Remember the last time you redesigned your website?
While no project ever goes completely smoothly, you probably accomplished a great deal: a fresh, responsive design, streamlined information architecture, perhaps even a content management system. It was supposed to be the start of a new era — a transformation in the way your institution approached digital communications.
Except that transformation may not have happened. You may find yourself facing many of the same challenges you took on in your last relaunch effort.
Flash forward to today: Digital communications continues to evolve, and content isn’t any easier to produce or wrangle. There’s increased desire for powerful photography and video, integrated social content, and delivering a more personalized site experience to each audience. And it’s no longer only about having a site that scales for mobile. The mobile experience needs to be prioritized and just as intuitive and easy to navigate as any desktop experience.
Reason #1: Your application or yield numbers need a boost.
Usability issues? Process issues? Content issues? Visual interface issues? Possibly all of the above. Our 2016 Mythbusting Websites report contains a number of insights about the types of information prospective students look for, as well as their comparative importance.
Reason #2: Your academic program page traffic is relatively low.
According to our research, academic program pages are among the top three types of pages that prospective students visit in their exploration process. Low traffic indicates you have significant opportunities to showcase this vital information.
Reason #3: It’s been five years or more since your last relaunch.
After five years, your visual interface may be showing its age. Your mobile design is likely a retrofit. And your CMS may be a version (or two) behind the current standard. Even if you’ve made incremental changes since you relaunched your site, visitors may still find your site to be worn, particularly in comparison to peer and competitor institutions that have redesigned their web presence more recently.
Reason #4: It’s been three years or more since your last content audit.
Organic sprawl: This is the term we use to describe the result of a decentralized publishing environment without proper governance. Every page should have an owner, and every page should have an established review cycle. If you haven’t enforced a review of your site pages in awhile, chances are you have duplicative and inaccurate information to wrestle with.
Reason #5: Your page-load performance times are poor.
The standard we aim for is three seconds. Pages that take longer to load likely have hefty page weights and a high number of requests and dependencies. A chief culprit in long load times is the need for image optimization. Mobile performance is as important as ever, and responsive images can help improve performance and the user experience. A redesign is an opportunity to craft modern HTML from the ground up using tools such as SASS to keep things lean and sustainable.
Reason #6: Your pages aren’t compliant with accessibility standards.
Complaints and lawsuits related to accessibility on education websites have risen steeply in the past year. If your site isn’t accessible, you are doing your site visitors a disservice and putting your institution at risk for legal action.
If any of those reasons resonate, relaunching your site should scoot up your list of priorities. But this time, do a few things differently. Three things to consider:
1. Get your content strategy down at the very beginning of the work.
In talking with clients, I find that — as much as we’ve evolved in our approach to website development — content continues to be a pain point. (“All the crappy pages, Volt, all the crappy pages” was the No. 1 response in a recent webinar poll asking about the biggest issue people faced with their sites.) Develop a strategy to make and keep the site lean and clean. This means honing the audiences that your site should serve and tackling the issue of internal communications.
2. Address the hard governance issues now.
Who has publishing rights? What training do people need to complete before being granted access? Who owns the marketing-critical pages? What centralized support is available for different areas? While the pain points vary from institution to institution, the fact remains that good governance is essential to long-term success.
3. Shift the institutional mentality from project to process.
There was a time when people viewed the website as a capital project — a one-time investment every five to eight years. Seize the opportunity to transform that thinking. Ideally, your next relaunch will include a plan and budget for ongoing experimentation and improvement through experimentation, testing, analysis, insight, and application.
Whether this is your first big website project or you’ve been here before, the hurdles of kicking off a redesign can seem impossibly high. With some careful planning, you can ensure an efficient, effective, and successful project that meets your strategic goals and objectives.
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Voltaire Santos Miran Co-Founder and Co-Owner I've developed and implemented communication strategies in education for more than 20 years now. I think my team at mStoner is the smartest, funniest, and coolest group of colleagues ever, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Except Barcelona. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. To quote Isak Dinesen, "the cure for everything is salt ... tears, sweat, and the sea."