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 not just 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 podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university a proud member of the connected to you podcast network, Him Eric Oleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Chris Hardy, director of Web and digital marketing at Messiah College. Chris, welcome to the show. Thanks, Eric. Couldn't be more excited to chat with you today about this critical concept of iterative web design. Before we dig into that, Chris, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Messiah College and your rule there? Sure. So. Massiah College is a small private institution about ten miles south of Harrisburg and Pennsylvania. We have 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, so I oversee the day to day operations of Messiah Dotedu and also all of our digital marketing initiatives for our UNDERGRAD, AD and graduate programs. Chris, many institutions launch a new website every five years or so. They often tie it to a rebrand pot project they launched excitedly and then they leave alone for five years until the design and performance becomes embarrassingly out of date and they have to start all over again. It talk about how you can avoid that cycle through a process called iterative web design. Sure, so, that's a great question. And before I answer that, actually want to respond to something you said a little earlier. You mentioned that a lot of institutions are leaving their site's dormant until, I believe you said,...

...it becomes embarrassing, embarrassingly out of date, 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, mainly because I've been there as an institution earlier on in my career. So it's important 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 hindering its 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 that we don't forget that. So I guess that was kind of my soapbox speech about the importance of our website. Love, but to circle back around and actually answer your question. So it's three years ago Messia college launched our new website. We went through that comprehensive redesign process and our goal moving forward was to treat our website less like a project and more like a process. And if you think about that, a project, you know, has a clearly defined starting point and a clearly defined ending point and we really wanted to think more like a process. You know, a process has a continuous life cycle where we're planning and producing, analyzing and iterating. So as soon as we launch that new site, we wanted to start that process over again and working through that life cycle. So we're continuously asking what's next, what can we approve and that was really a culture shift for us at Messiah. I work in the marketing office where we have a decentralized web team, so there's actually just two of us that are focused full time on the website. So we have content team members and design team members that are doing doing digital, but they're also doing print, social media, you know, they're all over the place. So early on in that process we really struggled with treating our website like a print project because that's just the habits that we were in with the way we manage those projects, and we...

...were forgetting to use all those amazing analytic tools, you know, that give us the real time insight into how users are interacting with our website. So we really had to shift that mindset and focus around data driven decisions and that really that data focus really helped us kind of shift our focus onto iterative web design. So I'm really excited for you to walk us through both the chronology and the tools you use during a specific iterative web design project in Messiah. Let's start the timeline by talking about how both crazy egg and Google analytics helped you to focus your attention on your academic 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 amazing statistic from the the Nielsen Norman Group and it stated that forty eight percent of web users didn't realize that a college or university offered the program that they were looking for, even when it did. and to me that was absolutely terrifying. So, coming out of that presentation and that conference, that pretty much became, you know, obsessed with like figuring out, you know, was that statistic true for my institution and how do we improve user experience on the different academic pages on our website? So I really began to dig into the data, into the crazy egg, into the Google analytics to find out what was happening and what we could do to improve that. So Google analytics was telling us that our program listing page was the second most visited page on the entire site and then our actual program pages were hands down the most visited content group on our website. Using crazy egg, which helps heat map pages so we can actually see where people are clicking, and it also allows us to scroll map so we can see how far people are scrolling down. We're able to see what users were interacting with on those pages and how far down they scrolled. However, after all that research,...

I think actually ended up with more questions than answers. So I knew a lot of people were going to our 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 fifty academic programs and Messiah College, and that's a lot of programs for just a static listing. So we're users, you know, expecting a more sophisticated search and filter, filter functionality. You know, we go to sites like Google and Amazon 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 our hundred 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 still had was, you know, is there information on this page that's not listed that they were looking for? So we really had to turn to some additional research methods to find out that additional information. Yeah, so let's stay on the chronology. So Google and lyrics was helpful and helping you understand the importance of this economic content of your students. Crazy egg help you understand the specific content on a page that users were interacting with. How did surveys help you 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 the users are actually trying to do and achieve on our site and I think sometimes we focus too much on the visual appeal and branding of our site and we totally forget about the user experience and the user expectations. So that's why I think the surveys really helped ground us, because it allows us to really focus on understanding the needs and expectations of those users. So when we did the surveys, we surveyed prospective students in our funnel, so these were seniors that we focused on and we actually sent the survey out to around thirty five thousand students and had around seven hundred responses.

It was a pretty good sample group and we really focused on our program pages and we used a product called qual tricks to actually allow students our perspective. Students to rank the importance of academic content on our on our pages. So we gave them options like rank the importance of courses or alumni profiles or quotes from students or study abroad, to name a few, and what we found out was video content was actually dead last as far as the importance of that content during our students search process, and that facilities, academic facilities, the quality of those facilities, was actually the second most important thing. That's something we'd hadn't even really considered or thought about. So the surveys really kind of opened our eyes and allowed us to find 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 was broken or content priorities from your students and then you developed potential design solutions to fix these issues. Talk about the actual user testing that helped you test these assumptions 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. So the way it works as we assign users task. So I'll have a student come 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 our website to find that information and afterwards we actually get to ask them questions about 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 eye opening test that we did was when we were we were testing the search functionality of our program listing page and more specifically we were trying to test to see the impact of program name changes and how...

...that affected the findability of those program so, for example, we had a broadcasting major and the Department of Communications change the name of that broadcasting major to media culture and technology. So it was really curious to see if a student looking for broadcasting, because a lot of our competitors still called a broadcasting if those students would eventually end up on the media culture and technology page. And after running some test it was obvious that users weren't. So we had a problem and I think that's when that Nielsen Norman Statistic, the forty eight percent, just kept flashing through my head and you 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 were coming through our site looking for program that we actually had and making the assumption that we didn't have that program right. So you use these user tests and can you remind us of what tool you used? You said you were you were watching these users this live in your department, or were using an online tool 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 you and you can put together, you know, geographic and demographic ranges for those users, so we could say, you know, show us an eighteen year old student from Pennsylvania, and then they recruit the students and set up the test for us. Awesome. So you use the the outcomes of those user 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 four point of to day. What are the performance improvements that you've seen since making these inerative design improvements? Yeah, so quantitatively we've seen a lot more engagement on the page, show a lot more clicks and we've made a number of changes. So that page started out as just a static listing of all of our 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 and engage with our academic content. So an...

...example of that now, when they click on, you know, the accounting program instead of linking them to an accounting page, now a model or lightbox opens when that program is clicked and they see an overview of the program they can see related programs, they can see career options and an image, and having those related programs really allow the user to shop around and it explore the different programs. So, for example, of they click on accounting, they see that they might also be interested in, you know, a finance program or mathematics or statistics. So we've really seen a lot more engagement and that page has become more of an immersive tool that allows them to explore their academic interest versus just a longlisting of academic programs. Really good, really good, Chris. In an iterative web design world, your websites obviously never finished. So what's next? How do you and 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 be a lot of relationships between the the program page has related programs and then also with the program listing page. So we're going to be allowing students to actually favorite programs. That will eventually allow us to actually personalize the home page of our 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 really don'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 expectations of the users, you know those plans might change. They always have to be open to new directions. Such good stuff, Chris. Any next step advice for other institutions who like what they're hearing and they want it move from a project based to a process based Web design world at their institution? Where should they start first? Yeah, so for us, I think we're at all. Kind of started to fall in...

...places when we really thought strategically about our web strategy and we got sign off on that from high level leadership on campus and that really gave us that the direction and the understanding of where we needed to go with their website. And from Assiah that was prospective students, where our main focus, and recruitment. So we were able to kind of gear all of our research and our strategic work on the recruitment process. So I definitely recommend make sure if you don't have a you know web strategy and writing and if it hasn't been improved by campus leadership, that's a really good place to start. But always follow the data. Make sure you have google analytics and crazy egg and all these things running in the background just so when you 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 to ship something good until it's perfect and never doing it. Just call it iterative and the launched early. I love it. Chris, you're the best. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you the they have any follow up questions? Yet twitter is a really good place. Chris Hardy Eighty three is my handle, so feel free to reach out to me. They're awesome. 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 colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix 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 in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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