13 02, 2020

Are You Waiting for the Stars to Align to Redesign Your Site?

By | 2020-02-13T14:07:20+00:00 February 13th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design, SEO|Tags: , , , |

Something magical happens in February.

No, we’re not talking about Punxsutawney Phil’s annual winter re-emergence and weather prediction on February 2. And, no, this isn’t about the national flowers-and-chocolate day – otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.

If you guessed National Drink Wine Day (February 18), Cherry Pie Day (February 20) or National Tortilla Chip Day (February 24), we are officially impressed by your knowledge of trivial celebrations. But, no, that’s not what we’re referring to, either.

This “something magical” doesn’t happen every year. In fact, it doesn’t even happen every other year. You’ve got to wait out four trips around the sun before it comes again.

366Yeah, now you’re on it… Leap Day. And, in case you’re wondering: yes, there is a February 29 in 2020. Hurray!

Now, this isn’t a calendar appreciation blog. We’re typically more concerned with keeping your websites running smoothly and supporting your organizational goals effectively. So, what does Leap Day have to do with your website?

It turns out that for many resource-strapped colleges and universities, talk of a web redesign emerges only once every four years. That’s once per graduating class, once every presidential election, once every Olympic Games, or… once every Leap Year (connection landed, whew).

Does that seem too long to go without a site refresh? And, if so, how often should you redesign your website? Let’s find out.

When Should You Redesign Your Website?

This may not be a particularly popular answer, but, a website should be refreshed whenever, a) significant changes are made to your brand, b) the perception of your institution changes (or, needs to change), or, c) new technology raises user expectations beyond the capabilities of your site.

You’ll notice that none of the above are time-driven concerns. As such, time isn’t the definitive metric by which to measure the need for a design refresh. Rather, internal priorities and target audience considerations should drive the decision-making process.

In other words, if your marketing plan features significant changes, or your users show you that things aren’t working for them, it’s time for your website to adjust. Don’t wait for a leap year.

7 Signs Your Website Needs a Refresh

Marketing decisions and other internal signals for change are pretty easy to discern. They are usually presented as directives in a report or some other official presentation.

Your users, however, aren’t likely to send you a bulleted list of requested upgrades. Instead, you have to pay attention to what your visitors care about and identify where your current site might be falling short.

Here are a few situations where a website redesign might be warranted:

hand holding a smartphoneNot mobile-friendly

Bottom line, if your site isn’t built to be viewed on a smartphone, you need to start over. According to Google, more than 50% of online search queries are completed on mobile devices. So, if you’re not catering to the mobile experience, you’re kissing 50% (or more) of your target audience good-bye. We recommend testing your site on multiple mobile devices and browsers regularly to keep up with mobile technology.

Looks and feels outdated

It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression. That’s why your homepage has to be crafted to capture your visitors’ attention. If your users go “ugh” as soon as your homepage loads, you’re already playing catch-up. A homepage with a modern feel and featuring contemporary design elements can go a long way to meeting your users’ expectations.

That said, an unremarkable homepage experience can be overcome with superior navigation, intuitive information architecture and appealing graphics. If you’re behind the curve in all these factors and your homepage is nothing to write home about, your website’s got problems, friend.

Reviewing your user engagement data at least twice a year will alert you to problems with user experience on your site.

Doesn’t keep up with the competition

You may not need to feature the absolute latest design trends. And, you certainly don’t need to load up your site with the flashiest, most popular-at-the-moment elements. But, you do need to keep an eye on what your closest competitors are doing on their websites, and aim to do just a tad bit better.

Low search rankings

Organic search is a big factor in the success of your website. If you’re not winning in search results, it can be hard to attract the audiences you want. There are many factors that can tank your site’s ranking in search results. These include thin or duplicate content, non-optimized URL structure, low crawlability, slow page speed, insufficient link structure and improper keyword targeting.

If you find your most important pages consistently losing position, you should assess how SEO-friendly your site currently is. Odds are, it could use some help in a few of the above areas.

Plus, search engine algorithms change all the time, causing all sorts of unexpected ranking movements. Pages that historically rank well can drop suddenly.

Designing your new site using the most advanced SEO tactics should help to shield you from significant ranking drops and the associated traffic losses. And, quarterly SEO health checks will help you keep your site in the best shape possible.

Not aligned to your goals

Things change. And, in the online world, things tend to change quickly. Yesterday, you may have been trying to drive campus visits as your major recruitment strategy. Tomorrow, you may prioritize virtual meet-and-greets with your student leaders, or information sessions with your leading faculty members.

Whatever your goals are, your website has to be geared to fulfill those goals. When the goals change, your website needs to, as well. If you introduce a new strategy or sense a decline in activity, pay attention to the data and adjust (or redesign).

Complaints from users

We mentioned above that users aren’t likely to bring you a neat, organized list of improvements they’d like to see. They won’t bring you solutions, but they’ll definitely be more vocal about the problems they perceive. Pay attention to the feedback your users give. It’s truly a gift… because it will make you address issues and improve.  If you observe an increasing number of complaints, that’s a sure-fire signal that your site may need a refresh.

Not successful with your target audience

Your site may be bringing in the visitors. But, are they the right kind of visitors?

For colleges and universities, if you’re not seeing prospective students and their parents as a significant portion of your incoming traffic, you’re doing something wrong. That’s as good a signal as any to start considering a redesign that will better align your site with your key performance indicators.

a grouping of gears with web-related symbolsIn the Meanwhile… Optimize

You may not need a complete redesign if one or two of the above factors are problematic. And, there’s no guarantee that some of these issues won’t crop up even after a successful redesign.  Watch for the signals, assess the issues, then decide if it’s time for a redesign, or just some enhancements.

It’s important to remember that a website is not a product – or, better put, a website is never a finished product. You should constantly be looking for ways to optimize the performance of your site.

You can always tweak page content, modify a CTA button or introduce a new video. By continually analyzing your user behavior, you can identify the sections of your site that are not performing to expectations and create a plan to attack the problem.

As you can tell by now, the “set it and forget it” approach to website maintenance is not recommended. Waiting for a leap year to start fresh with a new site won’t keep your users happy or help you achieve your marketing goals. As with most things in life, you’ve got to be proactive to stay successful.

Beacon Knows Website Redesigns

Is your website ready for a facelift? Our team of digital marketing experts can help you make that determination. Request a complimentary website audit from Beacon today.

3 05, 2018

Visual/Marketing Design

By | 2018-05-03T14:37:15+00:00 May 3rd, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , |

Essential Elements of Website Redesign

More than four billion people use the internet regularly, according to the latest statistical estimates. That translates to more than half of the world’s population. A lot of eyes on screens, for sure. Which is why it’s smart to invest in your digital storefront – your website.

But, it is 2018… everyone has a website. Maybe even several.

Not only is the competition fierce, but internet users have a notoriously short attention span. If you can’t communicate to a visitor what you’re all about in five to seven seconds, you can pretty much forget about winning their business.

That’s a pretty tough and complicated proposition. After all, odds are that you don’t have a homogeneous prospect base that seeks just one specific product/service and lives in a well-defined geographical area. Your students probably come from many walks of life, are interested in different educational services for different reasons, and exhibit diverse user behaviors.

Yes, you can target these audiences with well-sculpted digital campaigns. But, you still have to attract them to your site, and be able to keep them there long enough to communicate your value proposition. If your website isn’t prepared to handle that job, it’s time to consider a redesign.

Over-Arching Component of Your Marketing Strategy

Your website is the flagship in your marketing armada. This means that your site defines your brand, and all other marketing efforts support that foundation.

You’re likely to engage in many marketing activities to attract prospects. You may be fond of email campaigns. Perhaps you’ve found a PPC wizard and online ad campaigns are a key performer for you. Maybe traditional direct mail is your bread and butter.

Unless you’re trying to increase foot traffic on campus, all of those marketing efforts should be steering prospective students, and their parents, to your website. As such, your website has to be instantly recognizable as yours and ensure a seamless transition from the other marketing channels.

Brand, Personality & Messaging

When visitors land on your home page, there should be no question or ambiguity about whose site it is. Having a unique and engaging brand helps in this regard. When revamping your website, make sure that your brand personality is worked into the design and jumps off the page from the get go.

Users should also be able to use your site with ease. No visitor is going to stick around for long if they can’t quickly and intuitively navigate your menus or find the information they’re looking for.

Lastly, remember to keep your messaging short and punchy. Internet users skim – they don’t typically like to read a lot of text. Keep paragraphs short, use bullet points or lists whenever appropriate, and include visual content – videos, pics, infographics, etc. – as much as possible.

Does My Website Need a Redesign?

Beacon can help you answer that question. Give us a call at (866) 708-1467, and we’ll be happy to perform a detailed audit of your website.

6 12, 2017

Managing a Website Redesign: Overcoming 3 Common Problems

By | 2017-12-06T20:43:15+00:00 December 6th, 2017|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

The moment has arrived. Your website needs an overhaul. There’s a great deal at stake and if you’ve never gone through the process, it can be overwhelming. However, if you take the right approach, it isn’t that painful. Done right, it can even be exhilarating.

Either way, there are sure to be surprises. Nobody likes surprises. The small ones take care of themselves but the big ones, well that’s another matter. Consider this a heads-up. It’s your insurance policy against a costly mishap.

1. Understand the Full Scope of Content Issues

Content is one of the most important things to consider in any website redesign. It is also the part of the project that is most often underestimated. Content consists of old information that you’ll want to carry over as well as new content. This new content includes video, photography, and social media.

There’s more there than meets the eye. Here’s why.

User habits have changed. Attention spans are shorter so you’ve got to create easily scan-able pages. If someone cannot find the information they seek at a glance, they won’t hesitate to move on to a competing website.

Google’s algorithm has changed. Once engineered to emphasize written content, the algorithm has changed to reflect the habit of today’s users. Engagement and user experience are big factors, hence a new emphasis on video and other engagement tools. You’ll want to consider who you’re presenting information to, new and old.

Accessibility is a hot button issue. Not only has accessibility become part of Google’s algorithmic changes, it has become a legal consideration for schools and companies. You’ll need to make sure that your content – new and old – meets compliance requirements.

Step one is to thoroughly assess your content situation. Place your pages into categories so that you’re working with manageable groups. If you’re a college website for example, a few appropriate categories may be admissions, programs, news, and alumni. Some of these categories will require that you update or rewrite the information. Typically, this is the case with your program pages. With your news pages, you may wish to carry the more recent ones over while eliminating some that are so old they’re no longer relevant.

You’ll also want to review your admissions content as that information may need to be newly created or updated. The same may be said for student life pages. By now, you get the picture. Before you begin the redesign process, make sure you have a realistic accounting of the total pages you’ll want to carry over, which ones require updating and which are to be newly created.

2. Maintain Consistency Throughout the Redesign Process

This problem is particularly acute in cases where there are many stakeholders, such as a college or university. The marketing or admissions office may be driving the bus, but there are deans, professors, administrators, athletic directors, and students who all want to tell the driver where to go.

If you’re spearheading the website redesign project for your school, don’t get hung up on pleasing every stakeholder equally. What may be ideal for one school or department may not work as well for another. Try to maintain a singular vision throughout the entire website redesign.

The stakes are high so try to keep all interested parties on point. Managing the expectations of deans, administrators, and other interested parties can be paramount to the project’s success. Your redesign firm’s project manager will do their best to give the website redesign the momentum it needs.  But it works best when all parties involved adhere to a singular vision. Otherwise, you run the risk of a delayed launch and cost overruns. Or worse. If everyone gets what they want, you may have so much clutter you may wish for the old website back. Imagine having to redesign your redesign just a few months later!

3. Adhere to a Hierarchical Strategy

Earlier, we spoke about decreasing attention spans and scan-ability.   Your hierarchical strategy needs to consistently follow this same principle. Information must be organized so that the content that’s important to your audience is simple to find. This should be reflected in the organization of your content as well as its visual design. In order to develop a sound hierarchical strategy, do your homework in advance.  At Beacon, we perform a user engagement analysis early on to identify the ways in which your audience uses your website. We strongly suggest you do the same. After all, good data makes for sound decisions.

Once you’ve reviewed the data, you’re ready to develop a hierarchal strategy based on user behavior, increasing your chance of success exponentially.

Breathe easy with Beacon.

If you’re looking for a new website, talk to me. I’m here to answer any questions you may have regarding the process and how Beacon can make it easier for you. We know a thing or two. We’ve been redesigning Higher Ed websites for over 20 years. Contact me any time or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

 

29 11, 2017

Sean Connery’s 5 Design Elements That Make Sites Look Outdated

By | 2017-11-08T13:28:06+00:00 November 29th, 2017|Categories: Creative Design|Tags: |

How do you know when your website looks outdated and needs a refresh? When your engagement metrics slide, that’s a pretty good indicator. Sometimes, it’s even more obvious than that.

Such is the case with the website of a well-known celebrity. It’s the perfect example of a digital public face in dire need of cosmetic surgery.  Or a car wreck you can’t turn away from. This, in a nutshell, is SeanConnery.com.

As a public service, I offer my observations to you and the beloved actor. In the interest of pure fun, each anecdote references a famous James Bond quote. Guess the movie and win a prize. (Mr. Connery, you don’t qualify).

Without further ado, I bring you the 5 design elements that make any site look outdated:

#1 Design Layout

“Well, one of us smells like a tart’s handkerchief.”Sean, I hate to be the one to break it to you but it’s you. The layout you’ve chosen is right out of the 1970’s. The design is anchored in the upper left corner. Its three column layout with two side gutters is positively nostalgic. That’s not a good thing, Sean. The type becomes very small and hard to read. The URL is in the header. I haven’t seen anything like it since the McCarthy hearings.

#2 It’s Not Responsive

“Good morning, gentlemen. ACME pollution inspection, we’re cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point.” – All the top Hollywood gossip sites are mobile friendly, which should tell you all you need to know about this audience’s behavior, Sean.  If I were assigned with ridding the internet of digital pollution, I’d start here.

#3 No Video

“Ejector seat? You’re joking!” – You’ve appeared in over 60 films, won an Academy Award and 3 Golden Globes. And yet Mr. Connery, you have no video on your site. You must be joking. Video drives engagement. You need the attention. You’re not exactly getting a lot of parts these days. Where’s the paparazzi when you need ‘em? Probably on YouTube.

#4 No Social Media

“Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead. – Celebrities thrive on attention. In this day and age, there are no better or more necessary channels than social media outlets such as Facebook, Twiiter, Snapchat and Pinterest. Hell, Pierce Bronsnan has a social media presence and he can’t act his way out of a paper bag.

#5 The Website Requires Flash

“Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.” – Yes, it’s a website with Flash. That’s the software Adobe will discontinue in 2020. ‘Nuff said.

 Just Say Dr. No.

If SeanConnery.com reminds you, dear reader, of your website, just say “no”. It’s time for a redesign. NOW. If you have any questions on anything above, wish to add a comment or contribute another example of web atrocities, please leave a comment or email me here.

Answer key to quotes above:

#1 Diamonds Are Forever

#2 Diamonds Are Forever

#3 Goldfinger

#4 Thunderball

#5 From Russia With Love

9 11, 2017

Surveys: Get the Right Input for your Redesign

By | 2017-11-08T13:42:37+00:00 November 9th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , |

The success of your redesign depends upon how thoroughly you understand your audience.  Your results are only as good as your preliminary research. Before you begin, ask the experts – the end users. Getting the right input may be the most important part of the redesign process.

Know Your User(s)

Many organizations have several audiences. For example, colleges must appeal to students, faculty, current students and alumni. Each have different needs and wants.  To properly address each user subset, you’ll likely need to create a different survey for each focus group.

Question Structure

There are two types of questions, fixed response and open ended. Each serves a purpose, however, you’ll want to lean heavier on structured questions. Respondents can be hopelessly vague when answering open ended questions.

Structured questions may include Yes/No, nominal or ordinal questions, just to name a few types. Choosing the right type of question will help determine how insightful the answers are. For example, instead of asking “Were you happy with the website navigation?” (yes/no question), you may wish to ask “How happy were you with the website navigation?”. Follow that with multiple choice options (very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied, or very unsatisfied). This can help you prioritize initiatives while in the planning phase of your redesign effort.

Regardless of type, make sure you’re specific. For example, instead of asking a question like “Do you take online classes often?” try something like “How many online classes did you take last semester?”

Construct questions that are simple and direct. If the question is a bit nebulous, then break it down into multiple questions rather than being vague.

What Questions Should You Ask?

The first step to understanding your user is to focus on their experience with your existing site. Find out what they like and dislike. That way, you’ll know what traits to carry over to the new design and what you’ll want to scrap. Asking a multiple choice question such as “What is the first method you use to find information on the website?” This way, you’ll know whether users prefer to use site search as opposed to the site’s navigation. This can go a long way toward determining what you emphasize with your redesign.

When you phrase your questions, focus on the user’s first impressions. Remember the 59 Second Rule*. Make sure you cover the most significant aspects of engagement such as design, content, imagery, navigation, and social media. Since demographic groups consume information in dramatically different ways, you’ll want to address device usage, too.

Using the prestigious (and imaginary) Beacon University as our subject, here are just a few examples of the types of questions you’ll want to ask:

  • Assuming the Beacon University website were accessible on all devices, what device would you most likely visit the site with? (multiple choice)
  • Rate your experience using certain areas of the website. (multiple choice)
  • What are the three top reasons you visited the Beacon University website? (open-ended)
  • Compared to other college or university websites, how would you rate the Beacon University site? (multiple choice)

Again, your questions will differ depending on the demographic you’re addressing. However, the questions above should provide some insight into the type of question one must ask and how to ask it.

Analyzing Survey Results

Look for patterns within your results. While common responses are important to note, the same can be said for outliers. Sometimes, surprises bring the greatest insights.

Here at Beacon, we typically provide a strategic document prepared from the survey results. Provided to designated stakeholders, a Beacon strategist meets with marketing staff or the organization’s website committee to discuss the results in depth and its implications on the planned website redesign.

Questions or Comments

As one of the nation’s premier Higher Ed. And retail redesign firms, Beacon has been providing colleges and online retailers with redesign consultation and services for almost 20 years. We invite questions or comments regarding all aspects of website redesign, not just the survey process.  Feel free to contact me or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447 with questions or leave a comment below.

18 10, 2017

Love Quiz: Fall In Love with Your Website Again

By | 2017-11-17T09:31:34+00:00 October 18th, 2017|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

You have genuine feelings for your website, but you’re not entirely sure you’d call it love. Or, maybe your digital relationship has been less than fulfilling and you’re starting to wonder… is this a relationship worth saving?

Take this quiz to find out if it’s time to get more serious about a website redesign.

Question #1: How do you feel about your website’s friends?

If you’ve been “dating” your website for a long time, you’ve more than likely met the friends. If not, it’s time you do. Meet Google Analytics and Google Site Search. Believe it or not, they’re your best friends, too. Get to know them well as they can be the key to opening your significant other’s digital heart.

The “E” Word

That’s right. Engagement. Google Analytics can provide insights into the type of content that drives visitors and captivates users. Find out which pages are under-performing and adjust your new content strategy accordingly.

More importantly, ask yourself which pages are performing best. Exploit these subject areas in your new, updated content strategy. Some topics may need to be called out more. Knowing your website’s likes and dislikes can only make for a more healthy relationship.

Google Site Search

Google Site Search can tell you what users are searching for when they first meet your website. Are users satisfied with what they find? The results may be surprising. You may find new areas of opportunity that you’d never thought of. Are they searching for a product or online course that you don’t yet offer? Maybe it’s time to expand your catalog.

Get Your Friends’ Input, too.

A focus group is an ideal way to find out what your users need and want from this relationship. Identify your audience correctly and your focus group will be effective.

For example, in the case of a college or university, your focus group may be made up of a combination of students, prospective students and alumni. Keep the size at a manageable number (about 10-15). With the right moderator, you’ll find out what you need to know about your user’s habits and objectives so that you can design optimally for a more fulfilling relationship next go-round.

Question #2: Is your online presence responsive to your needs?

Responsive is the key word here. 86% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 have a smart phone. If this is your audience (that’s you, Higher Ed), this one’s a no-brainer. By contrast, 87% of those living in households making in excess of $75,000 a year have a smart phone (that’s your audience, online retailers). If your current website isn’t responsive, this is step one to a more healthy relationship.

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep (although that counts, too)

Often, websites fall behind as organizational branding requirements evolve. This is a chance to update a color theme, new logo, etc. And while looks are important, inner beauty is even more so. Make sure the voice of your website is consistent with your other collateral.

Incorporate images and video where appropriate. In short, it’s a great time to make sure that you and your website are speaking the same language – the language of (digital) love.

Question #3: Does your website’s content still give you butterflies?

We’ve all seen the data on declining attention spans. That’s very likely true for your audience, too. Creating a logical navigation and page structure ensures that your site is easily scanned – an essential element to today’s website design.

Start with an overview and make sure you’ve written relevant headings and used SEO friendly tags accordingly (H2s, H3s. etc.). Use bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate. Link to other relevant internal pages and make sure that link text is meaningful.

Breaking up (blocks of text) is hard to do. Not really. Nevertheless, it always seems to be overlooked. This one’s an easy fix. Don’t forget it.

Call Me

If you’re looking for a new website, that is. We at Beacon don’t claim to be “doctors of love” but we’ve been helping guide clients through their digital relationships for almost 20 years. Feel free to contact me with questions or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

 

4 10, 2017

Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Part 2

By | 2017-10-11T07:45:01+00:00 October 4th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , |

Below is part two of “How to Create an Effective Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign”. To read part one, visit here.

How to Choose a Focus Group Moderator

A moderator is much more than a note taker. You’ll need one of those, too. However, your moderator will be responsible for eliciting the most from your focus group. The moderator has a profound effect on the success (or failure) of your focus group as they are expected to set a relaxed tone, keep the discussion focused, observe body language and other cues, and create an environment that elicits the most valuable input from your participants.

Moderators must be good listeners. They must be able to manage a group dynamic and facilitate the kind of environment that makes participants want to share. Moderators have different styles. However, a good moderator will adapt to the personality of the focus group. For example, a moderator may joke with student participants while taking a more serious tact with faculty or administrators.

An experienced moderator will effectively manage the group and keep everyone focused. A good listener can ask the right follow up questions and get your participants to share things they might not otherwise.

Analyzing the Results

Before any analysis begins, take a few moments immediately after the focus group leaves to recall the day’s events and fill in any gaps that may exist in your notes. If you’ve taped the session, transcribe it immediately and note any observations regarding body language or behavioral anomalies within the context of the conversation.

After you’ve got each answer grouped with the question it addresses, take a look at your data and ask yourself the following:

  • For each question, are there any responses that stand out?
  • Does the data answer your research objectives?
  • Are there any recurring themes?
  • Are these themes unexpected?
  • What insights have been gained?

Writing a Focus Group Report

A report on your findings should begin with a summary of your objectives. What specifically did you hope to learn from the focus group?

Be sure to include your methodology. How many different focus groups were there, how large were these groups and what questions did the moderator ask the focus group in the search for answers?

What stood out from the answers provided by the focus groups? Provide a bulleted list of key takeaways that can be scanned at a glance. These will serve as talking points when stakeholders gather to discuss redesign priorities and strategy.

Summarize Your Findings and Make Recommendations

Highlight repetitive themes, particularly if they directly address previously stated concerns and objectives. What do these findings mean for the proposed redesign? Based on your redesign objectives and focus group feedback, make recommendations to the stakeholders involved.

As one of the nation’s premier website builders for Higher Ed., Beacon has been providing colleges and universities with redesign consultation and services for almost 20 years. We invite questions or comments regarding your redesign goals. Feel free to contact me or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

This concludes part two of two. Read part one of “Creating a Focus Group for your Higher Ed Redesign” here.

19 09, 2017

Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Pt1

By | 2017-09-21T12:51:06+00:00 September 19th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , |

(This is part one of a two part article)

At the time it was created, your website may have met every online objective defined by university administrators. However, things change with time. Shifting technologies, user habits and objectives change the ways in which we appeal to our target audience. A website redesign is needed every now and then. With so many audiences to address including students, prospective students, alumni, and more, this can seem a daunting task. What works well with your existing design? What needs to be changed? You may have your own ideas however, you can’t know what every user may be thinking.

Assembling a Focus Group

There are numerous ways to collect user data to assist you in your redesign. You can send a user survey or questionnaire, for example. While this method can provide some useful information, your feedback is one dimensional as there is no way to ask for explanation. Additionally, one cannot read the subject’s body language or witness the group dynamic. There is no opportunity for give and take.

I strongly suggest conducting focus groups in person, if possible. In person groups allow for follow up questions and clarification. One can more easily identify agreement across the group, provoke thought and prompt participants to offer suggestions.

Identify Your Primary Audience

Before you go any further, it is imperative that you identify your target audience(s). There may be many different potential user groups you’d like to address with your redesign. However, when you try to please everyone, you often please no one. So identify the 3 or 4 major players. This ensures that your website will have the required focus to be effective. It also works to keep your focus group at a manageable number.

How big should your focus group be?

I’ve found that the best way to facilitate the desired give and take is to keep the size of each group at around 10-15 individuals. Once you get beyond 15, it’s a case of diminishing returns. It becomes difficult for a moderator to steer the conversation and ask follow up questions if there are too many voices in the room.

Inviting Focus Group Participants

Be aware of the fact that each of your focus groups behave differently. That’s why they’re here. This extends to their willingness to participate. Extend invitations to more students than any other group. Their participation levels tend to be lower than others so provide an incentive to attend. For students, free food often does the trick.

How to Develop Questions for a Focus Group

While there are a certain number of questions you absolutely need the answer to, allow for ample time to address questions that your focus group participants have. These can be as illuminating as any questions you may have. Plan on 10 or fewer questions per 60 minute session. Answers to these will very likely lead to new questions you may have not anticipated. While the questions will differ for each of your four focus groups, there are some basic guidelines designed to facilitate meaningful responses and avoid “yes” and “no” answers.

Remember to:

  • Arrange your questions in a logical order.
  • Start with higher level questions and get more granular as you go.
  • Ask open ended questions. These include questions that address design, content and intended usage and require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Encourage questions by participants.

This concludes part one of a two part article entitled “Creating a Focus Group for your Higher Ed Redesign”. As one of the nation’s premier website builders for Higher Ed, Beacon has been providing colleges and universities with redesign consultation and services for almost 20 years. We invite questions or comments regarding your redesign goals. Feel free to contact me or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

3 08, 2017

Redesign Tips: Make Sure Google Analytics is in Tip-Top Shape!

By | 2017-08-04T10:36:57+00:00 August 3rd, 2017|Categories: Google Analytics|Tags: , , |

With your upcoming redesign, you’ll be addressing new priorities and objectives. This will require you to rethink the ways in which you’re tracking various goals and events. You may even need to update to the latest GA tracking code type if you’re not already using it.

Google Analytics needs to be addressed from the earliest planning phase. If not, things could get ugly but quick. If you don’t have a sound Google Analytics plan in place before you re-launch, you may experience a tracking lapse and lose valuable data.

Even with the best planning, it can be easy to forget small but important details. And since I’d hate to see things go south on you, I’d like to share some tips to help ensure that your redesign goes off without data related hitch. So, here goes….

Tip #1: Assess your objectives and tracking needs.

There is no more important step than knowing what you need to track (and why). Without a tracking strategy, you can check off the rest of the items on your list and still end up with sub-par analytics. Relate website analytics to the business objectives, and allow that to drive the tracking strategy.

For many Higher Ed clients with whom we work, this means gaining a clear understanding of objectives per audience type. While prospective students are typically the most critical audience, you cannot forget to account for current students, alumni, etc.

In the world of eCommerce, the tracking strategy involves taking a look at what happens that might or might not lead to a purchase. Are the calls-to-action effective? Is the product page template driving people to add to cart and buy? The tracking must help answer such questions.

Tip #2: Create a reference of all potential tracking elements.

This is not just a simple list of what you wish to track. Rather, it is a helpful planning tool (which can also be utilized any time that tracking updates are needed). This document should help answer question such as:

  • What should be tracked as an event? Virtual pageview? Goal?
  • For which interactions will you need a custom dimension?
  • What page elements are tied to each tracking element?

If there are multiple people involved in the project including web developers, this reference document helps get everyone on the same page.

Tip #3: Use Google Tag Manager for all tracking elements.

Anyone involved in a redesign knows that web developers never have enough available time. Google Tag Manager can greatly reduce the need for web development resources and make the digital analyst’s time more efficient. In a 2016 Beacon survey, we found that two-thirds of higher education institutions were using Google Tag Manager. Based on our projects over the past 12 months, that percentage is growing rapidly.

The best aspect of implementing Google Analytics for redesign through Google Tag Manager is the independence gained by not having to submit updates to the web development team. Sync up with the redesign launch’s timing so that you can make necessary changes for the live site.

Tip #4: Utilize goals, site search, etc.

Believe it or not, we have come across quite a few websites that under-utilize these features (or are not using them at all!). Imagine not having any site search data. How would you know which content is difficult for your users to find? And what if you had no goals and were guessing at your website’s effectiveness?

These all need to be configured when building out the tracking for the redesign test environment. That allows for time to test and validate these tracking features before the redesigned site goes live. Speaking of testing and validating…

Tip #5: Test and validate all of your tracking!

The live site is not meant for testing. You are dealing with a new site that has new tracking elements. While the designers and developers are putting the finishing touches on the redesigned site, utilize the reference document to test and validate all tracking that you have implemented in Google Tag Manager. This gives ample time for you to make any necessary updates and retest.

Once the website is launched, you will need to repeat the same exercises from the pre-launch testing and validation. During both pre and post-launch, the Real-Time reporting in Google Analytics can help with pageview, event, and goal tracking. Also, be sure to check for session continuity during your testing. For the rest of your tracking instances (and to double-check behind Real-Time reporting) utilize the many standard reports provided in your Google Analytics view.

A Final Tip

Start with a Google Analytics audit. I encourage you to reach out to a Beacon team member at 1.888.995.7672 with any inquiries. Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding your website redesign and proper Google Analytics set up. And once your new site is live and information is flowing with no interruption, there is one thing you simply must do. Walk across the street to your nearest watering hole and have a congratulatory drink for a job well done.

6 02, 2015

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Higher Ed Website Redesign

By | 2017-08-08T08:27:13+00:00 February 6th, 2015|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , , |

After recent experience with several higher education website redesigns, I’ve come up with a list of the top ten ways that you, as a higher education client, can prepare for an upcoming website redesign project.  Though these items aren’t technically required right at the beginning of a redesign project, they are all eventually needed and the sooner they are brought to the table, hopefully the more satisfactory the project results.

  1. High resolution .eps or .ai files of  all variants of the official logo (including reversed text, for example)
  2. An official “style guide” (preferred) or, minimally, a list of brand/official fonts and colors (with hex codes please)
  3. Considerations of all target audiences to be addressed by the website (prospective students, alumni, faculty/staff, community, media, etc.)
  4. A variety of high resolution images of the campus, students, faculty/staff and activities, in both portrait and landscape formats
  5. User id and password (read only access is usually fine) for any secure areas of the site that will be redesigned
  6. Documentation of any dynamic/database driven pages currently in use (a data-driven, searchable academic catalog, for example) as well any forms and 3rd party sites linked to the live site (a third party site for prospective students to apply, for example)
  7. Any  print or electronic marketing materials/brochures that have a graphical presence that should be considered for the website redesign
  8. Requirements for search engine optimization and analytics tracking
  9. List of websites with a similar look and feel to what you are trying to achieve with the redesign (do not have to be .edu sites)
  10. Bonus points:  review my previous blog “Terms you need to know for your website redesign

With these items in mind, I hope that your upcoming website redesign is very successful… Best of luck!