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Connecting silos with GatherContent during a university website redesign

Robert Mills • 4 minutes

Founded in 1865, Cornell University is a private Ivy League research university located in Ithaca, New York.

They have almost 22,000 students, 1648 professors staff, 45 Nobel laureates and is ranked number 14 among the world’s universities.

We recently spoke to Thomas Deneuville, the Director of Web Services and User Experience for the Division of Alumni Affairs and Development (AAD) at Cornell University. Thomas shared their success story of using GatherContent for a recent redesign of alumni.cornell.edu and giving.cornell.edu

Thomas highlighted these areas of success with GatherContent:

  • Successful cross-department collaboration around a bespoke workflow
  • All content production and approval achieved in 3 to 4 weeks
  • 30 to 40 people using GatherContent during the project lifecycle
  • Integration with, and easy migration, to WordPress

Identifying the need for a redesign and a content production platform

By their own admission, the two sites that were flagged for a redesign were legacy sites that weren’t responsive or accessible and the technology behind them was no longer sufficiently supported too. They needed updating, and this was the perfect opportunity to invest in content, refine the information architecture and bring together different teams at the university around a shared goal.

In August 2016, Thomas and his team enlisted the help of Mule Design and it was 12 months later that both sites were finished.

The final redesigned Alumni site The final redesigned Alumni site.

Mule Design completed an assessment of the current situation and other issues identified included:

  • No governance process or plan in place
  • Lots of contributors with varying skills and competence for writing
  • Varying degrees of understanding of the legacy ColdFusion sites
  • Lots of redundant and out of date content
  • Many broken links throughout the content

A recommendation as an outcome of this assessment was to use GatherContent as the central place and one true source for all content production across the two sites being improved.

Designing a system with content at its heart

Thomas and the team took the mindset that they weren’t building a new website or two, but rather they were creating a system that drives a good user experience, whilst reaching business goals through content.

“We saved a lot of time with GatherContent because there was a central place where the content lived, in the context and framework of an editorial workflow. Without this we would have otherwise relied on Google Sheets, emails and notifications. Keeping track of the status of the content would have been chaotic.”

Thomas Deneuville Director of Web Services and User Experience

The content was rebuilt from the ground up! They rewrote everything. That would have been impossible if they took the existing content and structure and used that, like-for-like.

Rather the team identified the need for a leaner information architecture and as a result they went from 2000 – 3000 pages of content per website, to less than 200.

Mule Design held a writing for the web workshop at Cornell where they also recommended the GatherContent platform. Thomas then investigated further and agreed it was clear that GatherContent would be a good fit for their requirements and timescales, and the WordPress integration was a welcome option too. Thomas understood the benefits of having the utmost flexibility around the editorial workflow and commenting abilities.

Creating a bespoke workflow to connect silos

Thomas designed the workflow in a Google Doc and when approved he copied this into GatherContent, keeping it simple at 5 stages:

  • Draft
  • Approval
  • Review
  • Publish
  • Push to CMS

The first two stages were the responsibility of the program staff and subject matter experts. Review was assigned to the Brand and Communications team, then publishing and pushing to the CMS fell to the Digital team and their technical partner, Reaktiv Studios.

The design of the bespoke workflow which was then mirrored in GatherContent The design of the bespoke workflow which was then mirrored in GatherContent.

This simple workflow (in terms of number of stages), was key to moving content from draft to approved to published with clear roles and responsibilities across the three teams involved.

The workflow facilitated and kept the following process on track:

  • Members of the Digital and Brand and Communications teams were assigned to a program as coaches
  • Coaches helped contributors write concise, engaging copy that had the aim of leading the reader to the next step. This happened either in person or through the commenting feature in GatherContent
  • Editors were then assigned separately from within the Brand and Communications team

All content and associated conversations were happening in one place, GatherContent. This allowed all of the project team to easily be aware of what stage content was at in the workflow and who was needed to complete the next step to move it forward.

“Having people work and talk in one place was huge. As was the ability to map items in GatherContent with pages in WordPress. We saved so much time for both of these reasons..”

Thomas Deneuville Director of Web Services and User Experience

A single goal was defined for every page of these websites, then assigned the relevant contributors and supervisors who were later assigned to the related items in GatherContent.

Getting the team onboard for content delivery

Introducing a new tool can be met with resistance. ‘Something else to log into and learn.’ Whilst using GatherContent ultimately saved the team at Cornell’s AAD time and hassle, getting them onboard from the get-go was key.

Thomas introduced all of the team to GatherContent with a presentation as part of their web communication training. GatherContent wasn’t an optional place to work and produce all the content, it was the place to do so.

The training covered:

  • How they would gain access to GatherContent
  • The colour coded bespoke workflow
  • Content items and due dates

Thomas setup all of the required content items in GatherContent before inviting his team to the project. This helped them focus on their task at hand (writing, reviewing, approving content) and allowed them to get started quickly.

Page goals were communicated, coaches assigned and due dates agreed. The team were instructed to use the comments with notifications in GatherContent in order to communicate effectively around the content.

Automated migration to connect GatherContent and the CMS

Producing content in one place was one of two main goals for using GatherContent on the redesigns. The second was an automated migration using the GatherContent to WordPress integration.

Content was structured in GatherContent so it could be matched and mapped to the WordPress structure. Automating the migration saved timed and also reduced the risk of human error through excessive copying and pasting of content.

The Digital team and their technical partner, Reaktiv Studios, were responsible for this phase of the project, confident in the knowledge that by the time their stage of the workflow was reached, all content had been reviewed and approved by both the content coaches and the Brand and Communications team.

The right tools for the right task

It’s important to create the right content for the right user and deliver it to them at the right time, but you also need the right tools to do this.

Word Docs, Google Sheets and emails are not the right tools. By using GatherContent for their dual redesign, Thomas the team at Cornell’s AAD were able to centralise all content production, review and approval. Content was structured to map easily to their CMS to save time, and the bespoke workflow kept everyone in the know about progress whilst also keeping the overall project on track.

Staff are happy with the new site. Users appreciate it is easy to use and clear to navigate. Leadership are thrilled the project happened on time and within budget.

Connecting silos with GatherContent during a university website redesign

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About the Author

Robert Mills

Content Strategist, GatherContent

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