30: Iterative Web Design at Messiah College w/ Kris Hardy

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Kris Hardy, Director of Web and Digital Marketing at Messiah College, discusses how to avoid the “launch and leave it alone” plan for your website, and move to a process of continuous optimization that ensures your website gets better and better between new launches, too.

It's important to remember we're notjust talking about risking having edidite content and images on ourwebsite. An institution at that point is really hindering its ability torecruit students, you're listening to enrolment growth,university from helics education, the best professional development podcastfor higher education leaders looking to grow in Roman at their college oruniversity, whether you're looking for fresh and romant growth techniques andstrategies or tools and resources. You've come to the right place. Let'sget into the show, welcome back to UNROMAN GrowthUniversity, a proct member of the connect idio podcast network Imeri,Olson AVP of marketing at helocks education and we're here today withChris Hardy Director of Web and digital marketing at Messiah College. Chriswelcomed to the show thanks. EREC couldn't be more excited to Cha withyou today about this critical concept of iterative web design. Before wediginto that Chrisan, you get the listeners a little bit betterunderstanding of both massiacologe and your role there sure so. Messi collegeis a small private institution about ten miles south of Harrisburg andPennsylvania. We have around twenty eight hundre Undergrad students andaround six hundred graduate students and, as you mentioned, I'm the Directorof Web and digital marketing, so Iversee the day today, operations ofMesiada Edu and also all of our digital marketing initiatives for our UNDERGRADand graduate programs. Chris many institutions launch a new website everyfive years, or so they often tie it to a rebrand pod project they launchedexcitedly, and then they leave alone for five years until the design ondperformance becomes embarrassing, me Ot of date, and they have to start allover again talk about how you can avoid that cycle through a process callediterative web design. Sure so that's a great question and before I answer thatactually want to respond to something. You said a little earlier. Youmentioned that a lot of institutions are leaving their site stormint untilobbiyve. You said it becomes...

...embarrassing, embarrassingly out ofdate and from an enrolment marketing perspective, that's a very dangerousplace to be et at an institution. I really can't emphasize that enough,mainly because I've been there as an institution earlier on in my career. Soit's important to remember we're not just talking about risking havingedidite content and images on our website. An institution at that pointis really hindering its ability to recruit students. I'm a firm believerthat you know our website is one of our most influential enroman APSETS, andit's really important that we don't forget that. So I guess that was kindof M. my soapbox speech about the importance of my websit love it, but tocircle back around and actually answer your question. So it's three years ago,Massi college launched our new website. We went through that comprehensiveredesign process and our goal moving forward was to treat our website lesslike a project and more like a process, and if you think about that a projectyou know has a clearly defined starting point and a clearly defined, endingpoint an we. We really wanted to think more. Like a process, you know aprocess has a continuous life cycle where we're planning and producinganalyzing and iterating. So as soon as we launchd that new site, we wanted tostart that process over again and working through that lifecycle. Sowe'recontinuously asking. What's next, what can we approve? And that was really aculture shift for US AT MESSIAH? I work in the marketing office where we have adecentralized Webteam, so there's actually just two of us that arefocused full time on the website. So we have content, team members and designteam members that are doing doing digital but they're also doing printsocial media. You know they're all over the place so early on in that process.We really struggled with treating our website like a prant project, becausethat's just the habits that we're in...

...withthe way. We manage those projectsand we were forgetting to use all those amazing, analytic tools. You know thatgive us the real time insight into how users are interacting with theirwebsite. So we really had to shift that mindset. WHAND, focus around datadriven decisions and that really that data focus really helped us kind ofshift our focus on to iterative web desirn. So I'm really excited for youto walk us through both the chronology and the tools you use during a specificItaative webdesign project. If Messiah. Let's start the timeline by talkingabout how both crazy egg and Google analytics helped you to focus yourattention on your academic program, content yeah, so it actually started alittle earlier than that. A few years ago I was at a conference- and I heardthis amazing statistic from the the Neelson Norman Group and it stated thatforty eight percent of web users didn't realize that a college or universityoffered the program that they were looking for, even when it did and to me that was absolutelyterrifying. So coming out of that presentation and that conference th, Ipretty much became you know, obsessed with, like figuring out. You know. Wasthat statistic true for my institution and how do we improve user experienceon the different academic pages on our website? So I really began to dig intothe data into the crazy egg into the Google analytics to find out what washappening and what we could do to improve that. So Google analytics wastelling us that our program listing page was the second most visited pageon the entire site, and then our actual program pages were hands down the mostvisited content group on our website using crazy egg, which helps heat mappages. So we can actually see where people are clicking and it also allowsus to scroll map. So we can see how far people are use growing down we're ableto see what users were interacting with on those pages and how far down theyscrolled. However, after all that...

...research, I think I actually ended upwith more questions than answers, so I knew a lot of people were going to ourprogram listing page. But what I didn't know was, you know: was that pagemeeting the needs and expectations of the users? Man, one thing that keptsticking out to me was: we have a hundred and fifty academic programs atMasi College and that's a lot of programs for just a static listing. Sowe're users, you know, expecting a more sophisticated search and filther filterfunctionauity. You know we go to sites like Google and Amazon and Facebook,and we we have those amazing experiences with their searchcapabilities. You know: Do we need something like that to help studentsnavigate Aur hundred and fifty different academic programs? I use thecrazy egg example a little earlier. We could see where people were clicking,but the big question mark we still had was you know, is theire information onthis page. That's not listed that they were looking for, so we really had toturn to some additional research methods to find out that additionalinformation yeh. So let's stay on that chronology, so Google analgics washelpful and helping you understand the importance of this aconemic content ofyour students, crazy egg helpd. You understand the specific content on apage that users were interacting with. How did surveys help you betterunderstand the expectations and frustrations from users on those actualpages yeah? So obviously it's really important that we understand. You knowwhat the users are actually trying to do and achieve on our site, and I thinksometimes we focus too much on the visual appeal and branding of our siteand we totally forget about the user experience and the user expectations.So that's why I think the surveys really helped ground us, because itallows us to really focus on understanding the needs andexpectations of those users. So when we did the surveys, we surveyedperspective students in our funnel, so these were seniors that we focused onand we actually sent the survey out to around thirty five housand students andhad around seven hundred responses. So...

...it was a pretty good sample group andwe really focused on our program pages. I mean we used a product calledquatricks to actually allow students ore perspective students to rankimportance of academic content on our on our pages, so we gave them optionslike rink the importance of courses or alumni profiles or quotes from studentsor study abroad, to name a few, and what we found out was video content wasactually dead last as far as the importance of that content. During our studentssearch process, I mean that facilities, academic facilities, the quality ofthose facilities, was actually the second most important thing, an that'ssomething we had in even really considered or thought about. So thesurveys really kind of opened our eyes and olowed us to find that what wasimportant to users and focus on that in our project. So with you, these ECNEMICprograms yus surveys to discover kind of what was broken or content prioriiesfrom your students, and then you developed potential design solutions tofix these issues. Talk about the actual user testing that helped you test theseassumptions and determine whether or not your design approach actually solvethese problems yeah. So for me, the user testing is always a lot of fun. Sothe way it works is we assign users task. So I have a student come in andwell have them sit in front of a computer and we'll say all right findout if masia college has an accounting program. If so, what's the tuition fora residential student theyll actually watch them navigate our website to findthat information, and afterwards we actually get to ask them questionsabout their experience. What did they like and what did they not like? Sothat's kind of how it works, and I think one of the most eyeopening testthat we did was when we were just. We were testing the search functionalityof our program, Listeang page and more specifically, we're trying to test tosee the impact of program name changes...

...and how that affected the find abilityof those program. So, for example, we had a broadcasting major and theDepartment of Communications changed the name of the broadcasting major tomedia culture and technology. So I was really curious to see if a studentlooking for broadcasting, because a lot of our competitors still called itbroadcasting if those students would eventually end up on the media, cultureand technology payen and after running some test t, it was obvious that usersweren't, so we had a problem, and I think that's when that Nilson NormanStatistic, the forty eight percent just kept flashing through my head- and youknow earlier on, I was saying: Well- were a small school that statisticsprobably not applicable to us, but here I was, you know finding. You know allsorts of examples of how students were coming through a site looking for aprogram that we actually had and making the assumption that we didn't have thatprogram right. So you use these user tests, and can you remind us of whattool you use? You said you were. You were watching these users. I just livein your department or we're using an online tool for that. We actually useuser testingcom and it's a really great tool continue to use it to this day.They track down the users for you ND. You can put together, you knowgeographic and demographic ranges for those users, so we could say you know,show us an eighteen year old student from Pennsylvania and then they recruitthe students and set up the test for US awesome. So you use the the outcomes ofthose user tests to kind of refine your design. Now, let's talk about theresults, I believe your iterative process has taken you to a programlistings page four point: Ou Oday: What are the performance improvements thatyou've seen since making these itrative design of provements yeah? Soquantitatively, we've seen a lot more engagement on the page sow a lot moreclicks and we've made a number of changes, so that page started out asjust a static listing of all o our academic programs, so Itas, basicallyjust a long, boring link farm. So we've gone from that to a page where astudent can actually interact and engage with or academic content. So anexample of that now, when they click on,...

...you know the accounting program insteadof linking them to an accounting page now a motal or lifebox opens when thatprogram is clicked and they see an overview of the program. They can seerelated programs that Coan see career options and an image and having thoserelated programs really allow the user to shop around and it explore thedifferent program. So, for example, they click on accounting. They see thatthey might also be interested in. You know a finance program or mathematicsor statistics, so we've really seen a lot more engagement and that pageasbecome more of an immersive tool that allows them to explore their academicinterest versus just a long listing of academic programs, really good, reallygood. Chris in an ITERATIVE webdesign world, your websites obviously neverfinished. So what's next, how do you and your team help these criticalacademic pages to continue to improve over time yeah, so this summer, we'reactually going to be releasing our academic program pages. Two Point, oh m,so were really excited about that. There's going to be a lot ofrelationships between e, the program, pages, related programs and then alsowit, the program listing page, so we're going to be allowing students toactually favorite programs thatill eventually allow us to actuallypersonalize the home page of our websites based on those favoritideprograms. So we're really excited about that. But the beautiful thing aboutreally being focused on the data is we really don't know? What's next, I meanwe have an idea of where we're going, but once we get in there and starttesting and really understanding the expectations of the users, you knowthose plans might change, so you always have to be open to new directions suchgood stuff. Chris. Any next EP advice for other institutions who, like whatthey're hearing and they want tot move from a project based to a processebased web design, world of their institution. Where should they startfirst yeah? So for us, I think where it...

...all kind of started, Tho fall in placeis when we really thought strategically about our web strategy and we gotsignff on that from high level leadership on campus and that reallygave us that the direction and the understanding of where we needed to gowith our website and for Messiah that was pospective. Students were our mainfocus in recruitment, so we were able to kind of gear all of our research andour strategic work on the recruitment process. So I definitely recommend makesure if you don't have a you know, web strategy and writing and if it hasn'tbeen approved by campus leadership, that's a really good place to start,but always follow the data, make sure you have google analytics and crazy eggand all these things running in the background. Just so when you do needthe data you have a place to go to to find it. It's also a good advice forfolks who get caught in a waiting to ship, something good until it's perfectand never doing it just call it iterative and Montatearly Ilove itChrist, you the best. What is the best place for listeners to connect with youif they have any followed questions? Yea Twitter is a really good placeChris Hardy. Eighty three is my handle, so feel free to reach out to me. Thereawesome thanks against so much for doing es Teday Chris. Thank you, Eri,attracting today's new post, traditional learners means adopting newenrolmant strategies. helics educations data driven enterprise, wide approachto enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universitiesthrive in this new education, landscape and Helex has just published the secondedition of their enrollment growth playbook, with fifty percent brand newcontent on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enromant growthchallenges download it today for free at Helocks, Educationcom playbook you've been listening to enrolmentgrowth university from helacks education to ensure that you never missan episode subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player.Thank you so much for listening until next time.

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