6 Lessons Learned From Higher Ed Website Redesigns

June 17, 2015

We hate to brag, but we’re really proud of our awesome collection of colorful and plentiful collegiate pennants. They hang around the office as a reminder of all the cool colleges and universities we’ve worked with. Being so well versed in the world of higher education digital marketing strategy has taught us plenty of really important lessons, ones that we share with each of our clients as we kick-off a new project. And now we’re sharing with you.

Lesson 1: Involve stakeholders early and often

We talk a lot about the importance of stakeholder inclusion because, as a group, they can be a big part of determining whether a redesign project has a successful outcome or not. While some stakeholders may have significantly more involvement in a digital strategy project than others, the bottom line is that, as individuals, they want to feel like their opinions are heard and their needs addressed. And they want to be part of the process throughout the entire project timeline, not looped in as an afterthought. Giving stakeholders a sense of ownership and opportunity for input will go a long way toward building enthusiasm for and acceptance of new initiatives and strategies.

Before you kick-off a digital marketing strategy project, identify the key stakeholders who should be involved. If it’s a long list, it may be helpful to create a chart that categorizes each stakeholder and their level of involvement. Are all stakeholders part of the decision making process or do some just need to be informed at certain milestones? Do certain stakeholders need to weigh in on some parts of the project and not others? Recognizing when and how to involve stakeholders can be tricky but setting certain boundaries may just be what keeps your project on track when it comes to launching on time.

Remember, a lack of communication is the enemy of any digital strategy project, so think creatively about how to keep your stakeholders informed and part of the process.

Lesson 2: Define realistic project outcomes

Figuring out what’s really possible in the budget and timeline you have available will make your life a whole lot easier. It’s good to start with an extensive list of desired project outcomes so you can ultimately categorize them into your must-have’s and nice-to-have’s (and maybe even a “not this time around” category). Once you’ve sorted your list to align with your project budget and the amount of time you have until your launch date, the real fun of creating a project plan can begin.

Also part of nailing down realistic project outcomes is considering how your site will best serve your users. It’s really tempting to try and make your new website all things to all people, but that never quite works out successfully. Instead, think about segmenting and prioritizing your audience so that you can create a digital experience that is targeted to the users who matter to you most.

Lesson 3: Determine key performance indicators to measure success

The whole reason for undertaking a website redesign project is to improve your most important digital asset. That said, you’ll need to identify how you want to measure improvement. Ask yourself:

  • Which metrics or key performance indictors will I use to measure success?
  • What are the realistic goals for determining if the redesign is successful?
  • Have I captured benchmark data that I can use to measure against before the new site launches?
  • Do I have all the tools in place that I will need in order to measure?

Lesson 4: Communicate team roles and responsibilities

As you assemble your internal project team, it’s important to make sure team members know their specific roles and responsibilities. This will ensure tasks large and small are not overlooked in addition to ensuring resources are being used wisely and work is not being duplicated.

You’ll want to have a dedicated resource acting as the point person you’re your digital strategy partner. They’ll be responsible for taking the lead on regular meetings with an account or project manager to discuss:

  • Project status
  • Upcoming deadlines and milestones
  • Risks
  • Issue resolution
  • Feedback

This liaison may also be responsible for keeping your internal team informed throughout the project process and for leading collaboration efforts to collect input and feedback.

Lesson 5: Understand launch is just the beginning

Getting to a website redesign launch is no small feat. So much time and effort goes into the process, and it’s a big accomplishment when the fruits of your labor are finally realized. But the truth is launching a new site is just the beginning. Around here we like to call what comes next “Day Two.”

Inevitably there are enhancements that you’ll want to make to your website after the launch. And we’re not just talking about “Phase Two” of a project, but rather things that were out of the project scope during the redesign phase that you want to address. Some of these types of service work we’ve seen in our travels include:

  • Banner ad designs
  • Newsletter design
  • Ongoing security updates
  • Google Analytics customization
  • SEO audit and recommendations
  • Digital advertising campaign management
  • A/B testing

Lesson 6: Have confidence

Chances are you know your institution better than anyone, so be confident in the decisions you make. If you’ve done user and competitive research, you can use the findings to guide decision-making and ensure buy-in. It’s easy to carry out a strategy when you can invoke user-based research that affirms the reason for a project and aligns with overall goals.

Your stakeholders and wider team are looking to you as the digital marketing expert. As you guide them through the website redesign process, remember that you’re the captain of the ship and while there may be waves along the way, your leadership will be what ultimately makes for smooth sailing.

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