All posts in Web Redesign

High-Stakes LEGOs

ej

Last week we mentioned that there are tons of parts that go into a single page in Cascade. It’s actually a little insane just how many different pieces there are. When we logged into our fresh Cascade install for the first time, it was overwhelming how empty it was. Up until that point, our demos and sandboxes had been somewhat functional. Now we had to start from a completely blank slate. We’ve had many meetings where all we do is draw diagrams trying to wrap our heads around how all the pieces fit together, and which blocks to work on first.

 

It might seem like all the different pieces would make it too complicated to use. But in reality, it’s almost the opposite. You can almost think of Cascade as a CMS to build a CMS. We start with a blank slate and work until we have Bethel-flavored Cascade ready to go.  This is where it’s advantageous to have all the different pieces and possibilities. We can put them together so they fit our needs perfectly in an easy-to-use package.

Right now we’re essentially playing with high-stakes digital LEGOs. Even our most basic page has dozens of parts. But this is actually a good thing. When we’re done, you won’t see individual LEGO blocks. Instead it will be finished LEGO sets, glued together so they won’t fall apart—ready to play with.

 

 

Fall Web Update

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Website Migration Progress

The start of the fall is a crazy busy time for Web Services. We have many projects that we’re kicking off and on top of that it’s our busiest time of year for maintenance and support. With all that’s going on it’s sometimes hard for our community to keep track of where things are. So at the start of a new semester I liked to take the time and update you all.

Academic Website Project

This fall we are switching up our strategy for academic departments and programs. In the past we would kick off 3 departments and work with them until we had their sites complete. With faculties’ crazy busy and ever fluctuating schedules we’ve realized this isn’t as productive as we had hoped. It’s simply taking us too long to get done with these sites. So starting next week we are going to be putting more academic sites in the hopper. We’ll give faculty more time to complete them at their own pace and it should speed up the process for those faculty who have more time to devote to their website. We realize this creates a lot more overhead on our part to keep track of all of the moving parts, but we think the payoff is worth it. If you’re curious as to what’s next, check out our academic progress anytime. Our goals is to have everyone in the queue or finished by the end of spring semester.

Office Websites Project

As with academic departments we are making good progress with our office migration. This fall we will add 3 more to the mix and then be just a handful away from having worked with everyone. We have a number of offices who are using the webkit to help build their sites and this seems to be working well.

HTML Email

This fall we kicked off a long awaited HTML email system that allows us to coordinate the delivery and subscription of all our email. Check out Tim’s launch post to see the details.

Analytics and SEO Efforts

This past year we really ramped up our SEO efforts in order to extend the reach and reputation of Bethel’s online presence. This August was the first time we had year over year date to check our progress. We where shocked at our progress. In August alone we drove over 35,000 new visitors to our site. Thats a 41% increase in visitors and we had even better results in our schools. For example our Graduate school saw a 114% increase in traffic.

All in all we are happy with our progress. Would we like to get more done?… Yes. But we keep plugging along intentionally and with the right priorities and I’m excited to see where we will be next fall.

5 tips for a better web project

gruber

In my first year as a web writer here at Bethel I’ve worked on many different projects with various offices and department. We’ve created new sites, migrated old sites into the new system, and worked to make existing sites even better.

Through it all I’ve seen some successes and some…let’s call them challenges. Here are 5 things I’ve learned that lead to a better web project.

1) Communicate

If you only take one thing away from this post, please let it be this: communicate early, communicate often.

See a red flag that will slow the project down or a hurdle in the distance that could trip us up? Is there someone in your office who should be involved in the conversation, but isn’t? Am I about to step on a landmine?

Don’t wait to sound the alarm. It’s easier to change course or make adjustments while the project is underway than after the site is launched and we find out a form we’ve created violates FERPA laws.

2) Be accessible

Your Google Calendar is a powerful tool. Use it!

We all know that scheduling meetings with large groups of stakeholders can be a headache. It gets a lot easier when everyone keeps an up-to-date calendar. When we share our schedules we can find times to meet that work for everyone.

Worried that allowing everyone to see your calendar will cause you to lose control of your schedule, or infringe on the time you normally use to work on projects, regroup, or eat lunch?

Put those things on your calendar. That way, people will know to leave you alone when you’re preparing for class, and they won’t go looking for you when you’re at the dentist.

Along with this, it’s good practice to respond to emails in a timely way. I’ve read that it actually increases productivity if you set aside a certain time every day for responding to emails, instead of trying to keep up with them as they arrive in your inbox (confession: I’m not the best at this, but I’m working on it).

Even if you don’t have the time to completely answer a question right away, or you’re not the right person to answer it and have to forward the message to someone who is, at least let the sender know you got the email within 1 or 2 days.

3) Prioritize

When you start planning your site, one of the first things you should do is ask yourself what’s important. The answer can’t be “everything.” When everything is important, nothing is important.

What is your audience supposed to get from your site? What are they supposed to do after they visit? What should they learn? How should they feel?

Think about your message. What are you saying? How are you saying it? Is it readable? Understandable? Scannable?

Here’s a tip: Content first!

All the bells and whistles and Flash and videos and interactive features in the world won’t help your site if your audience can’t figure out what’s going on.

Your website tells your story. Make sure you understand what that story is, think about how you’re going to tell it, then tell it in a way that’s clear and user friendly. Otherwise your audience won’t stick around to hear it. They won’t care that your headers are red and flashing.

Delight your audience. Inform your audience. Help your audience. Don’t bore them and don’t confuse them.

4) Know your strengths, and your limitations

I have some things I like to think I’m good at, and a whole lot of things I know I’m not. I suspect most people are the same way. That’s why none of us are islands. We work in teams to match our strengths to other people’s weaknesses, and vise versa.

Maybe you learn new technology faster than most, but have no idea how to use a semicolon (but really, who does?). Maybe you’re always coming up with new ideas, but trying to organize them in an Excel spreadsheet would make you want to poke your eyes out.

Know yourself and the people you work with so you can each contribute to the project in ways that will be fulfilling, enjoyable, and effective.

In the same vein, recognize the strengths and limitations of your office or department. Do you have the time, capacity, and capability to create and consistently maintain pages of new content, blogs, videos, news and events feeds, complicated interactive features, virtual tours, and alumni success stories?

If you do, I’ll need you to introduce me to your genie.

If not, it’s important to…

5) Set realistic goals

Video is hard to sustain. Maybe you have some extra funds to create a video this year, but there’s no guarantee you’ll have those same funds next year. And it doesn’t take long for video to grow stale and dated. Unless Zubaz and side ponies come back in style, we don’t want a Saved by the Bell spoof with a Duran Duran soundtrack on our website.

Are you sure video is the best medium for the message you’re trying to deliver?

This is a question you’ll need to answer when you’re planning your website. There are many more like it.

What’s your goal with that interactive experience? Do you have enough contributors to support a blog? Are you going to have an event feed with no events on it for much of the year?

I’m just as guilty as anybody of setting unrealistic goals and dooming myself to failure. I see a new project in front of me and I start imagining the possibilities and bite off more and more till I’m choking on half-finished interactive choose-your-own-adventure academic planning features.

Of course it’s important, early in a project, to let your imagination run wild and think of all the great things you might do in a perfect world. But at some point we all need to reign it in and think “what am I capable of right now, and what will that look like in 1, 2, or 5 years?”

By being realistic with our goals we can save ourselves a lot of time now and prevent a maze of abandoned web pages in the future.

Web projects are big, complicated, and often messy. They take time.  To be successful they need feedback from a lot of different people, and people will disagree. Difficult conversations will be had. Difficult decisions will be made.

I’m still relatively new to the game and don’t claim to have all the answers. Considering how rapidly the web changes, I doubt I ever will. Hopefully the things I’ve learned so far can help you as you embark on projects of your own.