Posted: September 23, 2014
You know your website’s challenges all too well. Visitors can’t find what they’re looking for. The design is outdated. Your CMS is difficult to use. Your content is off brand. There is a hodge-podge of technologies that don’t work together.
The solution is clear (at least to your marketing team): it’s time for a website redesign. There’s just one problem â the decision to employ that solution isn’t yours to make. So how do you convince your boss to do what you know needs to be done? In short, how do you sell the idea upward?
The challenge for many higher education marketing professionals is making the case for a new and improved website to key decisions makers across an institution. A website redesign requires a big investment (of both financial and human resources), so you’ll need both buy-in and sign-off from key stakeholders and executive leadership.
We’d like to help you make the case for a new website by suggesting a few strategies to start the conversation and advocate for your project.
Identify Your Pain Points
Start by thinking through your current challenges. Does it take hours to add and update content using your current CMS? Do prospective students give up searching before they ever get to an application? Are inquiries going to all the wrong places because contact information for admissions counselors isn’t easy to find? Do donors even know where to go to give a gift? These are just few potential challenges that stem from a disorganized and out of date website (there may be many, many more). The key is identifying the specific points causing your organization the most pain.
Once you’ve diagnosed the problem (or in most cases, problems) you can come up with clear list of solutions and potential results to make your case for a shiny new website. Take this well thought out list to your supervisor to demonstrate the need and to show that you and your your team are fully committed to this new project.
Understand Your Users’ Goals
Your website exists to serve the needs of your users. If your target audience isn’t getting what they need, then it’s clearly time for an update. User testing is a great way to show what users are (and aren’t) getting from your site. You don’t need fancy user-testing software to do this well. Simply bring in a few prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty and staff for a short session. Provide them with a list of tasks to accomplish on the website. Record their actions and use this data as a starting point to determine what improvements need to be made.
What if you don’t have the luxury of setting up formal user testing session? You still have the opportunity to get the feedback you need to make your point. Simple interviews are another easy way to get input from your users. Grab a camera and a list of questions. Take a stroll around campus and ask as many people as you can about their experience with the website. Our guess is that you will notice trends that will pinpoint important areas for improvement.
Once you’ve collected feedback from a variety of users, create a summary document with themes and key takeaways. The decision-makers at your institution won’t have time to talk to all these users about their experience, but they can probably take a few minutes to read over the data that you’ve collected. This will give them an overview of your target audiences’ feedback, an important consideration when designing a website.
Paint With Numbers
While stories and testimonies about user experience are extremely valuable, it’s the proverbial âbottom lineâ that will make or break your argument. Ultimately, you must find ways to use hard numbers to demonstrate the need for a new website. Analytics for your current site provide data around what users are searching for, where they’re going and how much time they are spending on specific pages. This data can offer a window into the user experience and how to improve.
Also, look for published articles and case studies that speak to the impact of an awesome higher ed website. While it’s difficult to attribute success to the website alone, you can reference case studies that tie trends like increased page visits, increased time on site, more applications and information requests to increases in revenue. After all, a better website experience improves awareness and engagement among your target audiences, and engagement almost always translates to dollars.
We suggest sharing your data and analytics with your supervisor in comparison with the articles and case studies you’ve uncovered. Is your click through rate comparable to the industry average? Do users spend more time on areas of the site with more compelling content? Making comparisons will demonstrate gaps that need to be addressed.
Cast a Vision for the Future
All organizations - whether it’s a big corporation, a small non-profit or even a club on campus - have goals for the future. Your institution's goals likely include attracting prospective students, retaining talented faculty and building alumni support, just to name a few. Demonstrating how a new website will help accomplish these goals will go a long way toward emphasizing the value of what you’re asking.
Use specific examples to paint a clear picture. For example, if a new CMS will make your web team more efficient, that can result in huge cost savings for the institution. If restructuring the admissions section of the website will result in more informed inquiries, that can save time for your admissions counselors and build more credibility for your institution. If the news section of your website becomes more user friendly, the communications department will have more opportunities to showcase the university’s accomplishments. The possibilities are endless!
At this point in the process, you’ve collected a variety of data and comparisons to share with your decision-makers. Tie it all together by explaining your vision. Tell them what the new publishing process will consist of, how content will be kept up to date and any other details that you are really excited about. Being able to visualize the results of the redesign will go a long way to influence the final decision.
They’re On Your Team, Now What?
Once you’ve made your case, it’s time to get back to that bottom line. The truth is, a new website will likely be expensive. Regardless of whether you handle the redesign in-house or contract with a vendor, this project is going to be a HUGE investment.
Do your research to find out what a website typically costs. Look at the different steps in the process, who should be involved, what are the various check points and how much time it will take. Be sure to include the subject matter experts in the process. If you’re not sure how much time it takes to design 3 different page templates, go straight to the source and ask your graphic designer. If you’re not a coder, chances are you have no clue how much time is required to develop this new website. The point is, get it straight from the horse’s mouth to be as accurate as possible. Once you have a budget in mind (and this should be somewhat flexible), it’s time to make some decisions.
If you’re doing this in-house, assemble your website team and make a plan. If you’re thinking about hiring an outside vendor, send out an RFP to compare your options. We cannot stress enough how important it is to gather all of your information before starting the project.
Once you’ve got an idea about what the total cost of this project might be, it’s time to pitch. We suggest approaching this conversation with your decision-makers like a negotiation. Come ready with a list of priorities. If there are certain functionalities that you can live without, be prepared to give those up in order to get a budget approved to move the website project forward. Who knows, maybe down the line there will be budget for a change order to add in that interactive social media feed that you wanted.
Have Questions? Let Us Know!
We think the best way to show your supervisor that a new website is worth the investment is to share your vision for the future along with tangible examples of how your institution can leverage this new website to achieve long-term goals. If you feel like you need a little more support or direction before taking on this conversation, feel free to contact us with questions. We’re happy to help!