Fordham’s New Website: Responsive, Fresh, and On Brand

Fordham University launched a new website last week. An important goal for the new site was to infuse it with what makes Fordham, Fordham.

“We’re a Jesuit, Catholic university. Our spirit comes from the nearly 500-year history of the Jesuits. It’s the spirit of full-hearted engagement—with profound ideas, with communities around the world, with injustice, with beauty, with the entirety of the human experience.”

A partnership between mStoner and the talented and dedicated digital team at Fordham—and a lot of work—resulted in a new site that is a fresh and glorious digital representation of the University brand.

Why did Fordham focus on brand expression for the new website? Because the senior leadership at Fordham understood the website as the University’s primary communications platform. And, the University Relations team recognized that is every bit as important as a campus visit in encouraging students to apply, a timely magazine or email in encouraging alumni to stay engaged, or a well-placed news story in raising general awareness and reputation.

Your brand is what distinguishes you and translating what makes you you into language for your website allows your college or university to:

  • Attract best-fit students.
  • Distinguish your school from the competition.
  • Influence parents about value and outcomes.
  • Help prospectives imagine themselves on your campus.

What’s the secret for successfully translating the brand for prospective students?

How do you do it? Listen and ask! If you listen to real people in the target market talk about the brand, you’ll learn what you need to know. And the only way to be certain you get it right, is to ask prospectives to respond to early prototypes and designs that express the brand creatively.

  • We used small focus groups of first year Fordham students to inform our work and we timed the focus groups to occur early in the academic year. So although we spoke with current first year students, they were only five weeks into their freshman year. Because of this timing, the individuals we spoke with were more like prospective students than current students. They were still very close to their college search process and to their decision to attend Fordham.
  • We surveyed prospective students to get their impressions about how well design concepts gave positive impressions about Fordham. We also evaluated their ability to internalize (and remember!) key messaging.

Translating your brand into creative is not for logos only. The best websites come for a tight connection between brand and content. Use photos, words, graphics, video, and navigation labels to make your brand real to the audiences you are trying to reach, influence, and move to action. Content is a creative expression of your brand and critical for communicating with your key audiences.



The User Experience of Scheduling a Visit

Scheduling a campus visit is common practice. Prospective students and families are regularly using .edu websites to arrange campus tours or sign up for information sessions. It’s an expected part of the college selection process.

Do we make it easy? Not usually.


  • The forms are dense and clunky. There are lots of fields to complete and what seems like a lot of unnecessary information is required.
  • The registration form doesn’t work well on a phone. It’s difficult to see the date and time options.
  • There’s lots of clicking to get to the right web page for registering for the visit.

Pretending I wanted to visit, I spent some time on a few .edu sites. Here’s what I found:

Clemson made it easy to get there from my laptop. From the Clemson homepage, Visit is in the global nav and Register for a Tour is obvious from the Visit page.

Clemson Visit

Cornell has an impressive mobile experience — works well and you can quickly get to a calendar with a list of tour times by day.

Cornell Visit

Paul Smith’s College makes it easy. Finding the visit dates is straightforward and completing the registration form on a phone was simple.

Paul Smith's

Virginia Tech offers a clear cut way to register for a campus visit. Each step in the path is presented and the experience is a very good one.

Virginia TechVirginia TechVT


In the broadest of terms, we need to do a better job on the user experience for scheduling visits and tours:

  • We are a generation of individuals who use our phones to book a flight, get a reservation at our favorite restaurant, and order shoes. Expectations about the mobile web don’t change when prospective students and parents get to .edu sites.
  • Fully accustomed to using the Internet to find information and do stuff, requests for too much personal data are barriers. High school seniors will do the digital version of never mind and bounce away from web forms that ask for too much.

Is your college or university offering a great user experience for prospective students and families? I’d love to feature your site’s approach to scheduling campus tours and visits. Use the comments to let me know what you’re up to.

Digital Strategy for Campaign Websites

Campaign websites generally have two primary goals — to explain the priorities of the campaign and to build a culture of philanthropy by reengaging alumni. I have six pieces of advice as you develop the digital strategy for a campaign website:

  1. Let content be the navigation.
    Avoid meaningless labels and let content guide your visitors through your campaign site. Gettysburg College’s Gettysburgreat Campaign is a strong example. Focusing on communicating campaign priorities, the Gettysburgreat Campaign site navigation is clear, simple, and telegraphic. The five campaign pillars become the navigation for their site. So visitors explore the site by clicking on the five areas they can support:

    • Scholarships
    • A First-Class Faculty
    • Engaged Learning
    • Global Initiatives
    • Annual Giving
  2. Use clear, understandable language.
    Rely on succinct prose that is accessible and does not include (pardon us) “development speak” or fundraising jargon. Many people, especially young alumni, find a fundraising campaign intimidating; don’t reinforce this with language they don’t understand. Make the website copy conversational and concise.
  3. Follow brand standards for the visual design.
    The look and feel of a campaign website should be consistent with your brand standards. While a microsite approach can make the site distinctive and a bit bolder than the main website design, campaign sites should capitalize on the institutional brand. The Campaign for Harvard Graduate School of Education is fully integrated with, providing a cohesive look and seamless navigation between the campaign content and the main site.
  4. Design for the life of the campaign.
    Keep in the mind that the campaign website design must be fresh and yet possess a shelf life that extends through the life of the campaign. Because fundraising campaigns are multi-year, a clean design that relies on high-impact photography is a safe bet. Using this approach, new photography can refresh a site over what is likely to be a five- to seven-year campaign period.
  5. Reconnect your alumni through storytelling.
    The best way to reconnect with alumni is to make it personal through the age-old craft of storytelling. The Competition Taught Me feature on George School’s Fit for the Future campaign website presents the unique stories of coaches and athletes. Demonstrating the lessons learned from athletic discipline and competition, these stories make the case for the importance of supporting athletics. George School alumni can share their own stories on this campaign site — the Compendium offers a rich history of George School athletes and more.
  6. Integrate your social channels.
    People give to people. The stories you tell through your campaign website make the case for private support, and your social channels can enrich the narrative through a fresh and authentic diversity of voices. Young alumni are an important constituency for most campaigns and they are more likely to use social. You need to find them where they are and let their peers help explain why giving back is important. Establishing and promoting a consistent social hashtag is key. A curated feed from a hashtag on Instagram is a source of dynamic content for the #Gettysburggreat campaign site. The emotional response to the Gettysburg College photography is clear from the hundreds of likes. Remember, your current students are your best ambassadors. In a flash, current students can make an authentic statement about your college or university with a quick photo, a caption, and a hashtag or two. Let your students be the best illustrations of your distinctive culture, value, and societal contributions.

I’m proud of recent mStoner partnerships with some wonderfully talented campus teams:


Laurier Launched!

Websites don’t get “relaunched” every day; but with some regularity, colleges, universities, and independent schools complete website redesign projects. Go-live day arrives and celebration is earned. In my consulting work for mStoner, I observe many of these relaunches up close.

Wilfrid Laurier University relaunched their new site just a few days back. Coming boldly to life from the constraints of a 2005 design and an aging CMS, the new site is glorious. I’m biased, I suppose. I led the mStoner engagement with the campus project team located in Waterloo, Ontario.

In September 2012, I took my first trip to Waterloo to meet with the RFP committee. The first phase was to be a strategic assessment. Their questions were tough but the conversation was invigorating. I left campus knowing they were the kind of team where collaboration would be rich and interesting. I hoped we’d win the work.

We did. And later that fall, the mStoner team traveled again to Canada and spent time on Laurier’s campuses in Waterloo and Brantford. Stakeholders were ready for a new website and their insights helped us identify gaps, assess opportunities, and develop a strategy for the University’s digital presence. It was a rich and interesting three days with the Laurier community.

The strategy work continued into early 2013 and became a strong foundation for a future website relaunch project. We advised on staffing, budget, governance, and content management systems. Together with the Laurier team, we created a plan for the phases, milestones, and key activities of the website relaunch project to follow. A website redevelopment site informed the Laurier community. In the end, the Laurier leadership was fully informed and on board! It was time for a second RFP…

Last December, I took a third trip to Waterloo to meet with the second RFP committee. I desperately wanted the chance to work with the Laurier team again. I got my wish and we kicked off the website relaunch project in early February 2014. That fourth trip to Canada included more incredible collaboration with the Laurier team, and the most snow I’ve seen. Ever. In my life. (Ask me about losing the keys to my rental car in a snow bank.)

From the start and until the end, the Laurier team was focused, talented, and motivated. They referred to their website relaunch project as a “renewal” or “redevelopment” of the University’s digital presence. That always felt right to me.

A future blog post will offer detail about strategic choices we made for the new site. For now, I hope to inspire you by Laurier’s careful and comprehensive approach. The team spent energy on preparation and planning. The team cared most about what the University needed. The results speak for themselves. It was an honor to play a small part in their success.


Rescue the Content.

Content is everywhere. Sometimes you just need to rescue it from it’s original state.

On every campus there are content pools—places where content lives and is waiting to be found. Diamond-in-the-rough content can be rescued from:

  • Admission blogs.
  • Semi-annual newsletters published by academic departments.
  • Last year’s Twitter posts.
  • This month’s student newspapers.
  • Recurring email messages sent to current parents.
  • New student orientation materials.
  • Today’s photos from a Greek Life Facebook page.
  • Annual fund letters.

Look all around your campus for pools of content. Rescuing from a content pool leaves you with content that has potential. You’ll find content needing a little polish but definitely providing a head start as you try to keep up with producing more and ever changing content to enhance your brand and marketing efforts. Be aware: The content you can use often hides within paragraphs of longform text.

Rescuing content as part of a green content strategy is different than curation. Curation selects polished content for the right place, at the right time. Rescue comes before curation.

As you search for content to rescue, give top priority to imagery. Forward-thinking .edu sites rely on photography that romances and captions that pack a punch. More and more, home and landing pages on websites are visual. Visual content is more successful at making the case; it is an immediate, powerful, and memorable expression of your brand.

The companion to visual content is less text! Say just enough and say as little as possible. Going green with your content strategy means diving into the pools of content on your campus and coming up with raw bits of wonderfulness. When you rescue content, the easiest next step is to transform it into microcontent:

  • The two-page alumni profile in your magazine becomes the perfect photo accompanied by an inspirational quote.
  • The 500-word article about an annual campus tradition in the student newspaper becomes a #hashtag and a photo mosaic.
  • A current parent’s comment on Facebook becomes a typographic design element on a web page for prospective families.
  • The career center’s survey data about outcomes becomes the backbone for digestible and compelling infographics.

Microcontent can stand on its own and often is more enduring. Use evergreen microcontent to reinforce your reputation. Forget the “Read more” link. Just allow the content bit to make an impression and then get out of the way.

With a little work, everything old is new again. A green content strategy includes Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And, advisedly, Rescue.

(This first appeared in the conference program for HighEdWeb 2014. “Rescue the Content” was also published on October 21, 2014 on LINK.)

Using the Web to Make Your Print Work Better

You know the drill. First, determine your message. Second, pick the tools to communicate it well.

For most of us, the tools we choose include print and web. (My earlier post makes the case that we still need both.) For a different twist, let’s think about ways to use the web to make your print work even better.

Rely on your social channels to help you make choices about photography and copy in print pieces.

Monitor social media for data you can use to make better content choices.

  • “Popularity” on social platforms offers insights about the types of photos that resonate with your target audiences. Knowing what your audiences’ preferences are—measured through likes, retweets, shares, favorites, and comments—allows you to make better choices when selecting photography for print pieces.
  • You can “test” language, themes, stories, and ideas on social first. Watch for reactions and responses and then use that information as you develop and repurpose content for print. Let evidence of engagement on social channels inform your content strategy.
  • Use social hashtags to listen in and find out what your target audiences think. (Sites like Tagboard allow you to search by hashtag across social platforms.) Informed by a hashtag review, collect and curate user-generated content for a fresh and authentic diversity of voices for a more compelling print piece.

Use the web to measure the effectiveness of print.

Set concrete goals for brochures, postcards, viewbooks, and magazines and then use web analytics to measure your success.

  • Collect metrics tied to the calls to action in your print piece.
    For example: 1.) This postcard will result in 500 visits to a custom landing page on the website; or, 2.) The number of prospective students who view a companion video will increase by 10 percent during the first 60 days after the viewbook drops.
  • Conduct A | B Testing.
    Mail out prospective student information containing URLs that showcase student life via profiles and videos. Post mailing, monitor web traffic for a specified time period to see how many direct URL accesses occurred to those pages and determine how effective the campaign was in generating interest for your message to prospective students. 
Or, use A | B testing to compare digital and print communications. For example, include a call to go to a URL like in an email campaign, and a URL of for a print postcard. Both of these URLs point to the same destination page for applying, but proper use of Google Analytics will allow you to see how many came from each by viewing the source.

Repurpose digital content for print.

Create once and publish everywhere!

  • Collect the “best of” the web and use it for print. Reuse on-message blog posts, most shared Instagram photos, and popular student profiles.
  • Connect the dots for your audiences. Use the photography, color palette, iconography, theme lines, subheads, and headlines from the web to reinforce messages and brand in print.
  • Use hashtags on print pieces to encourage the target audience to explore digital content.

Thinking about a website redesign?

We’re back to school. Fall will officially arrive in a few days. You can’t find a place to park, so you know your campus is in full swing. All that — and you really need to redesign your website.

At many colleges and universities, a website redesign is a campuswide initiative that is broadly inclusive and requires getting buy-in from multiple internal players and stakeholders. On other campuses, the marketing and communications team is fully charged with the redesign and can move swiftly, bringing in key partners like admissions and advancement. Regardless of where your campus falls in that spectrum, you need to prepare.

If a website redesign is on your mind in September, we have some advice:

Set goals.

Perhaps you want to infuse new messaging from a recent brand platform into the site. Maybe you need better navigational paths, but the site’s information architecture is pre-2004. It could be that students and alumni are regularly reminding you about the limits of your site on phones or tablets. Focus on what you want, not on what you have. Spend as little time as possible cataloging what’s wrong with your current site. Instead, spend that time identifying goals.

Start with content.

Pour a cup of coffee, silence your phone, and read through the top-level landing pages on your current website. Well? Does it reflect the school you know and love? Consider a more detailed content audit of marketing-critical pages. A look at 25 or so pages will tell you a lot about where you stand with content. You want your website to be authentic to your campus. Content can make it so.

Make it better.

We all start a website redesign filled with high expectations and excited by possibilities. As you’re working through the challenges of committees, tendencies toward the status quo, and vanilla content, keep in mind that you don’t want to end up with the website you started with. You will need to advocate for improvement and take some risks to get there. Don’t lose sight of what you set out to do.

Stop thinking about your website like a project.

It doesn’t make sense to focus on your flagship communications platform once every five years. The website is not a once and done proposition. Create a plan for staffing, funding, and governance to sustain and enhance your site into the future. Make this your last redesign project.

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