Higher Ed Sites Have A Huge Advantage: A Captive Audience

A fundamental tenet of information architecture is the belief that if your site isn’t easy to navigate, doesn’t have great content or simply falls flat compared to a competitor, people will abandon it. While I subscribe to this belief, it does have exceptions and higher ed sites are one of those exceptions. Why? Because higher ed sites have a captive audience.

Stick To Your Guns

When you talk about a site oriented for prospective students (which is likely your main www.yourSchool.edu address), who are your clients? The academic department that has made a request  for added functionality? Or the student life group’s request for an online survey? How about the chancellor’s request to create an updated look for his office’s pages? I say none of the above. The client is the university at large and, more specifically, the web’s governing documents whether you call them your goals, mission, web strategy or all of the above. Any web related request should be compared against these guiding…

Virtues of “The Site”

I began my higher ed career in early 2008. From the outset, colleagues talked about the “core” site and how we would re-design it that year. I had no idea what core site meant so I asked (in my interviews, the term core was not used, just the generic “site”). They told me it was the homepage, the landing pages for each of the global navigation areas, a couple of pages below those landing pages and all the featured news stories (not to be confused with regular news). After a short while, I came to realize that the core site was,…

Centralization Around Audience

Two of the main ideas I promote for higher ed websites is that a decentralized management approach does not work well, but a centralized one does. But what does this mean in practical terms? That entails a discussion about audiences.

Content Management Systems Aren’t Just For Techies

Will your organization install a new content management system soon? Are you a part of the vetting process? I know the developers out there are, but I hope you content/marketing/design/etc. types are too. Let’s face it, a CMS isn’t much good if its more painful than beneficial. The promises sound great, but the reality may not be realized unless you inject yourself into the process early. But don’t take my word for it, take Jeffery Veen’s advice: get your editorial process worked out before you do anything.

Link Journalism

The New York Times launched their “extra” version of their website’s homepage yesterday (click on the extra link underneath the NYT name in the header). While I find the execution makes the page even more dense than it, the idea marks one step toward the future of online news. For some time now, the people at Publish2 have promoted the idea of link journalism which they define as “…linking to other reporting on the web to enhance, complement, source, or add more context to a journalist’s original reporting.” This is what the Times has instituted.

Teens & Email

An article by mStoner says that teen abandonment of email may be a bit of a myth. Citing research (reg. required) from Ball State Center for Media Design and ExactTarget, the article says teens would rather have promotions sent to them via email rather than text message. The lesson to be learned is that higher ed organizations shouldn’t be so quick to abandon email for other communication methods — essentially, every medium has its place. While I agree with the last sentiment, I think the ideas need further investigation. Many studies show that teens’ email usage is going down. That…

Communicating With Students Beyond Email

In a discussion today, the issue of students not reading a certain group’s email newsletter came up. The group wanted a more effective way to communicate news since the emails weren’t being read and important information was going unnoticed. Intuition tells me that students today still use email, but more frequently opt for other methods of communication whether it’s text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, IM or any other number of tools at their disposal. Some quick and dirty surveys would verify this one way or another, but others have also come to this realization so I don’t think it’s a big…

The Case for Centralization

I recently wrote about the perils of decentralizing web operations. In this post, I’ll discuss the advantages of doing just the opposite — centralizing. But before I get into it, let me provide context to the discussion. I have no issue whatsoever with decentralization in terms of content. What I do have an issue with is decentralizing the management of other aspects of the web effort — strategy, IA, design and code. Decentralizing those aspects result in the pitfalls I outlined in my earlier post. Now there’s always an exception to the rule, but those should be few and far between…

Why Decentralization Doesn’t Work

Many traditional universities (most? all?) take a decentralized approach toward their websites, both in terms of creation and maintenance. It’s thought that a decentralized structure where each division, school, college, department and administrative unit effectively controls their space and content on the web is the best way to manage the overall site. Core web teams tend to be small given the size of a university’s online presence so why not shift maintenance of each section of the site to their respective owners? With a content management system in place, this becomes a matter of simplicity and smart workflow. The core…

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