Explaining navigation on college and university websites

stopSometimes, you need a way to explain the importance of navigation on college and university websites. Those who aren’t working in website world, as in the leaders who are executive sponsors, may not understand the conventions and the benefits of information architecture done right. I hope you’ll use the advice that follows to educate and persuade internal stakeholders about some of the basics.

Don’t be different: Use conventions that prospective students expect and understand.

When I drive around my hometown or in a city 500 miles away, I know there will be stop signs along many of the roads I drive. I expect them, I know what to do when I see them, and I know they will be red, white and octagonal.

The same should apply to navigation labels on higher education websites. Navigation labels on the website tell prospective students what you have and where to click. When prospective students (of any age) come to your website they typically want to see if you offer what they want to study. Academics is your product and prospective students expect to find a list of subject areas to consider and degrees to earn.

Put your product in expected places and make it as easy to recognize as a stop sign.

“Academic Programs” is to “Majors” like “Come to a Standstill” is to “Stop.”

Here’s another example. If you have a place students can go to for help writing papers, say so. As prospective students compare schools and the tutoring services offered, they may not understand that a navigation label called the Martha & Paul Green Center for Student Success will lead to a tutoring service for writing. When students don’t find it — whatever it is — they may leave your website, assuming your school is not right for them.

The bottom line: Call it what it is. Use the word — not a fancy or jargon variation — as the label for navigation. Don’t be different. Follow conventions when you should.

Stand out by placing benefits along the way.

coneWhen I go to the grocery store, I want to get in and get out. I’m task-oriented; I know they sell food and my list tells me what I need. If cereal is on my list, I will look for my favorite one on the aisle where the other cereals are. (If I don’t find it in the expected place, I may decide to shop at another store.)

Whether or not I’m able to find my cereal in the store I’m in, I may spot something that wasn’t on my list; but that’s okay because I like it and it’s a good deal. Along with cereal for breakfast, I now want Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, 3 for $10. I didn’t come into the store looking for it, but I made the purchase. I’m happy.

Let’s apply this scenario to a community college website. Prospective students may visit  community college websites looking for majors and information about how easy it will be to transfer to a four-year school. Your school’s plant biology courses are well placed; but so are those of three other community colleges within driving distance. But wait, your website offers an unexpected benefit — unlike other community colleges, you have an active and vibrant campus life with many clubs and organizations. Some prospective students may view that benefit as a stand out — they may ultimately enroll because you offer what they need and what they want.

A label like Office of the Dean of Students and Student Leadership and Engagement won’t work for highlighting benefits you offer.

The bottom line: Showcase benefits — don’t hide them within vague navigation labels no one will click on.

Navigation labels matter on a website.

No matter your role, root for website navigation that helps students get to what they want and discover what they didn’t know they were looking for.

Put fewer words on your web pages.

We’re baaack…to school. While everyone on campus “moves in,” my annual tradition is to write a post with website advice. For the 2019-2020 academic year, we’re going back to basics.

Say a lot with fewer words.

Why? Because at every student focus group on every campus I’ve ever visited, the most common answer to, “What do you think of the website?” is, “There’s too much text.”

Don’t avoid doing the hard word of cutting back on words by asking me how many words to use per page. Be guided by your professional judgement and what you know about your audiences. (BTW, for SEO the recommended length is generally 250-300 words.) Regardless, I’m not worried that following my advice will make your web pages too short. Cut it down, cut it way down.

Three ways to make web pages shorter.

  • Before you write, back away from your laptop.
    First, determine the main idea/purpose of the page. Then, as you write, stick to it. Use only the words needed to support that idea/purpose. (Sounds simple but it requires writing and rewriting.)
  • Use microcontent.
    You can say a lot with the right photo and just 25 words.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 5.23.12 PM

  • Write like a human, not like a bureaucrat.
    Instead of 62 words:

Sometimes when a current undergraduate student is considering the choice of a major (or seriously contemplating a future change of major), expert help from a professional academic advisor at Put Your Name Here College might well be an idea worth ultimately pursuing. Should you find yourself in need of an advising appointment, please feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience.

Use 18:

Choosing or changing a major isn’t easy. The Office of Academic Advising can help. Register for an appointment. 

Be inspired! The Gettysburg Address was 272 words long.

Sure, you need a web content strategy — a comprehensive plan for creating and maintaining the words (and everything else) on the website. But right now, you’re trying to keep your head above water as students and faculty to return campus. So my advice is simple: Be brief.

For later, more on web content strategy.

How to get the experience you need for the job you want.

Experience can be a dreaded word when you’re doing a job search — especially when you are looking at employment listings for the job you want, and noting that you don’t have the required number of years for doing that kind of work.

It’s not easy. All you want is a toehold, a way in, a chance. It can feel like everyone else has control of your future.

To make my examples concrete, let’s suppose you’d like to work as a writer. Here are some tips for getting the experience you need for the writing job you want.

Spend time learning how to do the job you want.

I’m not talking about informational interviews here. I’m talking about spending time learning. You should allocate time to professional development activities that will increase your skills, making you a better writer. Use the Internet, LinkedIn Learning, and books to increase what you know and practice doing it well. One of my favorite reads is Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. I highly recommend it.

Work for free.

I haven’t met a nonprofit that didn’t need volunteers. Identify an organization in your community and offer to write for them. Volunteer to write for a range of mediums — their social channels, their website, their donor thank-you letters, their newsletter — you get the idea. By working for free, you do two things: you establish a professional reference for the next writing job you apply for, and you build your portfolio. Speaking of which…

Publish a portfolio.

You will need a website with samples of your work. Avoid using course assignments from college as writing samples. Instead, use recent examples (less than two years old) of your best work. I found some great resources when I googled, “How do I create a writing portfolio?”

Do freelance work.

Look for side work to build your experience:

  • Websites like Upwork and iWriter advertise gigs for freelance writers. Yes, the pay is low on some of the assignments; but you are building experience so it’s worth the investment. (Google “best sites for freelance writing” for more. 😉
  • Once you have a bit of a portfolio in place, contact a creative agency near you and ask for the opportunity to freelance. Maybe they have some entry-level assignments they’d be happy to farm out. Or, most agencies have a blog and not enough bandwidth to keep it current with regular posts. Perhaps you can ghostwrite some blog posts as a start.
  • Rely on your network to connect you with people who are full-time, freelance writers. Some professional writers are in need of individuals they can subcontract to when their workload is heavy.

Beyond these tips, you will likely continue to read employment listings, and you should periodically apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for.

My rule is: Let the employer turn you down; don’t turn yourself down.

If a job posting states, 1 – 3 years of experience and you have none, apply. You never know, some aspect of your resume may get the attention of an individual reviewing your application. (Perhaps the HR manager went to the same university you did). And, you don’t know what the rest of the applicant pool looks like. If no one else with 1 – 3 years of experience applied, you may look pretty good next to the competition.

With a little fire in your belly, you can create a track record for the job you want. Good luck!

On Coaching Humans About Their Jobs

Sometimes, Monday mornings bring flashes of insight and happiness. Today, it’s this: I am a career coach.

I come by it honestly. As a new college graduate, I started (fell into) a career in human resources. After 16 years in HR work, I left it and vowed not to look back. People don’t like HR people and my newly-beginning IT career seemed much more glamourous.

This morning, as I fiddled with this blog, I accidentally took stock of how many career-related blog posts I’ve written. My blog has long had an “organizational development” category and this morning — almost as a knee-jerk reaction — I added a category called “human resources.” Turns out 25 of my blog posts fall into the HR category. I’ve written about bad bosses, what you want from your first job, and the dreaded performance reviews. So there you go.

How do I know I’m a career coach? Because I’ve been formally and informally coaching humans about their jobs (or the jobs they want) for 35 years.

I was 25 years old when I became the manager of another person. I had to use my then non-existent supervisory skills right away because my new team member had a concerning lack of attention on customer service. Since then, I’ve led teams of 5, and 13, and 19. I’ve made it my focus to develop the people I’ve worked with; helping them gain new skills, giving them leadership opportunities, and even supporting them to leave my team for the perfect promotion. After all, good people can always leave.

A favorite quote from someone who worked on my team, “I saw Horrible Bosses this weekend. It was hysterical. By the way, I didn’t recognize you in any of the characters.”

I regularly talk, Zoom, email and lunch with individuals who want my advice about preparing for an interview, dealing with a difficult work situation or planning ahead for the job they want. I have been a formal mentor at mStoner and at William & Mary. New college graduates are referred to me and colleagues from various jobs I’ve had seek me out frequently. I love these conversations. Career talk is a passion and a happy place for me.

When you’re ready, contact me to schedule an informal chat about your job. Seriously, no cost, no obligation, just reach out and tell me how it’s going. I hope to hear from you.

Thinking about a website redesign?

Really, it’s a relaunch. You need new everything: copy, photos, navigation and CMS.

At many colleges and universities, a website redesign is a campus-wide 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, I 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-2010. Maybe your academic program pages fall short. 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 establishing a vision with concrete goals.

Start with content, it is the fuel for your brand.

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? I’m guessing not. You should 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. Your web content should be infused with brand messaging.

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. With this redesign, create a plan for staffing, funding, and governance to sustain and enhance your site into the future. Make this your last redesign project.

You might like: Leading a campus-wide initiative: What can go wrong?

Leading a campus-wide initiative: What can go wrong?

This is a post about leadership. It’s about the responsibilities of the individual who is leading a campus-wide initiative.

Does this sound familiar? You are leading a website relaunch, a redesign of the alumni magazine, or the deployment of an intranet. You’re a smart person so you’ve already rounded up executive support for the project and you have a strategy. You even have a project charter that clearly articulates goals, objectives and a project plan.

What can go wrong? Plenty. Here are just a few scenarios to watch out for:

Stakeholders are confused about the project goals.
As the project lead, YOU are the voice. It is up to you to be the regular reminder of project goals and to talk about what’s included and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to rinse and repeat (people need to hear something more than once.)

It’s also your job to help people understand the overarching strategy. Don’t be frustrated by the job of regularly informing your campus. Use the strategy you have in place as a foundation for talking about what the project entails. Expect to participate in internal communications; in the long run, good communication with your campus will keep expectations in check.

The project is “growing” and now includes work you didn’t plan for.
Scope always creeps. It’s just a matter of how much. It is incredibly difficult to control the scope of a campus initiative. Frankly, internal stakeholders will use any new project as a way to solve a problem they already have. (This is why your meeting about selecting a new CMS becomes an opportunity for people to talk about how much they hate the campus intranet.)

In order to launch or publish or go live, you have to have an endpoint. A limit to what you’re doing — a defined scope — means you’ll actually finish. Once you have a scope, you can’t be afraid to say it out loud. That’s how you enforce it. In my experience, people respond well to honesty. I’ve been known to say, “The team is working 24/7 to complete what’s already in scope. How about we add that to our list of phase two items? We understand it’s important; we just can’t make it happen in the time we have left.”

Your boss is focusing on consensus and risking the success of the project.
Sometimes, your boss is the biggest barrier to your leadership on a project. People in management positions often filter every decision based on the personal risk it means for them. Sometimes, they have seen other projects fail miserably and they are trying to protect you (and themselves). Or, your boss may be a good manager of the present but not thinking long term. In my view, this is the real reason that campus-wide projects need an executive sponsor who can take the heat on the team’s behalf. Keep your boss informed but use your executive sponsor for the vision and for cover as you make progress.

Meetings of your advisory committee aren’t productive.
Focus on the word “advisory” and keep in mind that YOU are the expert. Step into that role and build on the momentum from your past successes! When working with your committee:

  • Go in with the best answer. Propose a plan or solution that the committee “advises” on.
  • Avoid asking open-ended questions. Carefully frame your request for feedback and set a deadline for getting it.
  • Ground your recommendations and plans in best practice, research and data.
  • Talk informally to members of the committee to get their support for a particular idea or recommendation before formal discussion at a meeting. Ask your supporters to speak up if needed during the meeting.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a vote. Sometimes, consensus takes too long.

Campus politics are getting in the way.
Yes, it is your job to manage the politics. Get over it and move on. Remember, leadership is about discipline. It’s about what you do and what you don’t do. It’s about having a vision for a project and understanding that not everyone will like the choices and decisions you make.

When all else fails, stick with your strategy. Keep calm and follow the plan. Consult with your executive sponsor and refer back to the project goals and objectives to make your case. Sometimes, I ask, “Why did we start this project and invest valuable resources if we only wanted to keep what we already have?”

Making Your Website Memorable

With 4,500+ colleges and universities in the U.S., standing out is a very real challenge.

With marketing goals that likely center around enrollment and elevating the institutional profile, it’s not surprising that every marketing pro in higher ed needs a website that is distinctive. In my many years as a consultant, the higher ed communication professionals I meet with take it a step further — they want a website that is different from every other higher ed site.

Different is not synonymous with great. Different does not guarantee more applications from right-fit students. Instead, I suggest focusing on making your website memorable.

Your website is a surrogate. It makes a first impression late at night when a 16-year-old is narrowing his college choices. It reintroduces you to a Class of ’68 graduate who takes a quick trip back in time after friending her college roommate on Facebook.

Here are four suggestions for a more memorable website:

  1. Make it work for exploration.
    Research tells us that prospective students (and their parents) explore academic offerings. They expect a quick and convenient list of academic majors; organizing degrees within schools and colleges is less important to them.
    Degrees & Programs at LMU
  2. Offer the right amount of detail.
    The graduate school teams at Tufts University understood that prospective graduate students have different decision-making criteria than undergrads. Knowing that location was a key factor, they created content that filled in the gaps about what it would be like to live in the Boston area.
    Tufts: Boston & Medford/Somerville
  3. Participate in the conversation.
    The web communications team at Tulane University understood that parents make comparisons between institutions. They wanted parents to know that, at Tulane, “Research isn’t just the province of graduate students or faculty: Undergraduate research is an important part of the experience…”
    Research at Tulane
  4. Give it authentic personality.
    The marketing team at Saint Louis University understood that relevant and interesting visuals make a lasting impression. They knew that animated line drawings of iconic buildings on the SLU campus would catch the eye of prospective students and parents.
    About SLU

Those suggestions make sense, right? If so, why are marketing and web teams fighting an almost daily battle against sameness on the website?

Memorable communication involves risk.
In an effort to appeal to everyone (and no one!), we often sound like everyone else, and we avoid staking a claim. Here’s some advice:

Not everything is a differentiator.
Five years ago, I wrote about the Monster’s University website and video as demonstration that our messaging to prospective students is so similar, our websites are stereotypes. Remember, certain things are table stakes; for higher ed, high-quality academics, committed faculty, and a welcoming community are the minimum price of entry. You have to say more, and you have to talk about your differentiators in a different way.

“Wisdom, experience, morality, critical thinking, creative problem-solving. This is what Fordham students take into the world.” (About Fordham University)

“Your pursuit of greater truth starts here. We’ll push you to be better, to think clearly on your own and to seek higher meaning in the service of others. We won’t be shy about it.” (Academics at Saint Louis University)

Generic language is boring.
We tend to avoid bold statements in higher ed. But generic, vanilla language doesn’t reveal brand personality, and it doesn’t engage the audiences we care about. The right words and phrases are tools for creating an impression; they help you stand out.

“William & Mary is an academic powerhouse.” (William & Mary Academics)

“So, you’re looking for world-changing research. So, you’re looking to make a difference through service. So, you’re looking for a really good po’ boy. You’re in the right place.” (About Tulane University)

Key Takeaway?

Let’s worry less about being different and worry more about being memorable to those who land on our websites ready to be influenced by the first impression.

To Redesign Your Website, Get Out of Your Own Way

Campus communities center around a mission of transforming lives through education. People on your campus are proud of what they do — individually and collectively — and to them, the website is a symbol of that pride. At the start of a website redesign, internal stakeholders simply want to be sure the website will reflect their passion for an institution that offers opportunity and makes a difference in the world.

With care comes conflict. People want to be consulted. While they dislike the status quo, they fear change and want proof that something new will work better. How do you transform your website when people don’t agree? How do you focus less on constraints and more on momentum? How do you create the future state on your campus — a clear and professional vision for your institution’s site?

You get out of your own way.

If you are a marketing leader planning for a website redesign, you already know that expectations are high and projects like this are inherently about risk and change. Position yourself for success by considering three principals:

  1. Remember, the website is about communication.
  2. Make the case for investing in the website.
  3. Consider engaging an external partner to help you manage risk and change.

1. Remember, the website is about communication.

Back to basics: your public-facing website is your open front door, and its purpose is to communicate with external audiences. Concretely, the .edu website is the digital expression of your brand — it is the always-available platform for communicating what you stand for in the minds of the people you want to reach, influence, and move to action.

Concretely, the website is not about technology, it is of technology. The technology is essential and in a supporting role as you make choices about content and engagement. Your leadership of a website redesign will require you to respect this nuance. Specifically, you will:

  • Need a rock solid, easy-to-use CMS; but as importantly, you will need humans who draw from brand messaging while writing and selecting imagery.
  • Rely on a critical partnership with your campus IT team; but more importantly, you will carefully build your website experience as the primary way to share your campus ethos with all who visit.

Let engagement with the audiences you need to reach be the inspiration of your website redesign. Count on marketing strategy supported by technology to achieve your business goals.

2. Make the case for investing in the website.

I remember my shock when I heard a campus executive say, “Let’s wait and see — this website thing might not really take off.” Fast forward more than a decade, and it’s been a long time since I had to explain why an .edu website is important. What I do explain nearly every day is that websites require investment. Campus executives understand the priority of the website and know it isn’t “free,” but they need our help redirecting financial and human resources toward it in the midst of competing campus priorities.

After all, we value what we invest in. The website is your 24/7 public face with a reach greater than all other branded channels. Absent enough resources for all channels, investment in the website must take priority. Sometimes this means making the case (or the decision) to stop spending dollars and time on less valuable communications channels when your .edu site is quietly withering on the vine.

3. Consider engaging an external partner to help you manage risk and change.

Engaging an external partner to support you is a moment in time — but not for the reasons you think. Yes, consulting partners offer best practice, benchmarking, and deep expertise in strategy and digital trends. Certainly, their insights about your website are rooted in knowledge capital. That’s all table stakes — what you want is a partner who can jump start the website redesign project, creating enthusiasm and helping you develop a plan for success now and later as you evolve the newly-launched site.

Your website redesign project is inherently about risk and change. Managing both requires intention and careful attention. You need contributing experts at your side.

  • The right communication (and the right website) requires risk. You can mitigate that risk when the recommendations of an external partner are grounded in a commitment to you. They have to want that internal success as much as you do. They also have to accept your campus reality — the opportunities and the warts — and help you lead change.
  • Done well, your website redesign brings change. Admittedly, there’s some mystery around paying for advice. What you’ve been recommending for five years will miraculously be true when said by a person who “flew in” to meet with your president and peer executives. Leverage that! Expect your consulting partner to help you make the case and position you for the change you need.

For a successful website redesign, you get out of your own way.

This means you plan for the future state, you educate internal stakeholders, you persuade campus executives, and you take risks with experts at your back.

Let’s get started.

Leaders spend (a lot of) time hiring people with potential.

My daily social feeds are chock-full of moans and laments about a lack of leadership or the gotchas while hiring people for jobs. Both can change everything. Here’s what I have to say about it.

Leaders spend a lot of time on hiring.

Don’t fly through the hiring process. Hiring decisions deserve time. I know you have a lot on your plate but it is critical to prioritize time for a hiring process. After all, you pay now (in the many hours you need to spend), or you pay later (when forced to do the job you hired them to do or living with their failures).

Who to hire is a big decision, and if you make the wrong choice, you might not get a person with the right skill set; or worse, you might hire someone who screws up your previously healthy team dynamic. I spend at least an hour on first interviews. After all, it takes a good 10 minutes to ease some applicants into feeling comfortable. (By the way, I should mention that the more comfortable they are, the more candidates will reveal about what you need to know to make the right decision.)

I get it. Sometimes, you spend a lot of time prescreening with phone and video interviews, still finding yourself picking a candidate up at the airport for a two-day visit and knowing in the first five minutes at baggage claim that there’s no way you’ll offer this person the job. It can happen and you’re then stuck talking to someone you don’t think you want to hire. My advice? I try even harder in these instances. If I’m five minutes into an interview and not feeling good about it, I spend the next 55+ minutes giving the applicant every chance to convince me I’m wrong. I take on the challenge: feeding them the easier questions, working diligently to calm the nerves associated with an interview situation, and asking the same question again in a slightly different way. More than once, an individual has settled in, established rapport with me, and I’ve learned that yes, this person is worth consideration despite my initial impression. Speaking of second impressions…

Unless your intent is to build a team full of extroverts (bad idea) who are immediately comfortable in interview situations, you should conduct second interviews. More time, I realize; are second interviews are really necessary? Absolutely. I never hire someone after just one meeting. Never. In fact, a great check on the candidates’ potential is the second set of questions, requests, concerns and issues they bring to the second interview. Speaking of potential…

Leaders choose potential every time.

A true leader will hire based on the likelihood of an individual’s future success – in the job you’re interviewing for and in the future career you want that individual to build within your organization. It is not enough to hire individuals who possess the skills and experience needed for the work. You are searching for skills and potential. If forced to choose between the two, you should hands-down choose potential. Every time.

Years ago, I worked for an executive who insisted on interviewing the number one candidate for all vacancies in his very large division. He was otherwise a hands-off kind of leader who would never be accused of micromanaging. In all other aspects, he gave his direct reports free reign to run their units; but he didn’t budge on a very smart practice that allowed him to have veto power on all hiring decisions. When interviewing a finalist for a job in his division, he was looking for one thing: potential.

Over the years, I’ve learned the candidates with potential will:

  • Give a thoughtful and career-specific reason when asked why they decided to apply for the position. (I’m shocked by how many will declare more money, a shorter commute or current coworkers they don’t like.)
  • Come prepared with a list of questions and ask them in a conversational way.
  • Give an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses; they will openly admit when they’ve never done a particular type of work but they will explain how they’ll learn what they’ll need to know.
  • Have work experience in a wide variety of jobs, interacting successfully with all kinds of people in many types of work environments. (Sometimes this variety comes from their jobs during high school or internships and that’s a-okay.)
  • Speak confidently and factually about their specific contributions in previous jobs without embarrassment or discomfort.
  • Be interviewing you too, expecting to meet with you a second time and hoping to meet others they might work with. (Candidates with potential understand finding the right job takes time too.)

Leaders hire individuals who will challenge the current team.

A hiring decision should directly affect your team. Regularly pursuing candidates who are even better than those on your current staff is a true measure of leadership. Of course, there will be consensus around bringing on a new person with a great background; someone who can immediately “do the job.” And, seeking individuals with skills, experiences and talents your team doesn’t currently have also is warranted. But just as important, you should look for individuals who will be top, top performers. Your finalist candidates must be individuals who can challenge those around them to work and think and create differently. Every individual you hire also shapes, extends and improves others on the team.

Here’s a dead-on piece of advice for building a great organization from David Ogilvy’s leadership book, Ogilvy on Advertising. Writing about the importance of leadership in running his advertising firm, Ogilvy’s advice applies to any organization:

russian dollsWhen you are appointed to head an office in
the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send you one of
these Russian dolls. Inside the smallest you will find this message:

‘If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a company of giants.’

The next time you hire, choose a giant.

Getting the Budget for a Website Redesign and New CMS

fundingYou know what you need to do. You know how you need to do it. You just don’t have the money to pay for it. Sound familiar?

A website redesign project requires funds. You might need a budget for hiring freelancers or external partners who will collaborate on your digital strategy, design, content, and implementation. Beyond that, you may need cash to pay for a new content management system (CMS).

How do you do make it happen? How do you get the funding for a website redesign and a new CMS?

There are two steps:

  1. Prepare your case.
  2. Ask.

Prepare your case.

There’s nothing like writing it all out as a way to force you to clearly and succinctly articulate what you want to accomplish and why. Preparing a slide deck to help organize your thoughts might be used with advisory groups or the leadership who will ultimately grant your budget request. Use concise language (no jargon!) to describe why you need to redesign your website.

To make your case, include the following nine proof points:

  1. Trends and best practice.
    Educate your leadership about the importance of the website. Connect the dots to help them understand the reach of your website and its value for recruiting students and engaging alumni donors. Make it clear that the website is infrastructure that requires investment. It is the 24/7 enterprise platform for communicating with the audiences you need to influence.
  2. The importance of mobile.
    Mobile stopped being a trend a while ago. Your site must be usable on mobile devices. Frankly, “going mobile” is one of those reasons that campus leaders pay attention to by default. Use that to your advantage!
  3. Metrics.
    Even the most basic analytics can confirm that your website is the flagship communication vehicle. Include the metrics that your leadership team cares most about. Perhaps the total number of off-campus visitors in a one-year period or the percentage of mobile traffic to your site.
  4. Institutional goals.
    Tie the website redesign project to your institution’s business priorities and, if possible, to a strategic plan. Make it clear that the website supports goals tied to enrollment, fundraising, alumni engagement, and reputation.
  5. Similar projects at other institutions.
    Campus leadership is often influenced by what peers and competitors are doing. Reference redesign projects at institutions from your official peer set and at cross-app institutions (or at your president’s prior institution).
  6. Deficiencies of your site.
    Summarize what’s really wrong with your site. Typically, you need a fresh, contemporary design, a new information architecture, an easier way to edit and publish content. Include specifics such as, “We have not reorganized the site since 2005,” or “The copy on the top-level pages is 10 years old and not optimized for search engines.”
  7. Total dollars needed.
    Contact possible freelancers, partners and CMS vendors to get a sense of the funds needed for your project. You will be more credible if you can talk with some specificity about costs.
  8. Possible sources of funding.
    Perhaps you can get an advance commitment of funds from IT, Communications, Advancement, or Admissions. Your case is stronger if you have agreements for partial funding from other campus units.
  9. A real project plan.
    A high-level plan (including total cost) that you’ve vetted with others goes a long way toward making your case. (Be sure to pre-enlist the support of admissions and fundraising leaders.) Campus executives are looking for consensus. If you present an option already agreed upon by others, it’s more likely that your leader will agree and act more quickly.

Ask.

Don’t wait for it to happen — you have to ask. First, get in front of those who can support the request. Next, your boss. Then others with power and influence on campus — maybe the dean of one of your schools or a new executive everyone on campus seems to be paying attention to. Ultimately, you need to go to the person who holds the purse strings.

  • Make it an in-person request.
    It’s best if you can look someone in the eye to make your case. Try to schedule an in-person meeting with the executive who can authorize the website redesign project.
  • Sell your plan.
    Make your presentation high level but also high impact (use the slide deck you created). You are selling an idea and using your facts and preparation to get support for the project.

Good luck!

I’ve been there and done this. Have a question? Want 15 minutes of free advice? Send me an email.