Website Deathmatch – What I Learned by Choosing My NCAA Winners Based on Websites

Did you say Website Death Match? And picking the best college websites based on the NCAA DI college basketball tournament bracket? Well, heck, what’s not to love about this idea?

That was the premise of Kelly Anne Pipe’s presentation (#MCS1) at HighEdWeb 14. Pipe, of St. Joseph’s University, decided it would make for an interesting experiment to see how well the tournament schools were serving their audiences on the web.

“Other people actually use random things like statistics and who they think will do well,” Pipe said. “I’m not one of those people.”

Hey, it’s as good a strategy as any- of one Pipe’s colleague picked a bracket for his dog based on how many mascots were dogs (the dog’s sheet beat the human sheet). And the concept produced some fascinating insights.

Pipe started by looking at the bracket of 64 teams, and eliminating all those without a responsive web design. That quickly eliminately 28 schools, including Pipe’s own St. Joseph’s.

She then evaluated based on website performance.

A key metric, Pipe said, was the size of a site. 75 percent of schools had a mobile site that had the same page weight as their desktop version. That slows the experience down and probably loses users, Pipe said. If a site takes too long to load, your users will flee, especially on a mobile device. She encouraged the use of optimization tools to scale images on mobile devices.

“We’re not printing billboards, we’re showing websites,” she said.

She encouraged designers to design for content, not for devices as well.

“We recruit students, not phones, we need to design for people not devices” Pipe said.

She cut down schools based on site performance until she was left with Arizona St., Western Michigan and North Carolina St.

Her ultimate winner turnout to be NC St.

“Blown away by how small their website is,” Pipe said. “It’s beautiful and I’ts relatively tiny.”

What did Pipe learn from this exercise? First: it’s a terrible way to pick a bracket for a pool, she joked. Of course UCONN won the 2014 Division I tourney, and none of Pipe’s final three schools made the Final Four.

But she did learn that there’s a lot of talent out there doing a lot of awesome things on their websites, both from schools that made the basketball tournament and those that didn’t.

It encouraged her to be a better critic of her own work, she said. And it inspired her, too.

“You have the potential to do great things. Even small teams can make great websites,” Pipe said.