to home page on each page (0 points)
    Menu available from all pages (1 point)
    Hierarchical menu available from all pages (2 points)
Face it, sometimes it's hard to find your way around a website. One of the worst ways to navigate a website is to be forced to use your browser's "Back" button to go to the home page every time you need to look at some other page on a website.

Better, but not MUCH better, is having a "Home" link to follow back to the main page. Sure, you don't have to depend on your browser history working. But you do have to go the long way around whenever you want anything.

Better yet, by placing a menu on each page, you make it easy for your customers to navigate through your site and go directly from "Leadership" to "Friendship" to "Service" without going through the home page.

Best is if you have a hierarchical menu on each page. Let's say you have your site divided into 5 menu items: "Home", "Calendar", "Brothers", "Pledges", "Alumni". Under "Pledges", you might have "Requirements", "Meetings" and "Signatures" pages. A hierarchical menu displays the "Requirements", "Meetings" and "Signatures" menu items whenever you're on one of those pages, but not when you're on a page under "Brothers". That way, you don't have to go back up to the "Pledges" home page whenever you want to get to one of the pages underneath it.

  1. Creativity
    Excellent (Combines information w/artistic expression in a unique way) (3 points)
    Above Average (2 points)
    Average (1 point)
    Below Average (0 points)
    Poor (-1 point)
We want APO sites to be creative. Creativity is good. As you might guess, this is the most subjective of all the judging criteria.
  1. Fraternity Info (1 point each)
    1. Description of Fraternity
    2. Story of Founding
    3. Bylaws
    4. Risk Management
    5. Additional Info
The old rating system didn't give any guidelines about what was considered 'good' fraternity information. Here are a few things we thing chapter websites could include.
  1. Pledging Info (1 point each)
    1. Pledge Requirements easily found
    2. Rush Schedule
    3. Pledging calendar
    4. Pledge Policy
    5. Link to PDF of Pledge Manual
    6. additional pledge info
Sure, you post your pledge policy on the web, but who wants to dig through those to find out what the pledge requirements are? You'll either lose pledges or have people pledge without being informed. Copy the pledge requirements and place them on a page surrounded by open space, so they're easy to spot. Putting your rush schedule on the web allows people who haven't seen your fliers to learn about your rush events. The idea here is to give potential rushees (and later--hopefully--your pledges) as much information as you can that's as easy to find as possible.
  1. Functionality for Members (1 point each)
    1. Current Calendar of Events
    2. Service Project Descriptions
    3. Forms to sign up for projects
    4. Forms to provide feedback on projects
    5. Forms to update personal information
    6. Meeting Minutes
    7. Additional functionality
This is an incomplete list, for sure. Once again, the idea is to have as much as possible and to make it as easy to find as possible.
  1. Under construction
    No pages (1 point)
    1 page (0 points)
    2 or more pages (-1 point)
"Under Construction" notices with little road signs or digging stick-figure men looked cute in 1994. Now they're just as annoying as the real-life kind.
  1. Chapter History (1 point each)
    1. Year chapter founded/rechartered
    2. Small paragraph describing founding of chapter
    3. List of awards won by the chapter
    4. Additional chapter history
This is all readily available information that's easily placed on your website. What's best is that it really never changes, so once you put it up, you're done.
  1. Alumni (1 point each)
    1. Contact info for person/officer for alumni posted
    2. Link to/hosting of an alumni association webpage
    3. Alumni calander/Alumni events on chapter calendar
Alumni are not just the people who helped keep the chapter alive until you got here: they're a valuable source of MONEY. If you keep your alumni happy, they'll be more likely to donate to the "Send Pledges to Sectionals" fund.
  1. No-No's (-1 point each)
    1. "Site best viewed with browser X"
    2. "Site best viewed at resolution A x B"
    3. "Site best viewed over a fast connection"
We don't have those. Rub it in, why don't you?

Seriously, these are some of the most arrogant and annoying statements you can see on the web. To quote Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web: "Anyone who slaps a 'this page is best viewed with Browser X' on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network."

Yes, you designed your website to work best with a particular browser. Everyone does. But good web designers try to make their sites at least work on every browser. Average web designers don't. Bad web designers don't... and advertise that they don't with one of these statements.

  1. Yes-Yes's (1 point each)
    1. Site Map
    2. Search feature
A site map is simply a page with a link to every other page on your website, along with a short description of what the page is, organized in some logical fashion. It's an easy way to let someone look over your entire site at a glance in an attempt to find something. (for an example, look at the R1 site's Site Map)

Sometimes your web host (like your college or university) will have some kind of search facility available. Maybe you have the facilities to run a search index like ht://dig (http://www.htdig.org/). If you don't, you can set up a link to Google that will search only your site.


And that's it.