2. More clicks, more problems: have simple navigation
Website navigation: “it’s not brain surgery,” Shintani said—or at least, it shouldn’t be. Prospective students need to be able to easily find out how to visit and apply to a school, what majors are offered and what clubs and organizations exist.
“If you start with a great navigational system and really organize it using metrics and your data, there’s really nothing more important,” Wright-Magoon said.
It may be in a school’s best interest to make their website navigation similar to other campus websites’ navigation, said Doug Minor, director of digital communications at Davidson College. “If our navigation is very different and hard to get, students are just going to go on to somewhere else,” he added.
Bates originally had a three-tier navigation system that caused users to get lost, Wright-Magoon said, causing the redesign team to revamp their navigation. They took cues from the websites of popular retail centers like Target and Wal-Mart—places that people were really accustomed to navigating, Wright-Magoon said.
Cutting out dead ends or unnecessary steps in the navigation process is key. Make sure everything is easy to find and the path to get to a certain page is made in the fewest clicks possible, he continued.
The old website for Davidson College had 19,000 pages. Eventually, their new website was cut down to just 3,500. “When pages are out of date, they need to come down,” Minor said.
Also, most people nowadays want to access campus websites not only on their computers but also on their mobile devices, said the experts. Every campus website needs to be responsive, meaning that it resizes and rearranges appropriately, based on the user’s device.
Without responsiveness, “no website can be successful,” Shintani explained.
3. Keeps tabs on your analytics
Don’t rely on an “institutional sense” when considering changes to a website, Wright-Magoon said. Instead, make changes for reasons that are data driven. Analytics is “a godsend,” he added.
The University of Chicago has quarterly reports on the school’s website usage. They look at click patterns, traffic, trends and the most popular content.
“It’s helpful for making decisions,” Shintani said. “User research is vital.” For example, during certain times of the year, links may have to be resurfaced or navigation paths need to be changed, she added.
4. Offline, communication is key
Shintani’s web team at the University of Chicago is part of the Information Technology (IT) Services, which helps them stay “well-connected” to best practices and web standards, she said.
In terms of maintenance, they focus on the technological aspect of it. “We maintain the code and handle the hosting,” Shintani said, adding that their partners in University Communications maintain the content.
Every part of keeping your website running, including its maintenance, will involve teamwork, she noted.
“A great campus website doesn’t just happen within one single office. It really involves the entire campus,” Minor said. During Davidson’s website overhaul, “we spoke to every person, bottom up and top down, to get a sense of what we need the website to do,” he added.
A digital governance framework now exists at Davidson, consisting of members from IT, student life, academic affairs, admissions, and more. “Digital governance is important to maintain for the long haul so you don’t incur the major expense of a typical higher ed redesign,” Minor said.
(Next page: Final considerations)
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