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The University of North Dakota’s (UND) web presence was much like the Wild West – everyone did whatever they wanted with little oversight. The result: an unorganized and overloaded website. A two-year multi-phased website redevelopment project fixed the major problems, but governance is what will keep the site as fresh and relevant.

Before Web Governance

Most UND websites were housed in a unified content management system (CMS) and templates were centrally managed by a team of marketing and IT staff. But aside from the well-established CMS, UND’s website was a free-for-all.

  • The site had too much R.O.T. (redundant, outdated and trivial) content. It grew to over 30,000 pages and stored several hundred thousand files that were no longer used.
  • UND had too many CMS users (~500), the vast majority of whom had little marketing, web or technology skills and little investment in keeping their part of the site up to date.
  • The Web Team constantly operated in a reactive mode, focusing on troubleshooting, setting up users, and responding to user support requests.
  • Enrollment pressure was mounting, but the site was not set up to serve prospective students.

Laying Down the Law

Web governance is required to protect a website, but there is no right way to develop web governance. Each campus was its own unique culture, with varying needs and resources. However, three essential steps helped everyone at UND get on the same page:

  1. Create Web Governance Policy

    An official policy isn’t a guideline or recommendation, it’s the law. Without a policy, there is no authority.

    It took UND four years to adopt a policy. There were committee meetings, contentious open forums, a formal grievance, an interim policy, and a failed formal policy vote. Buy-in wasn’t going to happen. Finally, new executive leadership changed the tone. Now, everyone on campus is expected to be more disciplined and purposeful in our online presentation.

    The policy originally proposed four years previously was now formally signed with minor revisions. The policy defines expectations for all sites hosted on UND servers. It covers the use of the content management system, brand guidelines, accessibility, web applications and databases, advertising, copyright, and violations with corrective actions.

  2. Set Expectations and Standards

    Decide up-front what everyone must adhere to and train your campus to follow those standards. For UND, this included accessibility, SEO, image quality, and navigation. A focus on serving prospective students is also at the forefront of all web decisions.

    Training became mandatory to gain access to the CMS. All 500 user accounts were deactivated and were reactivated only after training was complete.

    An approval process was developed that moved the web team from its reactive mode of operation to a strategic role that provides a broader level of service to the university community. Publishing review and approval workflows were introduced to the CMS, aiding in upholding the quality of our web presence.
  3. Constantly Monitor

    UND invested in a quality assurance/quality improvement software (Siteimprove) to help flag issues that leak through the approval process. We also run custom reports in the CMS, monitor our internal search appliance (Funnelback) and use Google Analytics for specific issues. No tool will auto-fix issues. Dedicated human power is essential to getting the most out of the tools.

    UND plans to develop an annual audit process that serves as a “check-up” for sites. We’ll make sure sites are still meeting the standards we’ve deemed essential.

Keep Up the Momentum

After the initial success of web governance fades, it’s crucial to stay the course. This is where the policy comes back in. Revisit it. Make revisions. Then, revise standards. Train your campus again. Continue to monitor.

Governance works. UND’s site is now half the size, with half the content contributors, and is generating 3x more inquiries.

Tera Buckley is the Assistant Director, Marketing & Creative Services at the University of North Dakota