Early on in the redesign project it became very clear based on all the great input we received from faculty and staff, that we needed to think differently about how we managed, staffed, and supported the college’s Web presence. Simply redesigning the website and implementing new features and functionality without substantial changes to how we manage and a support it would leave us doomed to repeat the same redesign process again in the next three-to-five or more years.
We had some serious issues to contend with beyond just the site’s design, including training, staffing, workflow, site management, lack of standards, and overall content quality. And it was evident from the start that the impression of Davidson offered through our website was not the impression people wanted to convey to our audiences. The website after all is often the first and sometimes the only introduction people have to Davidson. The college is an amazing place, but to look at our website there was no window into what makes us such a great place.
So following the project’s discovery phase—when we met with many departments around campus and also had multiple open invite sessions for faculty, staff, and students to provide input—we set out to address what needed to be in place to make the project a success and ensure the site would not backslide.
We heard loud and clear, we need a simpler CMS interface to work with, we need group-based training, we need help writing and posting content, and we want a website that is more visual and better reflects the Davidson experience. We also heard a general dissatisfaction with the quality of content posted to the site. To address these areas, we needed to think more holistically about our Web presence.
Centralized (Hybrid) Content Review
Part of the general dissatisfaction with the current site is having a very distributed model of content management in place. Previous to the last redesign in 2005-2006 the college had a very centralized model in place. All content posting was done through a single office and one or two staff members primarily posted content creating a bottleneck. So we went from one extreme to the other and as a result we have more than 19,000 pages on the current site.
For the new website, we have implemented a hybrid approach where many department content authors still have access to the site to make updates and add new content, but all content will be reviewed by College Communications digital staff prior to being published to the live site.
It is important to note that the centralized workflow does not affect pages published outside of the CMS (faculty personal sites outside the CMS, faculty course sites/pages, Moodle, etc.).
Additional Digital Communications Support Staff
To support the new centralized hybrid model, additional digital communications staff have been hired to review content. We’ve grown from having one person managing our site pre-2011 to six full-time staff as of July 1, 2013. In addition to reviewing CMS content submitted as part of workflow, the digital staff will provide content writing support to academic and administrative departments. In general, pages submitted as part of workflow will be reviewed and published to the live site within 30-90 minutes. A help desk model (not to be confused with the ITS Help Desk, which is entirely different) will be implemented that has digital communications staff assigned throughout the business day to review and publish content submitted as part of workflow. More details about the new centralized-hybrid model are included within the PowerPoint presentation that is embedded within this post.
New Standards & Guidelines
Prior to the redesign there were no Web standards or guidelines in place that set a baseline of expectations for content authors. It’s difficult for us all to be on the same page if we don’t have standards in place from which to work. It’s also difficult for a website to adhere to standards, guidelines, and best practices in a very decentralized content model because very little is reviewed before it is published. The combination of new standards and guidelines, workflow review, and improved group-based training will improve the quality of the content that is posted to the site while proactively identifying issues before they are seen by the public.
Standards are not created to stifle creativity but to better define the framework we all need to work within.
Considerations for Mobile Visitors
It is important to note that the new website is a very different site that accounts for both desktop and mobile visitors. The new site employes a responsive design approach where content on the page adjusts to the screen resolution or the device viewing it. So there is an added level of complexity to the current site that requires additional support and review to account for desktop, tablet, and mobile visitors. Content on the new site needs to be very fluid and adjust accordingly to the provided space. We also need to deliver a site that is accessible to all visitors, including visitors that are visually impaired and using screen readers or the deaf. Lastly, there is the reality that our digital presence extends well beyond the college’s website to social media channels and we need some standards and guidelines in place to account for this. People can now interact with us on external sites, which like our public website, may be the first introduction they get to the college.
Web & Digital Governance
When we talk about Web governance we refer to the people, policies, standards, and guidelines that govern the creation and maintenance of our official website and digital properties. Why do we have a website? Who is accountable? Who makes decisions regarding its current and future development? How are content authors and contributors supported? What is our content and brand strategy? How is success measured?
As part of the rollout of the new website, we will be implementing a new digital or Web governance framework to formalize the shared management of the college website and other digital properties (social media sites, blogs, email communication, among other areas). The college’s website is no longer just an IT or communications responsibility and to be truly effective moving forward we need to enact a shared governance model where management of our website is shared across the college and the site is prioritized as the strategic communications and marketing vehicle that it is.
The three groups that provide the foundation for our new shared governance framework are as follows.
- Digital Governance Board
Sets direction, policies for website, digital properties and Web operating environment based on best practices and strategic needs for college; and receives input from Digital Communications & Technology Standards Group. Membership includes: chief communications officer, chief information officer, digital director, one rep from each of the following: the president’s office, faculty, athletics, academic affairs, student affairs, admission/financial aid. This group is accountable to PES and presents appropriate issues to PES for discussion as needed
- Digital Communications & Technology Standards
Provides oversight of site on a more day to day level, suggests changes to taxonomy, structure, navigation, etc., as needed, ensures compliance with site standards and policies, including accessibility, security, and legal requirements. Membership includes: digital director, associate digital director, ITS network/systems director, senior managers (or similar level) from academic affairs, student affairs, and admission/financial aid
- Web Content Directors
Not a ‘group’ as much as it is a role. All department directors/chairs are Web content directors and as such select faculty/staff to attend training and maintain department site (a primary and a backup person). This role interfaces with the digital communications staff and provides direction on the department/office website. Web content directors can choose to maintain the site themselves, assign people to attend training, or send content updates to digital communications for adding to the website, but ultimately if questions or issues arise, the Web content director is the point of contact and decision-maker for a department or office
With the changes to CMS workflow, added staffing and content writing support, new standards and guidelines, and a new shared digital governance framework, the college is well on it’s way of keeping our website from backsliding, ensuring quality, and delivering a site that is worthy of our collective aspirations for Davidson.