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.

So it's important to remember we're notjust talking about risking having add a date, content and images on our website.An institution at that point is really hindering its ability to recruit students.You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcastfor higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whetheryou're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you'vecome to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back toenrollment growth university a proud member of the connected to you podcast network, HimEric Oleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today withChris Hardy, director of Web and digital marketing at Messiah College. Chris,welcome to the show. Thanks, Eric. Couldn't be more excited to chat withyou today about this critical concept of iterative web design. Before we diginto that, Chris, can you get the listeners a little bit better understandingof both Messiah College and your rule there? Sure. So. Massiah College isa small private institution about ten miles south of Harrisburg and Pennsylvania. Wehave around twenty eight hundred Undergrad students and around six hundred graduate students. And, as you mentioned, I'm the Director of Web and digital marketing, soI oversee the day to day operations of Messiah Dotedu and also all of ourdigital marketing initiatives for our UNDERGRAD, AD and graduate programs. Chris, manyinstitutions launch a new website every five years or so. They often tie itto a rebrand pot project they launched excitedly and then they leave alone for fiveyears until the design and performance becomes embarrassingly out of date and they have tostart all over again. It talk about how you can avoid that cycle througha process called iterative web design. Sure, so, that's a great question.And before I answer that, actually want to respond to something you saida little earlier. You mentioned that a lot of institutions are leaving their site'sdormant until, I believe you said,...

...it becomes embarrassing, embarrassingly out ofdate, and from an enrollment marketing perspective that's a very dangerous place to be. Yet at an institution and our I really can't emphasize that enough, mainlybecause I've been there as an institution earlier on in my career. So it'simportant to remember we're not just talking about risking having, at a date,content and images on our website. An institution at that point is really hinderingits ability to recruit students. I'm a firm believer that, you know,our website is one of our most influential enrollment assets and it's really important thatwe don't forget that. So I guess that was kind of my soapbox speechabout the importance of our website. Love, but to circle back around and actuallyanswer your question. So it's three years ago Messia college launched our newwebsite. We went through that comprehensive redesign process and our goal moving forward wasto treat our website less like a project and more like a process. Andif you think about that, a project, you know, has a clearly definedstarting point and a clearly defined ending point and we really wanted to thinkmore like a process. You know, a process has a continuous life cyclewhere we're planning and producing, analyzing and iterating. So as soon as welaunch that new site, we wanted to start that process over again and workingthrough that life cycle. So we're continuously asking what's next, what can weapprove and that was really a culture shift for us at Messiah. I workin the marketing office where we have a decentralized web team, so there's actuallyjust two of us that are focused full time on the website. So wehave content team members and design team members that are doing doing digital, butthey're also doing print, social media, you know, they're all over theplace. So early on in that process we really struggled with treating our websitelike a print project because that's just the habits that we were in with theway we manage those projects, and we...

...were forgetting to use all those amazinganalytic tools, you know, that give us the real time insight into howusers are interacting with our website. So we really had to shift that mindsetand focus around data driven decisions and that really that data focus really helped uskind of shift our focus onto iterative web design. So I'm really excited foryou to walk us through both the chronology and the tools you use during aspecific iterative web design project in Messiah. Let's start the timeline by talking abouthow both crazy egg and Google analytics helped you to focus your attention on youracademic program content. Yeah, so it actually started a little earlier than that. A few years ago I was at a conference and I heard this amazingstatistic from the the Nielsen Norman Group and it stated that forty eight percent ofweb users didn't realize that a college or university offered the program that they werelooking for, even when it did. and to me that was absolutely terrifying. So, coming out of that presentation and that conference, that pretty muchbecame, you know, obsessed with like figuring out, you know, wasthat statistic true for my institution and how do we improve user experience on thedifferent academic pages on our website? So I really began to dig into thedata, into the crazy egg, into the Google analytics to find out whatwas happening and what we could do to improve that. So Google analytics wastelling us that our program listing page was the second most visited page on theentire site and then our actual program pages were hands down the most visited contentgroup on our website. Using crazy egg, which helps heat map pages so wecan actually see where people are clicking, and it also allows us to scrollmap so we can see how far people are scrolling 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 actually ended up with morequestions than answers. So I knew a lot of people were going toour program listing page, but what I didn't know was, you know,was that page meeting the needs and expectations of the users? I mean,one thing that kept sticking out to me was we have a hundred and fiftyacademic programs and Messiah College, and that's a lot of programs for just astatic listing. So we're users, you know, expecting a more sophisticated searchand filter, filter functionality. You know, we go to sites like Google andAmazon and facebook and we we have those amazing experiences with their search capabilities. You know, do we need something like that to help students navigate ourhundred and fifty different academic programs? I use the crazy egg example little earlier. We could see where people were clicking, but the big question mark we stillhad was, you know, is there information on this page that's notlisted that they were looking for? So we really had to turn to someadditional research methods to find out that additional information. Yeah, so let's stayon the chronology. So Google and lyrics was helpful and helping you understand theimportance of this economic content of your students. Crazy egg help you understand the specificcontent on a page that users were interacting with. How did surveys helpyou better understand the expectations and frustrations from users on those actual pages? Yeah, so obviously it's really important that we understand, you know, what theusers are actually trying to do and achieve on our site and I think sometimeswe focus too much on the visual appeal and branding of our site and wetotally forget about the user experience and the user expectations. So that's why Ithink the surveys really helped ground us, because it allows us to really focuson understanding the needs and expectations of those users. So when we did thesurveys, we surveyed prospective students in our funnel, so these were seniors thatwe focused on and we actually sent the survey out to around thirty five thousandstudents and had around seven hundred responses.

It was a pretty good sample groupand we really focused on our program pages and we used a product called qualtricks to actually allow students our perspective. Students to rank the importance of academiccontent on our on our pages. So we gave them options like rank theimportance of courses or alumni profiles or quotes from students or study abroad, toname a few, and what we found out was video content was actually deadlast as far as the importance of that content during our students search process,and that facilities, academic facilities, the quality of those facilities, was actuallythe second most important thing. That's something we'd hadn't even really considered or thoughtabout. So the surveys really kind of opened our eyes and allowed us tofind that what was important to users and focus on that and our project.So with these these academic programs, use surveys to discover kind of what wasbroken or content priorities from 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 solve these problems. Yeah, so for me the user testing is always a lot of fun. Sothe way it works as we assign users task. So I'll have a studentcome in and we'll have them sit in front of a computer and we'll say, all right, find out if Messiah College has an accounting program if so, what's the tuition for a residential student, and will actually watch them navigate ourwebsite to find that information and afterwards we actually get to ask them questionsabout their experience. What did they like and what did they not like?So that's kind of how it works and I think one of the most eyeopening test that we did was when we were we were testing the search functionalityof our program listing page and more specifically we were trying to test to seethe impact of program name changes and how...

...that affected the findability of those programso, for example, we had a broadcasting major and the Department of Communicationschange the name of that broadcasting major to media culture and technology. So itwas really curious to see if a student looking for broadcasting, because a lotof our competitors still called a broadcasting if those students would eventually end up onthe media culture and technology page. And after running some test it was obviousthat users weren't. So we had a problem and I think that's when thatNielsen Norman Statistic, the forty eight percent, just kept flashing through my head andyou know, earlier on I was saying, well, we're small school, that statistics probably not applicable to us. But here I was, you know, finding, you know, all sorts of examples of how students werecoming through our site looking for program that we actually had and making the assumptionthat we didn't have that program right. So you use these user tests andcan you remind us of what tool you used? You said you were youwere watching these users this live in your department, or were using an onlinetool for that? We actually use user testingcom and it's a really great tool. Continue to use it to this day. They track down the users for youand you can put together, you know, geographic and demographic ranges forthose users, so we could say, you know, show us an eighteenyear old student from Pennsylvania, and then they recruit the students and set upthe test for us. Awesome. So you use the the outcomes of thoseuser tests to kind of refine your design. Now let's talk about the results.I believe your iterative process is taking you to a program listings page fourpoint of to day. What are the performance improvements that you've seen since makingthese inerative design improvements? Yeah, so quantitatively we've seen a lot more engagementon the page, show a lot more clicks and we've made a number ofchanges. So that page started out as just a static listing of all ofour academic programs. So it's basically just a long, boring link farm.So we've gone from that to a page where a student can actually interact andengage with our academic content. So an...

...example of that now, when theyclick on, you know, the accounting program instead of linking them to anaccounting page, now a model or lightbox opens when that program is clicked andthey see an overview of the program they can see related programs, they cansee career options and an image, and having those related programs really allow theuser to shop around and it explore the different programs. So, for example, of they click on accounting, they see that they might also be interestedin, you know, a finance program or mathematics or statistics. So we'vereally seen a lot more engagement and that page has become more of an immersivetool that allows them to explore their academic interest versus just a longlisting of academicprograms. Really good, really good, Chris. In an iterative web designworld, your websites obviously never finished. So what's next? How do youand your team help these critical academic pages to continue to improve over time?Yeah, so this summer we're actually going to be releasing our academic program pages. Two Oh, so we're really excited about that. There's going to bea lot of relationships between the the program page has related programs and then alsowith the program listing page. So we're going to be allowing students to actuallyfavorite programs. That will eventually allow us to actually personalize the home page ofour website is based on those favorite programs. So we're really excited about that.But the beautiful thing about really being focused on the data is we reallydon't know what's next. I mean we have an idea of where we're going, but once we get in there and start testing and really understanding the expectationsof the users, you know those plans might change. They always have tobe open to new directions. Such good stuff, Chris. Any next stepadvice for other institutions who like what they're hearing and they want it move froma project based to a process based Web design world at their institution? Whereshould they start first? Yeah, so for us, I think we're atall. Kind of started to fall in...

...places when we really thought strategically aboutour web strategy and we got sign off on that from high level leadership oncampus and that really gave us that the direction and the understanding of where weneeded to go with their website. And from Assiah that was prospective students,where our main focus, and recruitment. So we were able to kind ofgear all of our research and our strategic work on the recruitment process. SoI definitely recommend make sure if you don't have a you know web strategy andwriting and if it hasn't been improved by campus leadership, that's a really goodplace to start. But always follow the data. Make sure you have googleanalytics and crazy egg and all these things running in the background just so whenyou do need the data you have a place to go to to find it. It's also a good advice for folks who get caught in a waiting toship something good until it's perfect and never doing it. Just call it iterativeand the launched early. I love it. Chris, you're the best. Whatis the best place for listeners to connect with you the they have anyfollow up questions? Yet twitter is a really good place. Chris Hardy Eightythree is my handle, so feel free to reach out to me. They'reawesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Chris. Thank you, Eric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies.Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping collegesand universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the secondedition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on howinstitutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free atHelix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show inItunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Untilnext time,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (230)