case study

Hardin-Simmons University

A full-site redesign with a focus on appealing to prospective students and developing a compelling, sustainable content strategy
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Challenge

the old design for the Hardin-Simmons University homepage

Hardin–Simmons University (HSU) is a private Baptist university located in Abilene, Texas. Before partnering with OHO Interactive, their existing site struggled with an outdated design, confusing navigation, disjointed CTAs, and a content strategy that was too institutionally focused. They wanted to rebuild their site from the ground up with a focus on appealing to prospective students.

Their existing site was built on the Ektron CMS, an antiquated platform they were eager to abandon in favor of a more modern solution. They needed a CMS that would give their content managers the flexibility they needed to develop (and maintain) a cohesive content strategy throughout the new site.

Solution

  • the Hardin-Simmons homepage displayed on a laptop
  • the Hardin-Simmons admissions page displayed on a tablet
  • the Hardin-Simmons homepage displayed on multiple devices
  • the Hardin-Simmons homepage displayed on an iPhone
  • various Hardin-Simmons pages displayed on mobile

The main goals of the project were:

  • Translate HSU’s identity and vision in a way that effectively engages prospective students
  • Improves content management for internal staff
  • Create a new site structure that better-addresses key user paths for prospective students as well as other user segments
  • Highlight HSU’s unique personality, programs, and other differentiators in a compelling way

At the outset of the project, we conducted extensive interviews with stakeholders, existing and prospective students, alumni, and faculty. They provided us with invaluable insights into areas of the site that needed to be addressed, what content and pages could be elevated, and the best ways to bring HSU’s unique identity front and center. We also performed a thorough competitor audit to determine ways HSU could stand out from other schools in the Abilene area.

The existing site had two separate top navigations, with no clear distinction between areas that were specific to prospective students, existing students, and faculty. This made it difficult for prospective students to find the information they needed, and also contributed to the institutional bias pervasive throughout the old site’s overall structure. We condensed them into a single top-level navigation and moved all faculty and staff information into a dedicated area, separate from that navigation. This provided a much simpler, more accessible user experience for all the site’s users.

To appeal to prospective students, we featured student testimonials and campus photography heavily throughout the site. From our research, prospective students respond very positively to messaging they feel is “genuine,” and negatively to messaging they feel is biased or “forced.” By designing the site to center around the student experience, content managers are able to elevate stories from existing students and alumni that will resonate with a generation of prospective students that is inherently skeptical of marketing messaging.

HSU’s motto is “An Education Enlightened by Faith,” and we felt it was important to embrace their faith-based approach to education on the site. The redesigned homepage highlights this unique differentiator, and the content throughout the site reinforces the university's dedication to spiritual life on campus. While many colleges and universities are reluctant to focus on pricing, HSU sees their affordability as a key selling point; another differentiator that’s called out frequently in the redesigned site.

With all the content changes taking place as part of the redesign, moving the site off of Ektron CMS and onto WordPress was a crucial piece of the project. WordPress’ easy authoring interface allows the HSU team to maintain a centralized publishing model, ensuring a sustainable governance strategy could be implemented. WordPress is also a highly customizable, open source platform, making it a sustainable solution for the HSU team going forward.

Results

30%

Increase in applications

20%

Increase in deposits

The redesigned site has been met with universal praise from the internal HSU team. The new WordPress CMS has allowed content managers to easily author and publish content and adhere to the prospective-student-focused content strategy they developed with OHO as part of the project.

In the time since launching the new site, both applications and deposits from prospective students have increased dramatically. A strong indicator that the steps taken to appeal to prospective students have been incredibly successful.