Your website launched! You’ve invested a great deal of time, effort and funds into your new website and you deserve to celebrate. However, the launch of your website is just the beginning. Think of it as planting a garden. You created a new bed, prepared the ground with fresh soil and planted seeds and starter plants. You will need to fertilize and water your new garden regularly to help it grow and prune it often to ensure it doesn’t become overgrown. Similarly, you will need a plan for maintaining and improving your website. Without a defined approach for continuous improvement, your beautiful new garden will become overrun with weeds, and you may need a complete website redesign in three years. But what if instead, your site evolved over time? With the right plan your site can remain fresh and can scale for future growth and technologies.
Set Your Goals
It is next to impossible to know if your new website is effective without an understanding of what you are trying to achieve. If you did not establish goals during the redesign process, now is the time. How will you measure the success of the site? For an organization that might mean an increase in new or returning visitors, broader geographic reach, higher traffic to key pages, or more social media sharing. For higher education institutions, goals might include increases in online applications, requests for information or registrations to visit. Whatever the goals, it is important to make sure they are clear, reasonable and measurable. Be as specific as possible. What number or percentage of increase would be impactful? Also, benchmark current statistics. If your goal is to increase requests for information for instance, gather those numbers for the past few years as a starting point.
Stay on Top of Your Data
Most of our clients use Google Analytics to collect statistics on website traffic, but few have the time or dedicated resources to regularly analyze the results. Making a plan to review your data on a regular basis will provide the insight you need to take actions to improve your website over time. At site launch, ensure that tracking is set up for all calls to action through Google Analytics. By default, Google Analytics does not automatically track clicks on images, buttons or videos. Adding event tracking to clicks on your Apply button, for instance, will track where visitors were compelled to take that action. You can also track how often (and how long) videos are played. Tracking clicks on main banner images and headlines will provide insight into which messages perform best.
There are a few ways to leverage Google Analytics’ built-in tools to keep you informed. Most importantly, setup custom reports and dashboards so that you and other key stakeholders can see at-a-glance the statistics most valuable to your institution. Consider annotating the launch date of the new website on the timeline (as well as other key marketing efforts) for a visual reminder of how outside actions may have affected your data.
Track the terms people search for on your site (site search) and review the results monthly. Site search reports provide the terminology site visitors use, points out information that is most popular at different times of the year, and potentially reveals the content that visitors have the hardest time finding.
Heatmapping and video tracking tools, such as HotJar, go a step further to provide insight into how users navigate your site, their interaction pain points and typical scrolling and click patterns. To get the most from these tools, schedule a deep dive into the reports every three months. Not comfortable with the depths of Google Analytics or HotJar? Hire a firm like SAI Digital to generate and present reports each quarter or provide training for your team.
Tend to your Content
The two most important factors to keeping your content fresh and relevant are to establish a governance plan and content calendar. Your governance plan defines the roles of content contributors and authors and the workflow process for creating and approving content. You may decide on a centralized model where all content flows through one team (pictured below), or a de-centralized model where content tasks are distributed across the organization. Once you agree on the model, define roles and responsibilities to ensure all key members of the team are aware.
Establish a content calendar that will include the content of your website by category (events, news, student profiles, faculty profiles, academic program pages, etc.) and determine who is responsible for updating the content and how often. For instance, an event calendar should be populated at the beginning of each year but multiple people may be responsible for updating and adding events as needed. On the other hand, faculty profiles may only need to be updated once a year. A great time to coordinate the revision of faculty profiles is right after faculty complete their annual report of activities for the university.
Your website’s content management system may have functionality that will support these efforts. Can pages be setup to automatically expire after a certain period of time if they are not updated? Can content reminders to be sent to authors on set intervals?
In thinking about content, remember to consider photography and videos as well. Outdated photography is a sure sign that your site is aging. Consider annual photoshoots to keep your brand images fresh, while candid shots can be used for timely information. Gen Z audiences are also expecting fresh videos on a consistent basis. One video overview of the college won’t cut it.
For content to remain fresh and relevant, consider hiring students to contribute. Assemble a committee of students from various academic programs across the University, either through internship opportunities or a work study program. With guidance, students can collaborate on ideas for new content, shoot candid photography, produce fun and thoughtful videos and write news and blog posts.
Consistency can be a concern with a distributed content model. SAI Digital provides web style guides to help define the website’s voice, imagery, typography, and color as well as guidelines concerning site maintenance. Style guides, like the website, should evolve over time. We also highly suggest content training for authors that covers best practices in writing for the web, consistent use of voice and tone, and crafting content that is both accessible and SEO friendly.
To keep your website from becoming overgrown, create a plan for archiving content. For instance, once a year delete any news stories that will not have longevity or are no longer relevant. Ensure the quality of your content by leveraging a website monitoring tool like SiteImprove to regularly check for errors and accessibility compliance.
Talk to Your Audiences
You’ve created goals and are actively measuring data, but how do you know if the site is meeting the needs of audiences? Gather feedback often. If you deployed a survey for your former site, create a post-launch survey to collect and compare responses. Did the audiences’ impression of your brand improve? Do visitors report being able to find information more easily? Consider running the survey annually.
We suggest conducting usability tests with 7-10 audience members within the first month or so of launch to ensure that key tasks are easy to accomplish. Continue to run additional usability tests as you add new features. Tests can be moderated in person or remotely or unmoderated with the help of various online usability testing tools. Consistent feedback from primary audiences is the only way to ensure that the site is helpful and engaging to primary audiences.
Safeguard your site from degrading to the point of requiring a total overhaul by using your research to modernize and improve over time. Consider adopting an agile or lean approach to website maintenance, which would allow you to prioritize feedback into a series of sprints or small iterations. Each sprint can focus on accomplishing one main change or upgrade. If registrations are not tracking toward your goal, for instance, consider a project to improve the functionality of the Plan a Visit page. Changes might entail an interactive feature to help visitors find the perfect visit option for their needs, or simply revising information to be more clear or visually engaging. You can work with your team or an outside firm to make the improvements, test with audiences and track the data to see if the changes are effective.