Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I want a new website for my department. Now what?

It's an increasingly rare request: to start a new website from scratch for a department. Redesigns, yes. Website expansions, all the time. New landing pages for marketing, of course. But creating a new site for a department or program that has lived without one for the past 15 years since the World Wide Web went mainstream? Not so much.

Yet as I've recently began the thought process for educating a program director on how to build a good website, it has become a good refresher on the foundational concepts that we all should be considering when working on any Web project:
  1. What do you want your website to do, and who do you want it to serve? Go no further until you can answer these questions. Every other decision streams from knowing what goals you want your site to accomplish and for whom.
  2. What content should the site include? Since most websites serve first as informational resources to outside audiences, it's good to assess what you're already publishing for these groups. Do you have print brochures, news releases, advertisements or information on other websites about your program? For example, an academic program might not already have its own stand-alone site, but the program's faculty may already have their own biographical sites. If there are frequently asked questions that your program receives via phone, that information may also help guide the content of the site. Do remember to include a description of what the department/program does, the main contact information, and the physical location.
  3. What information or functions are most important? Use the answers to #1 and #2 to develop the information architecture of the page. A good website sets priorities and communicates them to the user. Trying to clutter too many links on a program's home page confuses users and ultimately will make your entire site less effective.
  4. Once you build it, who will maintain it? Building a website creates the responsibility for keeping its information current and accurate. Who will handle that responsibility? Will they be trained in maintaining the information themselves, or will they need to work with someone who already has that knowledge? How often should the site's information be reviewed and updated? A department that has survived this long without a website may not appreciate the long-term commitment they represent. Websites are not one-time projects that season as they age; their owners must preserve their content lest they rot.

1 comment:

  1. Great comments, i think the big struggle sometimes is that multiple departments want new websites. How do you decide? Do you just let the nursing, communication, etc get the websites? It can be a struggle. For more information on graduate school marketing, please see


    best, Matt