I’ve relaunched a website (a huge amount of work) and I’ve helped many clients relaunch their websites (a huge amount of accountability). I’ve been there; I understand the sense of relief and euphoria. But we all know that a website is never done done. Your website is an always on communications platform — it is your most important marketing channel.
There’s a tendency to ride the wave of momentum that comes after the relaunch — and, for a while, you should. But don’t let more than 12 months go by before you intentionally stop and evaluate your post-website-redesign state. Momentum, after all, is difficult to restart. I’m assuming you are doing basic management tasks like reviewing analytics and performing QA on links. Beyond that, I also recommend the following:
Reexamine your homepage.
Twelve months after launch, is it what you intended it to be? Your homepage should be of the moment. If it’s September, don’t show me August move-in day. If it’s yield season, let that guide your content choices. In general, reexamine your homepage to make certain it is externally-focused. The most frequent thing I notice is that large content areas meant for brand messaging and high-impact photography often devolve to be the area where you publish admission deadlines or not-many-people-care items. Which leads me to…
Call it quits on promises you can’t keep.
Turn off features that don’t work because you simply can’t generate the content. The best idea you can’t sustain is sometimes worse than if it never existed. Consider the example of student blogs — most prospective students I meet say they read them because they are the real deal and not the marketing-speak version of campus life. But if you launch a site with 10 great student bloggers, and 12 months later most haven’t blog since 8 months prior…it’s just not good.
Confirm your information architecture.
Even best practice IA takes buy in from internal stakeholders. Typically, you launch with the IA that you know works — it’s well-developed and reveals your brand. But as weeks and months go by, the most powerful internal stakeholders might take another run at you, requesting that you add back their link. In my view, changes to IA, more than any other aspect of your website, lead you down the slippery slope. (Note: if you were directed to add a “one of these things is not like the other” link to your IA, 12 months later is the time to use analytics to support removing it.)
Review academic program pages.
Prospective students and parents place high value on content about your “majors and minors.” Carefully review each of these pages. Has a department name changed? Is there a new degree offering? Did a much-loved professor retire? Academic program pages describe (and sell) your product. Keep them fresh. Perhaps your initial launch included only a subset of your programs. If you still have more to develop 12 months post launch, commit to a plan that will allow you to write and launch the rest within 60 days. These pages must be a priority for the central web team.
Maybe you just (or very recently) launched your website? If so, I’ve got some advice for you too: Establish a rule that you won’t make any infrastructure changes in the first three months. I’m not talking about minor revisions; obviously, you’ll fix typos, add content, etc. What I’m suggesting is that you avoid changing the new, strategic elements that allow your site to better reflect your brand and speak to your unique audiences. In the first 12 months, there is a risk that internal stakeholders may pressure you to make a series of small changes that together will put you on the path back to recreating what didn’t work with your old site. As requests for changes come in, let the requestors know you will be maintaining a list of requested changes and will evaluate them as a group in the coming weeks.
If needed, call on me to extend your in-house team. I can flesh out IA, write copy for academic program pages, or prepare a high-level set of recommended improvements for your website. Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.