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A Sea Change for Saint Louis University

Increase in pages per session
43%
Increase in page views
3%
Decrease in bounce rate
30%
Increase in users of the site
7%

According to Saint Louis University, a top 100 research university, “Discoveries — big and small — happen here every day.”

Sharing those discoveries in an engaging way with prospective students was the main priority for Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jeff Fowler in relaunching slu.edu. Changing the entire university’s approach to its web presence was another.

SLU is regarded as one of the country’s most prestigious Jesuit universities. However, as Fowler said, the “old website was designed like an org chart. It was very siloed and didn’t make sense to someone from the outside. It was just not competitive or modern for the audience we wanted to reach. It was really a workplace tool, not a marketing tool.”

SLU’s recent rebranding also created a perfect opportunity for a relaunch. Susan T. Evans, a strategist at mStoner who worked on the SLU project, said, “In parallel with the website redesign, they were rolling out a new visual identity. It was really wonderful to have the new identity system before our design team started. We incorporated their beautiful new typography, logo, and refined color palette into our web templates, so that SLU could roll all of it out with a brand-new website.”

Fast forward: The new site launches on time, on budget. The design is clean, high-impact, stunning on mobile, and brimming with institutional pride. Every one of SLU’s 190 academic program pages now features fresh, prospect-focused content. The university community almost unanimously applauds the new site. Internal units are lining up to use the new content management system (CMS). Virtually every metric shows the site is bringing in more visitors. The university agrees to enact a policy that any new pages under .edu will use the new web templates. The entire site is consistent — both in branding and beauty — so visitors know: “This is SLU.”

But how?

Shifting Institutional Habits

Fowler, one of the most effective marketing professionals we’ve worked with, reflects on the best practices he and the mStoner team used to shift SLU’s digital marketing culture and elevate the university’s web presence across the board:

  • Form a web redesign committee: “This was the first thing we did. I chaired it, and we had marketing staff from across the university as well as faculty, staff, students, enrollment management, and my project managers. Everyone was actively involved. This was crucial. In the past, these projects were not as inclusive. … This time, when we did roll it out, we had ambassadors for it.”
  • Conduct a thorough, prompt intake process: “mStoner didn’t waste any time. They had their whole team here meeting with constituent groups, including an open forum, where anyone could come and ask questions or complain about the site. That was very important: the discovery process, the listening part. mStoner hit the ground running on that really quickly.”
  • Share the strategy: “The other crucial things are the strategies that mStoner created: the overall strategy, the web strategy, the IA [information architecture] strategy. Sharing those allowed people to see this has really been a detailed process from start to finish, following best practice within the industry. And people appreciated that.”
  • Recognize that you don’t have the skill-set to lead all of it: “Mark Rimar, director of web services, and Anne Marie Apollo-Noel, our content lead, are just fantastic. They moved this project forward, taking it to internal stakeholders and talking them through it. … We also really needed a partner to say what we needed to work on next and complete within the next few weeks. mStoner kept us on task. Their responsiveness was great from the outset.”
  • Know where to stop with scope: “It’s easy to bite off too much in the first phase of the rollout. The mStoner team helped us figure out the best bang for our buck. Phase one included admissions, enrollment, financial aid, student life, about SLU, our research section and academic programs — pages we know prospective students need to be able to see. We also moved in two of our colleges and schools that had a smaller web footprint. We’re moving from smallest to largest because we learn as we go.”
  • Give stakeholder reviewers hard deadlines: “At any institution, some faculty and staff get back to you faster than others, so we tried to give stakeholders enough lead-time. We were also doing some of this after classes had ended for the year. But we kept touching base with people, and we gave them hard and fast deadlines, because we knew these things creep. Again, we started with smaller schools because there are so many people who have to review copy. We learned from that before we moved on to bigger schools.
  • Put your energy into academic pages: “Prospective students read them. They really want to see the full list of programs offered and key calls-to-action on those pages. We spent a lot of time putting all of those pages together, and they include information on courses that are required and faculty involved in the program.”
  • Try a content migration “lock-in”: “I think our team had a very good strategy for migrating content into the templates designed by mStoner. We had a team of six or seven people, and we put them in a conference room, away from phones, so they were all together in case questions came up. That worked really well.”
  • Help out content producers in other units: “We are trying to share more information and be collaborative with the units, especially with teams who don’t have marketing staff. At the end of the day, we all want to meet the business objectives of SLU and enhance our reputation, and this new website helps us do all these things. mStoner designed templates to make the CMS as user-friendly as possible to the people who have to update content, while at the same time making sure the content and visuals stay in proportion and look good.”
  • Propose a unified web policy: “I went to our leadership and said, ‘If we’re spending this money and developing a state-of-the-art site, we don’t want people going to other firms for pages that don’t look like ours. We want brand consistency throughout the site. This will also save us money.’ So we enacted an SLU-wide policy that said that anybody in .edu has to use our web templates going forward. I knew there would be pushback, but I really didn’t get as much as I thought — and even less so when people saw the site. Our approach is: ‘We’ll work with you; it’s your content — but we need it in our template, and we want this entire site to be consistent so visitors know this is SLU.’”

“Discoveries — big and small —” truly are happening at SLU every day, if the site traffic is any measure. Prospective students are accessing information and engaging more than ever. Metrics for the number of sessions, page views, pages per session, and time on site have all increased over the same period a year ago.

Something happens daily for Fowler as well: “The change in aesthetics, the tone — it just strikes me every day how much more engaging, how much better the site looks,” he said. “The change for us was so dramatic, and I just think we made a tremendous jump from where we were to where we are now.”

CORE CHALLENGE

Change the way a major university approaches the web by demonstrating best practice and including all units in the rollout of a modern, competitive, and beautiful new site.

AWARDS

SERVICES

Content and web strategy, discovery interviews and town hall meetings, project management strategy, responsive redesign, content writing, competitor research, content audit, usability testing, information architecture (IA), content management system (CMS) selection and implementation, thematic CSS development, programming assistance, quality assurance testing, site governance, sustainability recommendations, search analytics

Date

2016

CATEGORY
Universities