Stick To Your Guns

When you talk about a site oriented for prospective students (which is likely your main 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 documents. If the request fits the larger strategy, then put it into the queue and get it done. Otherwise, you should respond with a polite “no.”

Often, all groups on campus who have web projects in the pipeline are typically referred to as the client. But this places the emphasis in the wrong place. Sure, the group making the request is an integral part of the process, but they are not the client. All groups on campus serve the greater goals of the web strategy which in turn support the entire institution’s goals. As such, their requests must work within the established framework of that strategy. No one is immune to it or above it. If exceptions are made, there should be grandiose reasons why because once an exception is made, others will inevitably follow.

So what is the web strategy itself built upon? Customer needs and wishes and the institution’s vision. Ultimately, we all work on behalf of potential students and the university together. The web strategy reflects this relationship. The interplay between the two and what you want the end result between the two to be is what drives a yes or no response to any given request. Requests that don’t pass muster, but are accomplished anyway, will ultimately harm either visitor’s experience of the site or achievement of institutional goals. Allow enough tangential requests and the entire website can devolve until a major overhaul is needed (time consuming, laborious and/or costly). Entropy is any site’s ultimate killer. If you can keep it at bay, your site will shine.

Web strategies need to undergo regular inspection and evolution, if need be. Perhaps at the end of each fiscal year, you review the guiding concepts to see whether they need to be changed. With hope, you’ll have analytics, visitor testing and other research at your disposal to help the process.

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