The State of Higher Education Web Teams: 2017

December 22, 2017

It can sometimes be difficult to know if the way you’ve structured your team is the “right” way. For most, whether you are meeting your internal goals and rising to the demands of your institution is the only method to measure. There’s no real, concrete way to compare your own structure and your own success against that of the rest of the industry.

We wanted to change that.

In the summer of 2017, we sent out a comprehensive survey to individuals at 130 higher education institutions throughout the United States and Canada. We targeted both private and public schools as well as small (less than 3,000 undergraduate enrollment), medium (less than 10,000 undergraduate enrollment) and large (more than 10,000 undergraduate enrollment) institutions. Our goal was to build a picture of how higher education web teams are structured, what skills they have internally, what tasks they outsource, and changes they’re looking to make in the future.

Here are some highlights of what we found. Download the full report.

The “Average” Web Team

Despite the variances in school size, geographic location, and private vs. public institutions, there were a number of strong similarities between web teams across the industry.

Reporting Structure

With 47% of respondents reporting to the marketing and communications group, it is by a wide margin the most common leadership group to which web teams report. While a significant number (15%) do still report to the IT/IS group, other reporting structures like Advancement, University Relations, Enrollment, and directly to the President were all quite uncommon.

Team Size

While smaller schools do tend to have fewer team members (84% of respondents from small schools have fewer than 4 team members), the size of the team doesn’t necessarily scale with the size of the school.

The majority of mid-size schools (58%) have fewer than 4 team members, as do a significant percentage of large schools (37%). Only 21% of mid-size schools and 29% of large schools have more than 7 individuals on their web teams. No respondents from small schools had a team larger than 7 people.

Team Makeup

Since most web teams have just 4 to 7 team members to round out their team, it’s incredibly important that the right people fill the right roles.

More than half of all respondents indicated that their team included at least one of the following:

  • Manager or Director
  • Front-end Developer
  • Back-end or CMS Developer
  • Visual or Graphic Designer

Content Strategists, Project Managers, Social Media Managers, and Writers were also roles common to web teams, however they were still in the minority overall.

Doing More with Less

When you consider the trend toward smaller teams, it becomes likely that very few web teams rely heavily on a team of specialists. Instead, one would expect generalists to be more common, and the responses to our survey suggests that is indeed the case.

More than half of respondents felt the following skills were all represented on their team:

  • HTML/CSS
  • Web Analytics
  • Web Design
  • Content Strategy
  • Project Management
  • Social Media
  • CMS Development
  • Digital Strategy
  • Content Writing
  • SEO
  • Web Applications/Integrations
  • UX Design
  • Web Usability Testing

This list is significantly more robust than the list of unique roles represented on the majority of web teams. For example, while only 45% of respondents have a dedicated project manager, 67% feel that skill is present on their team. We saw similar disparities for Social Media, Content Writing, SEO, and Usability Testing. For many schools, tasks related to these skills are likely being undertaken by individuals who also have other duties as assigned.

Shoring Up the Internal Team

While a significant number of web teams have all the resources they need available from within their team (32%), the majority (51%) either seek assistance from other areas of the institution or partner with external vendors — and sometimes both.

For those that do seek out resources beyond what they have on their team, the most common skills they outsourced were:

  • Digital Marketing
  • Photography
  • Video Production
  • Web Design
  • CMS Development

We also saw that very few responders were outsourcing skills like Project Management, Social Media, or UX Design, which adds credibility to the idea that most web teams are staffed with generalists. If there aren’t dedicated roles internally, and they aren’t outsourcing the work, then it must be falling on the internal team.

Looking Ahead

As part of our survey, we asked respondents to list the roles and skills they most hoped to add going forward. As one would expect, the skills that are most in demand are ones that are not currently available to the majority of web teams:

  • Digital Marketing
  • Marketing Automation
  • User Experience Design
  • Web Usability Testing
  • Digital Strategy

While this might suggest that the industry is poised to make major strides in areas like marketing automation and overall user experience, we did find that only 25% of respondents were planning on making significant changes to their web team. While some were unsure (28%), the number who gave a firm “no” answer (47%) suggests that major industry-wide advancement in these areas is unlikely.

Download the Full Report

If you’re interested in learning more about industry trends and insights, download the full findings from our 2017 survey.

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