in Higher Ed

Things to ask before you redo your web site (for higher ed)

Now I’m piggybacking pretty heavily here on a post by Seth Godin today, but I felt it was a timely post and one I’ve touched on before. As you might not, the real reason I started this blog in the first place, was as a place to log my thoughts in the process of the various web redesigns I’ve been a part over the past few years.

So much the redesign process in higher education is about pleasing a ton of people who often times don’t understand what really goes into getting a new site up and running. Other times, the process involves a metric ton of folks who all have their own ideas of what the site ought to look like, do and how it should work. It can be exhausting for the people charged with figuring it all out and making it work, especially if they’re working alone or don’t have the best support system.

Seth’s suggestions were useful for business, but for higher ed I think the things to ask might be a bit different, so I put together my own list of questions you ought to ask before lifting a finger to start your web site redesign: (in no specific order)

  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • Who are we reaching effectively right now through our other campaigns?
  • Can we save money by melding print content onto the web? Will this help us reach a wider audience?
  • What about auxiliary, constituent and other organizations attached to the school who have separate sites? Will they be folded into a new site, if at all?
  • Does athletics need a separate web presence? Have we included them in the process?
  • Will a new site help us communicate who we are better to our intended audiences?
  • What are we doing right online right now? How can we improve on that with our existing web presence?

I’m just scratching the surface here, but it really depends on the college or university. Ultimately, redesigning your web site is akin to erecting a new building on campus. It’s not just a piece of marketing material, for the time it exists it’s part of your physical plant. People will see it more than they see obscure buildings on your beautiful campus. If it’s an eyesore, if it’s difficult to use and fails to provide information about your school that people are looking for; every visit will be like getting lost in a huge building with no one to guide you.

What are your suggestions? What should people ask before embarking on a web site redesign?

  1. I like your comparison of the web to a campus’s physical infrastructure — buildings, classrooms, etc. What strikes me as odd, after 18-plus years in higher education, is that so often we fail to consider the cost of maintenance for either physical plant or online presence. The maintenance of infrastructure after it’s built should also be taken into account.

    Your list of questions is excellent, and similar to the three I try to ask whenever any client or prospective client who approaches me with a brilliant marketing idea (usually a tactic). Those questions are:

    1. Who? (Who is your audience?)

    2. What? (What do you want to tell them?)

    3. How? (How do you want them to react? What results are you after?)

    Too often, we fail to ask the right questions before diving in to a project.

    I also like Mike’s concept of “realigning” instead of “redesigning.”

  2. Thanks Mike.

    I’ve been on a variety of sides of this and I’ve seen a ton of different ways. I think sometimes, it’s not even always the fault of senior execs, but situations where no one REALLY has any idea what they’re doing, just know they need to do *something* and then the process gets bogged down with a lot of people dancing in circles.

    Well that and it can often just be too political a process. As many things in higher ed can be. But it’s amazing what the process is like when things aren’t convoluted. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that’s the exception rather than the rule.

  3. I agree with you Ron. When people that don’t understand the process and what is involved drive the process you end up with a end product that may not achieve goals or be effective. Developing a clear web strategy, by asking the questions above as well as other, is a great place to start.

    Your post really goes in line with an earlier post of mine called Don’t Redesign Your Website. In this post I talk about approaching the process with the mindset that we are not ‘redesigning’ but ‘realigning’ our website to the strategic goals of the institution.

    If only this message could be shared with all senior executives. Fortunately, at the college where I work. I think our leadership do have some appreciation for the process even if they don’t completely understand it.

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