If you’ve ever embarked on an exciting website redesign project, you probably imagined the massive celebration after launch. Your site will look great, it will be easy to use and everyone will love it. You’ll finally have time to get to the other stuff. That’s fantasy land. Be prepared to never be done.
That’s one of the most important lessons my team and I at the University of North Dakota learned after our new site launched.
Six years of minimal website maintenance dug the University of North Dakota’s web presence into a deep hole. Our last sitewide redesign was in 2010. Since then, everything digital changed. New technologies emerged, social media became part of our everyday lives and the mainstream adoption of smartphones all drastically changed user expectations. We needed a major overhaul to get with the times, and we did it — on time and on budget.
During our three-year redesign we:
- Touched all 30,000-plus web pages and 100,000-plus images/files.
- Created all new templates and a completely new sitewide navigation system.
- Retrained all 400 content management system users.
- Developed a student story microsite to show how our students exemplify our brand.
- Added new features including a custom program finder listing all 250-plus academic programs, calendar (Localist), search appliance (Funnelback), enhanced Google Map, quality checker (Siteimprove) and custom employee directory.
It took a village. We had the support of higher ed web experts (mStoner), and everyone on campus chipped in to do their part. During rocky times, we were backed by a solid web governance structure.
The results are outstanding. We reduced ROT (redundant, outdated and trivial) content by 50 percent. Better yet, the new site is generating five times more inquiries. But we aren’t celebrating. With all that is good, the website needs constant attention and improvement to stay current. Now what?
You can always do more with a higher ed website. There’s always content that needs improvement and always enrollment pressure. Plus you need to evaluate — and maybe even implement — the next bright, shiny object. The key to maintaining momentum is to continue to plan, set priorities and schedule next steps. Make improvements to support the strategic goals of the university. Perhaps most important, say no to what is out of scope.
Our plan for continuous improvement isn’t sexy. We’ll audit and audit again. We’ll use a planned and phased approach to check for things such as:
- Basic quality assurance measures such as fixing broken links, spelling checks and making sure we delete unused content.
- Proper image use including alt attributes and image sizes.
- Improve search engine optimization with an emphasis on proper heading use and metadata. Prospective student pages will get extra SEO attention.
- Ensure the proper tools are being used. We implemented many new systems during the redevelopment, and we need to use them to get a return on our investment. This requires continuous training and reminders.
We expect to find new issues during the audit process. Did the site architecture fall apart? Are we creating duplicate content again? Have we optimized for the mobile-first approach?
After the audit process, there will be more user testing, more updates and more adjustments to the design. We’ll always have to update statistics, program offerings, creative content and so on. Continuous improvement is a hassle, but it’s done with the goal to never get in a deep hole again.
Tera Buckley is the assistant director, marketing and creative services, at the University of North Dakota.