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The hardest question to answer about website redesign is “How often should we redesign our website?” The only correct answer isn’t very satisfying:“It depends.”

In fact, a great website is a work in progress, more a process than a project. You should plan for your site to evolve. But sometimes you do need to step back and go through the hard work of remaking large areas of the site — even most of it.

If you find yourself in one (or more) of these four circumstances, it might be time for an overhaul:

1. Your current site doesn’t work well on a smartphone. 

It’s nearly impossible to over-emphasize how important it is to ensure that your site is optimized for smartphones. Smartphones enable people to find information on demand — and your site must be able to provide it.

Today, most higher ed websites are responsive, which means that the site is designed to work well on smartphones, tablets, and larger screens. But some institutions that launched major site upgrades about four years or so ago didn’t want to do another redesign to make their sites responsive and bought time by creating a a separate site for smartphones. That made sense then, but if your institution chose that path, it’s time for a redesign.

2. Your content management system needs a major upgrade.

Let’s face it: your website isn’t going to be very good if you aren’t managing it and you can’t manage it without a content management system (CMS). If you’re running an older CMS and are upgrading it or switching to another system entirely, you’ll be migrating a lot of content. Before you do, take time to pause and thoroughly evaluate your website content, user experience, and  look and feel. You’re better off redesigning now than migrating a lot of irrelevant or outdated content into a new system.

3. You aren’t telling the story of your institution effectively.

It’s essential that visitors to your website learn about what makes your institution distinctive. And how do they do that? Through words, images, and videos and the overall user experience on your site. You’ll need to weave the story of your institution around the other essential information that visitors to the site need. And it’s very difficult to provide a cohesive narrative or a powerful user experience in a piecemeal fashion: often the only way to achieve it is through a redesign.

4. Your academic program pages aren’t clearly communicating the value and outcomes of a major or a degree.

The most important information on any college site is the information about its academic programs. No matter what people shop for online — books, electronics, cars — they expect to find a product overview bolstered by comprehensive specifications.

Visitors to your site should expect to learn quickly about your majors; what someone enrolled in that program will learn; who the faculty are; what graduates do; and what makes that major distinctive. Then they should be able to dive into details: what courses are required, what others are offered, who teaches those courses, plus lots more. 

Because this kind of approach usually involves pulling a lot of information together from many different places, creating new templates, and writing or repurposing a lot of content, it’s often done more effectively in the context of a larger redesign.

In short …

Yes, a website redesign is complicated and labor-intensive. But it provides a comprehensive solution for these and other common problems and allows you to lay the groundwork for its continuing evolution.

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