Brand and Web strategy have a major impact in all areas. It needs to matter.
- Application volume.
- Acceptance rates.
- US News rankings
- Research grants.
- Faculty recruiting.
- Increase yield > identify and overcome objections > accepted student site (restricted), remove silos through cross-referencing all content, differentiate.
- Increase alumni engagement > cross-organizational interation > prospective student referrals, internships, contextual giving modules.
- Increase US News peer assessment, recruit faculty > channels for peer audiences > scholarly accomplishments, department sites, accurate and consistent information.
Elements of a successful site
- Before working on a Web strategy, does the institution understand its core business objectives and target audiences? That comes first.
- Intuitive, manifest model, easy to decode, works to enable the scent of information.
- Strong/differentiating presentation of the brand and content. Compels, informs, guides user experience.
- Content management, governance, ongoing development, long-term support.
- Macro: outcomes measured against relevant business objectives. Micro: campaign/tactical-based measures.
- All information should be 3 clicks away from the home page.
- Usability “gurus” say …
- Award-winning sites are effective sites.
- Happy users equal positive outcomes.
- You have less than 8 seconds to win the user.
- “M-TV” look.
- Be entertaining to prospective students — provide the right window into the experience, but don’t feel a need to entertain.
- Prospective student link — the whole site should be for prospective students.
- Admissions sites drive Admissions outcomes — the whole site should support admissions.
- Centralized versus decentralized — false dichotomy.
- CMS will solve all my problems.
- My institution’s Web presence can’t be tamed — if you want to participate in the design discussion, you need to have participate in the strategy discussion.
What not to do
- US News logo on home page.
- Reinvent Facebook (current students and recent grads) or MySpace (prospects) or LinkedIn (for alumni) — learn how to coexist with these.
- Use blogs for natural communities (like current students and alumni) but not prospects (there’s no natural, existing affinity).
- Podcast interesting faculty and guest speakers (for current students and alumni).
- The penitentiary look for photography (no people, buildings).
- Home page news and events with more than 3 or 4 items each — separate upcoming announcements from past reports.
- Fly-out menus — eliminate them!
- Too many “give here” or “apply now” buttons.
- Quick links on the home page — extraordinarily bad solution for poor information architecture. Very high use of search also indicates poor information architecture.
- Outcome: increase male enrollment.
- Why major in liberal arts?
- Why liberal arts?
- Click on Now@Mville for streaming video.
- Theme line: What happens here matters.
- The key to unversal navigation is understanding those overarching areas that are relevant to everyone, to tell their story. Continues through to schools.
Five key take aways
- Think Web governance and organization — nothing else works without this.
- Think cutting across organizational boundaries to present information.
- Think multidisciplinary — develop a strategy first — then integrate IA, interface design, and functionality.
- Think whole, not parts — the biggest leap towards driving Admissions, Advancement, and Academic reputation outcomes
- Think outcomes — it’s why you’re doing this.
Points to consider
- Does your Web site feel like your campus?
- We try to focus on the revenue generating audiences, and encourage the smaller successes with current student and faculty who are often very task oriented.
- To the extent you can keep within your .edu domain.
- Use “major and minor” instead of “departments and programs.”
- Make sure you have a strong oversight committee and integrated implementation group before you start anything complex.