Summer Musings: Conversation, Conversions, and Glue
Summer Musings: Conversation, Conversions, and Glue


Summer Musings: Conversation, Conversions, and Glue

Jul 30, 2019By Mallory Willsea

Summer is historically one of the busiest seasons at mStoner, and this year is no different. Our team is launching five redesigned sites for our clients, kicking off seven new projects, and hiring for no fewer than four positions. This week, we started a new research study on site search in partnership with Funnelback (Help us by participating in the online survey!) and we are compiling and reviewing the results of our spring research study with prospective students, co-sponsored by TargetX. The results of both research studies will be available this fall.

Needless to say, we have a lot on our minds. So I asked mStoner’s creative, technology, and marketing teams: What’s bubbling to the top? What’s inspiring you right now? What sort of issues are we tackling with clients?

I hope you enjoy this potpourri of website-focused topics.

Conversational Design

Contributed by: Ben Bilow, creative director, and Shannon Lanus, director of content strategy and services, inspired by Conversational Design by Erika Hall

You’ve told a great story — now have a great conversation.

If you’ve followed mStoner for a while, you know we believe in the power of storytelling to move people to action. Digital storytelling is a great vehicle for expressing your brand and inspiring new audiences. But once you’ve engaged your site visitors, it’s time to consider what comes next.

Think about the following prospective student interactions: finding a major or program of interest, requesting information, or scheduling a visit. These interactions require a variety of interfaces, including forms, finders, wizards, and site search.

You know these interactions are important, but let’s face it: Most forms and finders aren’t exactly full of joy. So how can we make these interactions both delightful and productive? The answer is conversational design. But don’t worry, we’re not talking about chatbots. It’s about bringing UI design and content together to craft experiences that are more human: polite, forgiving, and helpful.

Good conversation is two-way. It involves active listening, asking good questions, considering context, and above all being cooperative. If visitors to your site feel as though they and you are working together to answer a question, complete a task, or discover something new, you are on your way to developing a lasting relationship.

Here are a few principles of conversational design to consider when designing these interactions:

  • Use verbs to keep the conversation in motion, and use motion to keep the interactions smooth. Even the smallest act of clicking a button and having a direct and noticeable impact on a system can influence decisions.
  • Give your visitors choices, but don’t change the subject. More is not more. Carefully curate navigation (big and small) around your visitor needs, but allow them to change their mind or easily start over.
  • Be yourself. Use natural language — infused with brand personality — throughout your user interface. A human “voice” goes a long away in making your UI feel intentional, cooperative, and honest.

The next time you need to design an interaction for visitors to your site, take the time to consider how the interaction may take place face to face. Together, the personality of your design and all the power of digital systems — to remember, return information quickly, and be highly accurate — has the ability to be deeply conversational and the foundation of a lasting relationship.

Your Post-Conversion Strategy

Contributed by: mStoner’s marketing team

We spend a lot of time thinking about and developing the things that drive our site visitors to conversion: content, intuitive pathways, and design elements. For instance, we test the words, color choices, and sizes of our CTA buttons. This is time well spent.

What can get overlooked is everything that happens next. When we’re on the phone with marketing web directors and enrollment pros, we almost always hear frustrations around two things: poor system integration and the need to drive students through the funnel more efficiently.

In a prospective student’s journey, they may interact with dozens of offices and individuals. As a higher ed pro, you’re well aware that departments are siloed and technology is rarely streamlined. And higher ed websites are prone to bloat: With thousands and thousands of pages and decentralized governance strategies, the likelihood of a rogue or forgotten form living on your site is high.

So when the web conversion happens:

  1. Where does the captured information go? How many form tools does your institution use? Does your institution use a CRM (customer relationship management) system? Do all of your website forms lead to the same system, or are multiple technologies at play? Is the contact information auto-shared with other systems?
  2. What does the site visitor expect to happen next? How do you acknowledge their information was successfully received? What communications or events auto-trigger as a result of the conversion?
  3. Is an ongoing communication strategy in place? Do you need a one-on-one follow-up strategy? Based on demographic and behavioral data, what other information would the site visitor find relevant?

The site visitor exchanged their PII (personally identifiable information) and gave you permission to contact them for a reason. Fulfill your end of the exchange and find ways to add value.

The answers to the above questions might vary greatly depending on where the site visitor converted. A call to action and form audit is a worthy summer project that can find the holes in your institution’s conversion funnels. Start with your highest-trafficked landing pages and list all of the CTAs. Note and analyze where they drive visitors. Test your forms. Pay attention to what happens next — is it what you expected?

Don’t Forget the Glue

Contributed by: Greg Zguta, director of client support

When redesigning a client’s website, two important aspects of our technology team’s work include converting designs into HTML and successfully implementing that HTML to enable editors to create pages in a CMS (content management system).

Content migration is a major part of our CMS implementation activities, and it’s the phase that lends itself to the most variability. Being prepared for migration sounds simple, but the work is significant. We work with our clients to ensure the information architecture, including the types of pages and URL structure, is planned out. We assemble the content for each page, such as images, written content, special features of the page, SEO metadata, links, and anything else required by the design.

In addition, there are a number of “glue” tasks that have to take place that aren’t highly visible during content planning activities. Without proper planning, these kinds of tasks can extend migration timeframes and negatively affect timelines. A smart redesign partner should identify most of these glue tasks early in a project, even if they aren’t addressed until implementation.

Some examples of these tasks:

  • Listing pages. These pages for news and event content aren’t always explicitly designed, but most websites need a solution to show categorized or archived content for these types.
  • Web forms. Important forms for requesting information or scheduling a visit are often hosted in third-party tools. Have a plan for these, and also for lower-priority forms used for simple data collection. These all require migration and content consideration.
  • Redirects. Assemble a plan for redirecting visitors to the new URLs of your site as content migration progresses. Depending on how many URLs change, this can require a comprehensive redirect strategy and is essential for SEO.
  • Directories, search, course catalogs, and custom web applications. There are a variety of third-party tools or areas where a repository of content may need to exist in the CMS. Sometimes these don’t represent a lot of pages on the site, but they require a lot of content and accounting before delivery.

More Inspiration

Check out the resources that are inspiring us this summer.

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  • Mallory Willsea Director of Marketing and Business Development Proud ENFJ, here! What does that mean for mStoner, besides entertaining colleagues with my wit and charm? I'm a problem-solver and enjoy working through our potential client's challenges to identify solutions and how a partnership with mStoner will bring value.