Web Notes; November 3, 2017

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Introduction
On Oct. 4, we rolled out a new and improved homepage for the Eastern Connecticut State University website. In an email sent to the campus community that day, we indicated that this new home page was “interim,” serving the University and its constituencies over the next 10-12 months while we develop an entirely new website, featuring a new design, a new content management system (CMS), and new hosting services. This first issue of “WebNotes” will provide background on the design/ development process being used to create the new website, serving as the first in a series of bi-weekly updates to keep the campus community abreast of the design and development process.

Background
As website technology and digital marketing strategies have become more sophisticated, and the higher education admissions marketplace has become more competitive, the administration has made a decision to commit significant resources to upgrade Eastern’s website — everything from incorporating a more contemporary design based on best practices to a more stable and user-friendly CMS, to a more stable hosting solution. This past May, following an extensive RFP process, a review committee of staff, faculty and administrative representatives selected Beacon Technologies of Greensboro, NC, to design our new website. Beacon is designing the website using the “Cascade Server” CMS product licensed by Hannon Hill, Inc., of Atlanta, GA. Beacon will also host the website using Microsoft’s “Azure” cloud platform.

Vendor Profiles
Beacon Technologies: Beacon has 20 years of experience in web design, including 11 years as a Cascade designer, with 500 sites built — including 100+ Cascade sites — and 180 active clients in 42 states and five countries, including Duke, Clemson, the University of Wyoming, Syracuse and Texas A&M.

Hannon Hill: As the licenser of the “Cascade CMS” system, Hannon Hill has 16 years of experience serving higher education clients. Among the 280 institutions it serves are Carnegie Mellon, the University of Houston, Indiana University, Northwestern, the University of San Diego, Southern Utah (COPLAC), Wesleyan, and the University of Hartford, as well as all of the clients supported by Beacon Technologies listed above.

 Goals of the Project:

  • Focus on Admissions and Prospective Students
  • “Mobile First” design (95% of all prospective students use mobile devices to research colleges)
  • Visually attractive and easy to navigate design; easy to edit CMS
  • Strong Calls to Action (request information, visit, apply, give)
  • Marketing tone (simple, direct language; concise content)
  • Portals by constituency group, i.e. faculty/staff, alumni, current students
  • Special landing pages based on prospective student interests (e.g. Admissions, Majors, Applied Learning, Outcomes, Cost of Attendance, etc.)
  • Enhanced Social Media presence
  • Strengthen staffing in University Relations to ensure timely implementation and site maintenance

Design Rationale
Website best practices in higher education are focusing college homepages on prospective students (16- to 18-year-olds) and moving them through the recruitment “funnel.” Homepages should be seen as a showcase window, highlighting why students should attend Eastern, rather than a window to everything found on the website. A directed, targeted approach is the new model.

The Design and Development Process:
Strategy Phase (August-September 2017)

  • Beacon conducted an audit of Eastern’s publications, website and other marketing materials
  • Beacon held phone meetings with Eastern officials to review hosting options and technical details
  • Beacon reviewed competitor websites
  • An Eastern stakeholder meeting with Beacon on Aug. 16, 2017. Stakeholders included the Admissions Director, Athletic Director, Dean of Education/Professional Studies, President of Faculty Senate, and others.

Design Phase (October-November 2017)

  • Beacon is designing five templates/page types
  • Preliminary “wireframes” were provided for Project Team review
  • Preliminary “mobile” and “desktop” designs are being provided for each template
  • Vetting Process by Eastern:
  • Dean’s Meeting with Arts & Sciences Department Chairs
  • Web Policy and Review Committee (official campus-wide group)
  • Dean’s Meeting with Education and Professional Studies Department Chairs
  • Prospective Student Focus Groups (October-November 2017)
  • Project Team Review Meetings

HTML Template Development Phase (December-January 2017)

  • Beacon will create html templates of home page, landing pages, a departmental page, faculty/staff directory, news blog, and emergency notification banner/page
  • Beacon will test technical functionality; usability; and accessibility
  • Eastern will also conduct end user testing

“Quick Start” Development Phase (February 2018)

  • Hannon Hill will deploy the home page, several landing pages, a departmental page, faculty/staff directory, news blog, and emergency notification banner/page
  • On-site CMS training at Eastern after Quick Start (early March 2018)

 Deployment/Migration (March 2018-?) Based on migration and staffing, this can take 6-10 months)

  • Eastern will use Beacon templates to create additional landing pages and other new content
  • Eastern will use Hannon Hill’s migration tool to migrate common/repetitive existing content (i.e. academic department pages, news releases, blog entries)
  • Testing

Roles for the Campus Community
A variety of internal groups have been and continue to be engaged with Beacon Technologies in the website redesign project, including a design review team of staff and faculty from University Relations, Admissions, Academic Affairs, and Student Affairs, as well as the campus-wide Web Policy and Review Committee. In addition, briefings with the deans and academic department chairs have taken place, and will continue. Similar meetings are being scheduled with administrative units to share design findings and discuss content migration. Focus groups with prospective students and their parents will continue.

Feedback
So far, feedback received on the website redesign project indicates that the campus understands the importance of an attractive, easy-to-navigate website, and wants to help craft it. This update will be published every two weeks and hopefully will provide the community with key information about progress being made on the project. In the meantime, feel free contact me with any questions.

Ed Osborn, Director of University Relations
(860-465-5043; osborne@easternct.edu)