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University web site relaunches are complicated. Position your team for success with a manageable project plan and dedication to content generation and review.

You won’t be able to tackle everything during a relaunch, but prioritizing these three key areas will generate the greatest results.

  1. Reorganize navigation for your primary audiences.

Does the navigation on your website look like your org chart? That makes sense to people who know your institution, but it can create a confusing experience for a site user.

First, meet with stakeholders to determine who the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences are for your website. Then use that information to make decisions about the new information architecture. Your primary audience should easily find information without a lot of clicking. Your internal audience benefits from having separate navigation. Then, define goals for your different pages. A goal for an internal page might be to deliver information with the least amount of clicking, while the goal for external pages is focused on conversions.

For the relaunch of the site, we collaborated with higher education marketing firm mStoner. Our main focus was to boost recruitment. Together we created an information architecture that displays the complex offerings of our university and gives prospective students multiple points of entry into pages that describe each of the programs offered. One design strategy we used was repeating main navigation entry points with visual elements further down the page. This ensures that the key navigation elements are available in multiple formats. Also, our homepage features a large call to action floating over our video banner that links directly to admissions.

  1. Prioritize time to develop engaging design and visuals.

Web design is evolving at a rapid pace, so the moment you launch your new website something else will come out that is more advanced and on trend. Combat post-redesign regret by keeping major design elements minimal yet exceptional.

Photo and videography are the most important and time-consuming assets to develop for a website relaunch. Site users don’t want to spend a lot of time reading your website, they want to experience it. Invest in talented artists who can create arresting visuals to represent the unique offerings of your university. UNCSA worked with famous creatives “Ballerina Project” photographer Dane Shitagi, “I’m Possible” photographer Jeremy Cowart, and lifestyle magazine photographers Stacey van Berkel and David Hillegas to develop compelling and engaging imagery for the new website and university promotions.

Our launch strategy was to use our homepage video to grab users’ attention with a series of Cinemagraphs. Cinemagraphs are a still photographs that incorporate minor, subtle movement in one area of the frame. We recruited talent from UNCSA’s top-ranked film school to create content for this space. Faculty members cinematographer Tom Ackerman and producer/director Bob Gosse developed the concepts for each cinemagraph, directed and produced the shoot below.

Check out UNCSA's cinemagraph.

Cinemagraphs were a good trend to launch with, but since then we have kept the homepage interesting by incorporating b-roll from other video shoots into the mix. Our developer updated the CMS (content management system) to randomize photos and videos displayed on the homepage. This allows the content to seem fresh without an editor having to spend a lot of time manually updating the page.

  1. Develop content that will get “likes” and “shares”.

You can build the best website in higher education, but unless you have a compelling content strategy it will be difficult to acquire new audiences. It’s not possible to publish too much content to your site, but just like everything else you have to find a balance between content generation and all the other duties required to maintain a university digital strategy. Website content should be well-planned and proactive, but reserve a little space for reactive stories.

Our team develops content based on a social-first strategy. Even when we are in the planning stages we are constantly asking ourselves if we would share the content or what the angle is going to be when we share it on social media. Every piece of content generated on our website debuts on social media. If you create content that you can’t share on social – what is the point of creating the content? During our relaunch, we prioritized the way that users can share our content natively. We used addthis to integrate social media share buttons on every piece of content.

Every video that we publish is uploaded natively to social media for its premiere and then posted onto our website and YouTube for discovery. Video is a powerful storytelling tool and can capture even the shortest of attention spans. It is more expensive to create, so be strategic with topics covered in this medium. Use an audience-specific approach and develop content that your audience is likely to share on social media.

A well-developed search engine optimized content strategy can lead more users to your website than paid campaigns. Train editors to perform keyword analysis when developing content. Identify terms your site should rank for and then generate content that supports your expertise around those terms. Don’t keyword stuff your content, but use best practices to ensure that your content will come up when searched.

No doubt, a complete web relaunch is a huge undertaking and can be a daunting project. You won’t be able to do everything before launch date, but that’s ok because websites must be updated continually to stay relevant. You can’t launch it and forget it.

Claire Machamer is the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

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