Iterative Web Design at Messiah College

“Set it and forget it!”

While this approach is a great for selling kitchen appliances to the infomercial masses, it’s less than ideal for maintaining your institution’s website.

Your website is likely the first impression many of your prospective students get, so having an outdated, unchanging design and content are a huge turnoff.

Yes, it took months of back and forth to get approvals and sign offs from your faculty.

Yes, the content was current when it went live.

But five years down the track, none of it matters if your site isn’t fluid enough to keep up with the latest design trends, not to mention changes on campus.

Our guest this week on the Enrollment Growth University was Kris Hardy, Director of Web and Digital Marketing at Messiah College, who shared his journey of how Messiah created (and continues to create) an iterative website that’s keeping up with the changing needs of both college and recruits alike.

Here are the highlights from our interview.

The Problem With One-Time Website Launches

Kris believes that your website is one of your most powerful enrollment assets.

So if your website is clunky and outdated because you blew out a launch budget years ago, you’re risking more than just looking “behind the times”; you’re risking the ability to recruit.

If a potential student is unable to find current information about your programs, your website is now your biggest enrollment marketing nightmare.

That’s the problem with one-time launches–maybe it was intuitive at the time, but any number of changes, from program additions or name changes, and the cogs start loosen and wobble, until one day, it just doesn’t work any more.

Treating Your Website Like a Process, Not a Project

With that in mind, Kris set out to redesign the Messiah website with the understanding that their site may be costing the college new enrollments.

Kris started to see web design as a process, with a lifecycle of planning, producing, analyzing, and iterating, always asking the questions “What’s next? What can we improve?”

In fact, the act of analysis is what changed the design game for Kris and his team.

They engaged with tools like Crazy Egg and Google Analytics to gain real-time insight into how users were interacting with their website and learned that the program pages were the most visited content on their website, while the program listing page was the second most visited.

This started giving Kris haunting flashbacks to that Nielsen Norman Group statistic that nearly half of users are unable to find the programs they were looking for, he realized these tools, in particular, couldn’t articulate whether or not users were falling into this statistic so he turned to engaging with real users.

Student Surveys and User Tests to Find Design Solutions

Not knowing if their website was actually meeting the needs and expectations of users, Kris turned to user surveys as a means to identify what their site should actually be built around, as opposed to what he thought it should.

From these surveys, they began to piece together what would become the new focus and structure of their new site, and next turned to user testing to ensure they were hitting the mark.

These users would be assigned a task, say, “Find the tuition for a residential student who wants to enroll in the accounting program.” The testing would then trace how the user found (or didn’t find) the information, helping Kris and his team create the most intuitive and useful efficient design possible.

Iterating a Website that is Never Done

From this data and analysis, Kris and his team launched their new site, which addressed many of the issues users flagged during testing.

But that’s not the end of the story.

They’re planning to release an update to those same program pages that haunted him at the start of the process.

Why? Because it’s a process–not a project. It’s evolving, it’s changing. It’s keeping with new navigation trends that prospective students are seeing on other intuitive search-based sites.

Kris would encourage you to do the same. Run the analytics tools on your site and see where the gaps are–where your users are missing out key information they need to make informed decisions about your college or university.

Data is great equalizer to help your high-level leadership understand the need for web design revision and relaunch, especially when put in terms of enrollment.

Remember–it doesn’t have to be perfect to launch!

That’s the beauty of an iterative design. At some point, it will need to change, so perfection is relative to the time of launch. Put together something great, call it iterative, and launch!

This post is based on a podcast interview with Kris Hardy from Messiah College. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.