Web development

It’s not just about Print and Web

Over on the Intermedia blog, Charlie Melichar recently posted Integration & Separation – print and web. I’d like to expand further on that with my thoughts.

When I was first hired as a Web Editor for a university in 1998, my position was created to re-purpose print documents for the Web. Print drove everything. Twelve years later this is still quite the hot, and rather unresolved, topic. The  transition now seems to be primarily financially driven. Due to budget cuts many are cutting back on printing to save money.

Read more

Taking the idea of a cohesive Web template in a slightly different direction

Photo of a cowboy falling off a horseEarlier this week I wrote about reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive Web presence. Todd Sanders (@tsand) from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, had the gall to disagree with me (“for the first time EVER,” I’ll have you note), arguing that the art department shouldn’t look like the business department Web site. While I kid about his gall, I actually had to break it to him that we didn’t make history – we actually do agree on this.

Before you run away calling me a hypocrite, let’s explore this.

Art programs should do what they do best – express themselves creatively. Business programs probably don’t need to be as bold and edgy as an art program would, as they attract a different type of student. I’m not saying business program sites should be stodgy and traditional. Just different.

There are great benefits to using templates across all units of the university, but I do believe there are projects where it is appropriate to stray a bit from the cookie-cutter template. These “other sites” should still be very clear they are part of the overall university identity, but there are a number of ways to do this visually, without forcing them to conform to the standard university template.

At the university I work for, we created a new template for the School of Fine & Performing Arts, and are nearly finished with our year-long project to convert all of the departments and programs within into this new template. Their template is quite different than the overall university template that all other academic and administrative programs use. However – their School still has a cohesive School-wide presence, and there are elements in their template that tie it in to the standard university template.

We’re embarking on a redesign project of the main template and site to go along with the university’s new branding initiative. Part of our challenge will be marry the different templates together, and still clearly project our new creative strategy. I love a good challenge.

I don’t think this approach makes my previous post null and void. I still think there are many appropriate times to use the steps I outlined and push for the standard template. But, I think in the case of the example Todd brought up in the comments, he’s right. What do you think?

 

Flickr photo by Bill Gracey

Highlights from E-expectations: Class of 2009

Stephanie Geyer, Associate Vice President for e-strategy and Web development at Noel-Levitz, released their latest E-expectations survey of 1,005 college-bound high school seniors in 2009 at the OmniUpdate Users Conference this morning. This is their fourth year doing this research study in conjunction with James Tower and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. This survey is done by professional telephone counselors.

This presentation was jam packed with great insights and nuggets that I found enlightening, and some rather surprising. 

Demographics:

  • 250 from each of the four geographic regions in the U.S.
  • 50/50 male/female
  • 53% caucasian, 16% African-American/Black, 10% Hispanic/Latino, 9% multiple ethnicities, 4% Asian, 3% Indian/Native American, 3% declined, 1% other
  • Grades: A – 39%, B – 48%, C – 12%
  • Family income: 25% less than $50k, 23% between $50-75k, 11% between $75-100k, 7% between %100-$125k, 4% more than $125k, 29% don’t know/refused
  • 77% connect via DSL or cable, 11% phone modem, 3% handheld device.

When asked if the current economic crisis caused them to reconsider the schools they were applying to or may attend, 64% said no. 

62% said their parents/family are helping them with research and/or paperwork. Of that group, 21% say they help them look at Web sites and go on campus visits with them.

Content is king! Prospects are taking time to read details about cost and processes. 

content is king

 

50% said colleges and universities should use young, edgy and bold designs for their sites. 43% said schools should take a more traditional approach with their site design. When I tweeted this tid-bit, @KarlynM said it would be interesting to find out these students definition of body and edgy. 

Navigation and information architecture is so important. 85% report the links should take me right to the answers to their questions, where 15% said they don’t pay much attention to the link choices and head straight for the search box or site index. Either way – making information easily findable and searchable is key.

41% found your school via Google or another search site by typing in your school’s name. 38% use services like Zinch, MyCollegeOptions or College Board to match them to your school. Only 13% referred to a printed document with your URL on it. May be time to re-think handouts, such as postcards, just to advertise specific Web sites.

They want to do fun stuff. 42% say they want to find more to do on a college site than just click and read. 

What do they want to do most? I’m most shocked by “RSS feeds with admissions info and campus activities,” and where it fares in the list! They actually know what RSS feeds are? I’ve gotten the impression from other articles and survey results I’ve read that most don’t know, that RSS is just the plumbing behind the scenes. They may be using it, but they aren’t aware of it. Maybe they are, now?

what they want to do

 

Social Networking

And, the ever-popular Facebook vs. MySpace debate. 50% listed being on Facebook and 52% said MySpace. For the Facebook group, 56% were A students, 47% B students, 41% C students. Northeast, midwest and south all more likely to be on Facebook than MySpace. For the MySpace group, 65% black, 70% latino vs. 44% white and 43% Asian. 47% were B students, 58% were C students, and 44% were A students. Only 2% reported not participating in social networking. When asked if colleges and universities should create a presence within social networks/communities to promote their programs, 70% said yes! In addition, 75% said schools should create their own private communities, like Cafe New Paltz, that are password protected and for invited students only. 51% said they wouldn’t mind school representatives contacting them directly via a social network.

What content will make a different to them on a social network? They’re most interested in discussions about courses and academics (3.74, mean 1-5), student activities and extracurricular options (3.65), and insight into the school’s culture and diversity (3.37). They’re interested in communication with current students and faculty (3.10), communication with prospective students (3.01), profiles of current students and faculty (2.88), and posting profiles as a student who may attend (2.88).

 

Very few reported text messaging as a method they’d prefer for admissions transactions such as answers to questions or  acceptance notices. For all transactions, their preferred method was online over in person, phone, mail or text.

87% are willing to give their e-mail address to a school to communicate with them. 45% of them do it at the inquiry stage, 28% when they’re ready to apply to the school, 15% after they’ve been accepted, and 9% after they make their final decision.

Summary:

  • Economic issues mean that Web sites will have to work harder in lieu of visits to ensure prospects see value and compelling details.
  • Parents and families are inextricably linked and we should be talking directly to them — and often!
  • The experience prospects have on our site matters in their decision whether to probe further into your programs and offerings, and how they’d fit on our campus.
  • We need to focus more on content. Content, content, content. Make it readable, printable, referenceable, searchable. 
  • Focus on your navigation. Test it with college-bound students. Don’t use internal lingo. 
  • Focus on your design. Take a leap. Go bold.
  • Find your place on social networks. Be social. Be helpful. Find the right fit for your campus with the various tools out there. Re-read the demographics above – different sites work for different institutions, depending on their typical student base.