Within the first month of launching its new website with the help of mStoner, Rush University received 2,000 new admissions inquiries.
In the first week alone, our college admissions reps had too many prospects coming in for staff to get back to them. It’s a good problem to have.
— Mark Donahue, managing web editor, Rush University
This good problem was hard won, however. Rush University is a world-renowned destination for a health sciences education with nationally ranked programs and learning experiences within a leading academic medical center. It has the rankings, the distinguished history, and the desirable location on Chicago’s near West Side — but it had a sorely outdated website that didn’t reflect any of this.
An antiquated content management system (CMS) made updating arduous and spawned new pages at an unmanageable rate: mStoner’s initial content audit found more than 20,000 assets on the site. The university’s four colleges were all running separate web properties and workarounds. “The university had grown so much, and the site infrastructure couldn’t support it,” said Ryan Nagdeman, associate vice president of marketing and communications for Rush University Medical Center. “We just crammed more things into every nook and cranny.” The site urgently needed a total redesign that would highlight the university’s many selling points and bring all of the units under one umbrella.
- Create a web presence that reflects the Rush University brand and experience.
- Make it easy for visitors to find the information they need.
- Update universitywide standards for web strategy, design, and content.
- Provide content managers with better experiences through the implementation of a new CMS.
- Make Rush University’s digital properties more consistent across academic units.
Uniting The Units
Successfully merging Rush’s four medical and nursing colleges under a new brand and web strategy required widespread trust and buy-in from faculty, staff, and administrators. In partnership with Nagdeman, the mStoner team conducted a comprehensive intake process with more than 70 stakeholder interviews, student focus groups at each college, and discussions with more than 50 alumni. mStoner used the findings from this research to develop Rush University’s web strategy as well as its branding deliverables: experience maps, brand pillars, personas, and marketing messages.
Nagdeman and the mStoner team then sought extensive feedback on the branding, information architecture (IA), and design. “We included people at all levels of the university — the president, the provost, faculty, staff, students, and alumni,” said Voltaire Santos Miran, mStoner co-founder and CEO. “We spent a lot of time building an active engagement with the entire university community.”
The team hosted four presentations with individual groups as well as multiple town hall meetings to provide updates and allow people to give input. Nagdeman and the mStoner strategists also collected more than 1,000 responses to a survey from the 10,000-person campus community. From the student council to the president’s cabinet, everyone had a say in the end results.
- A clean IA scaled the 20,000 assets down to 500, with no legacy pages left over. The entire site is lean, updated, and scaled to a size that the current staff can manage.
- The site’s responsive design serves prospective students who are mobile savvy. “The site is beautiful on the phone as well,” said Mark Donahue, Rush’s managing web editor.
- Program pages pull prospects into specific programs with clear calls-to-action and quick facts on program length, cost, and class size.
- The new CMS provides more flexibility and ownership. Content producers in different units can update the calendar system and faculty profiles as well.
- A top navigation section called “The Rush Experience” communicates the university’s big differentiators, such as its prominent focus on community engagement and hands-on medical training.
- Easier video uploads allow the university to showcase its emphasis on patient care and student enrichment.
With 2,000 new inquiry form submissions a month, the new site is generating leads at 10 times the rate of the old site. In October 2016, for example, overall individual visitors to Rush.edu increased 29.5% year-over-year. With a major admissions deadline on November 1, the timing of this increase was significant. Overall traffic on Rush.edu is also up by four percent in a year-over-year comparison. With the improved user experience, visitors are also finding what they need in half the time, and pages per visit have dropped more than 50 percent.
Aside from these affirming indicators, Nagdeman is especially proud of the campus community’s enthusiastic reception of the new site. “There’s a pride component: ‘Hey, this is us.’ This is a much better representation of who we are.” From an 80-person waiting list for site training to faculty showing up for new profile photos to people coming forward with stories to add to the site, the excitement on campus is palpable.
“The heavy lifting with stakeholders upfront really works,” said Nagdeman. “It’s not marketing’s website. It’s our website. People here really believe that. And that’s pretty cool.”
We were able to create a site with less than 1,000 pages that serves four colleges and all administration levels and is still remarkably robust.
– Voltaire Santos Miran, co-founder and CEO, mStoner, Inc.
Uniting four colleges with a brand and website strategy that reflects the university’s prominence in health science education.
Brand, content, and web strategy; brand research; responsive redesign; content audit; content development; experience maps; personas; usability testing; information architecture (IA); content workshop; content management system (CMS) migration and training; thematic CSS development; programming assistance; quality assurance testing; site governance; sustainability recommendations