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Content development: key things to consider when redesigning a higher ed website

Content development: key things to consider when redesigning a higher ed website

9 minute read

Content development: key things to consider when redesigning a higher ed website

9 minute read

Content development: key things to consider when redesigning a higher ed website

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

Redesigning your website in higher education is a smart move in the age of COVID-19 and digital transformation. When it comes to marketing to prospective students, your website is one of your most important tools. In fact:

  • 92% of student respondents say university websites are more important than social media posts (mStoner)
  • 50% of enrolled students used university websites as their only research channel (UniQuest)

Universities might want to improve their website to:

  • Leverage it as an enrolment marketing tool —increase traffic, improve SEO and linking strategies
  • Reduce bounce rate, get more leads and conversions
  • Make it more responsive and mobile-friendly
  • Provide a better user experience so that visitors can find information quicker and easier
  • Rebrand
  • Be consistent with brand visually, and through tone of voice and messaging
  • Improve content production to create and maintain content with less effort
  • Meet accessibility and usability standards in line with compliance regulations

Putting content first

When it comes to web projects and redesigns, addressing underlying content issues is important for getting the best ROI. Content should be a top priority and thought about early in the process as it can make or break your final website.

GatherContent are big proponents of going content first, putting content at the heart of the design process, and having a strong content strategy for website projects in place.

With potentially huge web estates and thousands of pages, (and lots of stakeholders) higher ed website redesigns are no mean feat.

If you’re putting in a lot of effort, you want to ensure content is high quality, compliant, and won’t take you over budget or deadlines — delayed content and website launches are very common problems in higher ed.

To help, here are some key things to think about when rewriting and developing content for a successful website, and making sure you have the right tools and frameworks in place:

1. Audit and inventory

Content audits are dreaded by many, but they are so important for getting the most out of your website redesigns. Lauren Pope has written an excellent article on planning a content audit that works for you. To decide what content has value and what to archive, or rewrite, look at analytics data and ask questions around:

  • Is the information up to date?
  • Is it useful for audiences?
  • Are there any duplicates or crossovers?
  • Does the content meet web standards?
  • Are the core ideas reusable/reworkable?
  • Does it have high/low traffic?
  • Conversion rates and social shares?

Having an inventory will stand you in good stead for maintaining your content in the future. Use this content audit spreadsheet template to get you started with auditing criteria and what to include in your inventory.

2. Purpose and goals of new and rewritten content

All content on your website needs to be tied back to user needs and organisational goals. Think about things like:

  • Personas. Personas are fictionalised representations of your ideal customers, and it’s important to use these as a basis to create content. They are good for understanding your audience to make informed content decisions.

  • SEO keyword research. While search engines are getting smarter, and SEO is more about user intent than keywords today, content needs to be based around strong key ideas and themes that address user needs and questions.

  • User journey mapping. Personas and SEO only go so far though. To really help your audience achieve their goals, you need to understand the specific points in their journey, what they are thinking, feeling and doing, and how your content relates to these.

  • Microcopy. Microcopy is an important type of content that is often overlooked. It’s the type of copy that helps users on their journey or drives them to act. Examples include calls-to-action (CTAs), forms, popups and error messages.

  • Branding and messaging. Brand messages should be consistent across all words pages on your website (including microcopy, functional and informational content, not just your ‘About Us’ page).

3. Content governance

Before and after creating content, you need good content governance, which is “doing the right thing.” It’s about creating a set of content procedures and systems that define how content is planned created published, including:

  • Content ownership. Content should have a clear documented owner who can take responsibility.

  • Documented content processes and policies. These should be in a place where everyone can see and refer back to these.

  • Style guide. A content style guide and tone of voice guidelines that are accessible and usable for content creators is crucial, especially if you have lots of contributors and stakeholders

  • Web standards. Adhering to content web content standards whether that’s accessibility with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), legal and compliance, or internal brand standards.

  • Updating and maintaining content. Content isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ task. It’s a living entity that needs to be monitored and maintained over time. Plan review cycles with dedicated roles.

4. Content model

A key part of information architecture, content models state what you need to know about different pages. In it, you need to outline the content types, their relationship to each other, and the metadata on each content type.

Use this content model template to determine content types such as course pages, subject areas, and academic bios. It also helps you determine content attributes too. For example, your course page content type might comprise attributes like course name, description, modules, fees, etc.

5. Content creation, management and collaboration

It’s important to define a clear process to plan, produce and manage content in a collaborative way during your website redesign. You don’t want to be slowed down by wrangling approvals or communication breakdown.

You need to think about people, processes and tools holistically (your Content Operations), in order to effectively manage stakeholders and empower people. Make sure you have:

  • Centralised content management. Content that is held in multiple tools can be confusing. Use a tool that allows you to view and edit content all in one place.

  • A clear workflow. Workflow is important to define in a way that everyone can see, and understand the stages in the content delivery process.

  • Assign tasks to people. Assign roles, responsibilities and tasks to people within the project collaboration environment.

  • Task and progress tracking.  Keep content on track with a way to see the clear status of each piece of content and visible deadlines.

  • A way to communicate easily around projects. Make sure you can use in-line comments and tagging to notify people of changes.

  • Version control. This can get messy quickly if you’re using Google Docs, Microsoft Word and email.

  • Structured templates. Use a platform that allows you to create CMS ready,  structured content templates. Structured content is important for breaking content parts into ‘chunks’ for omnichannel publishing, and things like word counts and image size clearly stated for content creators.

GatherContent does all of this and more and is perfect for large website redesigns in higher education. It integrates with your CMS to automate content migration — no more copy and pasting!

Check out these two case studies to see how Cornell University used GatherContent to connect silos, and how Illinois State University used it for consistent content across multiple website redesigns.

6.  Usability

Usability is a key part of good user experience on your website, and website visitors expect usable, useful content, that helps them get from A to B. Encouraging self-service through web content is important in usability, to reduce frustration for visitors and repetitive queries for teams.

This case study from The University of Edinburgh explains how they embarked on a two-year project to iteratively improve IT help web content for self-service. When thinking about content usability, consider:

  • SEO. Content needs to be findable to be usable, and you need to make sure you are writing for people, not the search engine. Use this on-page SEO checklist to make sure you have everything covered.

  • Accessibility. This is a big part of usability that is becoming increasingly important — especially since the UK government has new laws on public sector website and app accessibility. Here are the guidelines and deadlines for how it impacts universities.

  • Readability. Readability online is different to reading on paper. We tend to have shorter attention spans and skim and scan. Although new evidence suggests that we may read faster on mobile devices due to being able to scroll with our fingers. Screens have changed how content is designed. Making sure content is broken up with headings, images aren’t too complex, is jargon-free, and in plain language. The Readability Guidelines Project from Content Design London is useful here.

  • Mobile-friendly. Statista reports have found that 41%  of prospective students visited a university website via mobile once a week during their search, and 18% checked in once a day. Think about page speed, text and image size, pop-ups blocking the view on mobile, and responsiveness. You can test your mobile performance with this Google tool.

7. Migration

Migrating content to a new CMS can be a risky process if you don’t do it right. You need to have an action plan to make sure you don’t lose any traffic or SEO credibility when you transfer content. Moz has a great step-by-step guide for this, and GatherContent has a content migration checklist that you can use to check you have everything in place before you move everything over.

8. Measurement

Measuring content performance is important after a redesign. Both to monitor any changes and drops in traffic since migration and also because well, a redesign is pointless without it! Make sure you have well-defined goals for measuring the impact of our work. Remember not to bother with ‘vanity metrics’ and focus on how effective content actually is for your users and strategic goals.

Zach Parcell, Content Strategy and User Experience Manager at Illinois State University recently did a webinar on meeting university goals and audience needs with their website strategy, including adding better contact forms and providing more ways for visitors to ask questions. The outcomes were:

  • 35% increase in page views
  • 43% increase in pages per session
  • 8,000+ new leads
  • 25-30% increase in applications

How GatherContent helps with university website redesigns

GatherContent helps over 170 universities with all aspects of their ContentOps, and this is important to get right when you are building or redesigning a website. GatherContent helps to:

Why not try a demo or free trial to see what it can do for your university?

Redesigning your website in higher education is a smart move in the age of COVID-19 and digital transformation. When it comes to marketing to prospective students, your website is one of your most important tools. In fact:

  • 92% of student respondents say university websites are more important than social media posts (mStoner)
  • 50% of enrolled students used university websites as their only research channel (UniQuest)

Universities might want to improve their website to:

  • Leverage it as an enrolment marketing tool —increase traffic, improve SEO and linking strategies
  • Reduce bounce rate, get more leads and conversions
  • Make it more responsive and mobile-friendly
  • Provide a better user experience so that visitors can find information quicker and easier
  • Rebrand
  • Be consistent with brand visually, and through tone of voice and messaging
  • Improve content production to create and maintain content with less effort
  • Meet accessibility and usability standards in line with compliance regulations

Putting content first

When it comes to web projects and redesigns, addressing underlying content issues is important for getting the best ROI. Content should be a top priority and thought about early in the process as it can make or break your final website.

GatherContent are big proponents of going content first, putting content at the heart of the design process, and having a strong content strategy for website projects in place.

With potentially huge web estates and thousands of pages, (and lots of stakeholders) higher ed website redesigns are no mean feat.

If you’re putting in a lot of effort, you want to ensure content is high quality, compliant, and won’t take you over budget or deadlines — delayed content and website launches are very common problems in higher ed.

To help, here are some key things to think about when rewriting and developing content for a successful website, and making sure you have the right tools and frameworks in place:

1. Audit and inventory

Content audits are dreaded by many, but they are so important for getting the most out of your website redesigns. Lauren Pope has written an excellent article on planning a content audit that works for you. To decide what content has value and what to archive, or rewrite, look at analytics data and ask questions around:

  • Is the information up to date?
  • Is it useful for audiences?
  • Are there any duplicates or crossovers?
  • Does the content meet web standards?
  • Are the core ideas reusable/reworkable?
  • Does it have high/low traffic?
  • Conversion rates and social shares?

Having an inventory will stand you in good stead for maintaining your content in the future. Use this content audit spreadsheet template to get you started with auditing criteria and what to include in your inventory.

2. Purpose and goals of new and rewritten content

All content on your website needs to be tied back to user needs and organisational goals. Think about things like:

  • Personas. Personas are fictionalised representations of your ideal customers, and it’s important to use these as a basis to create content. They are good for understanding your audience to make informed content decisions.

  • SEO keyword research. While search engines are getting smarter, and SEO is more about user intent than keywords today, content needs to be based around strong key ideas and themes that address user needs and questions.

  • User journey mapping. Personas and SEO only go so far though. To really help your audience achieve their goals, you need to understand the specific points in their journey, what they are thinking, feeling and doing, and how your content relates to these.

  • Microcopy. Microcopy is an important type of content that is often overlooked. It’s the type of copy that helps users on their journey or drives them to act. Examples include calls-to-action (CTAs), forms, popups and error messages.

  • Branding and messaging. Brand messages should be consistent across all words pages on your website (including microcopy, functional and informational content, not just your ‘About Us’ page).

3. Content governance

Before and after creating content, you need good content governance, which is “doing the right thing.” It’s about creating a set of content procedures and systems that define how content is planned created published, including:

  • Content ownership. Content should have a clear documented owner who can take responsibility.

  • Documented content processes and policies. These should be in a place where everyone can see and refer back to these.

  • Style guide. A content style guide and tone of voice guidelines that are accessible and usable for content creators is crucial, especially if you have lots of contributors and stakeholders

  • Web standards. Adhering to content web content standards whether that’s accessibility with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), legal and compliance, or internal brand standards.

  • Updating and maintaining content. Content isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ task. It’s a living entity that needs to be monitored and maintained over time. Plan review cycles with dedicated roles.

4. Content model

A key part of information architecture, content models state what you need to know about different pages. In it, you need to outline the content types, their relationship to each other, and the metadata on each content type.

Use this content model template to determine content types such as course pages, subject areas, and academic bios. It also helps you determine content attributes too. For example, your course page content type might comprise attributes like course name, description, modules, fees, etc.

5. Content creation, management and collaboration

It’s important to define a clear process to plan, produce and manage content in a collaborative way during your website redesign. You don’t want to be slowed down by wrangling approvals or communication breakdown.

You need to think about people, processes and tools holistically (your Content Operations), in order to effectively manage stakeholders and empower people. Make sure you have:

  • Centralised content management. Content that is held in multiple tools can be confusing. Use a tool that allows you to view and edit content all in one place.

  • A clear workflow. Workflow is important to define in a way that everyone can see, and understand the stages in the content delivery process.

  • Assign tasks to people. Assign roles, responsibilities and tasks to people within the project collaboration environment.

  • Task and progress tracking.  Keep content on track with a way to see the clear status of each piece of content and visible deadlines.

  • A way to communicate easily around projects. Make sure you can use in-line comments and tagging to notify people of changes.

  • Version control. This can get messy quickly if you’re using Google Docs, Microsoft Word and email.

  • Structured templates. Use a platform that allows you to create CMS ready,  structured content templates. Structured content is important for breaking content parts into ‘chunks’ for omnichannel publishing, and things like word counts and image size clearly stated for content creators.

GatherContent does all of this and more and is perfect for large website redesigns in higher education. It integrates with your CMS to automate content migration — no more copy and pasting!

Check out these two case studies to see how Cornell University used GatherContent to connect silos, and how Illinois State University used it for consistent content across multiple website redesigns.

6.  Usability

Usability is a key part of good user experience on your website, and website visitors expect usable, useful content, that helps them get from A to B. Encouraging self-service through web content is important in usability, to reduce frustration for visitors and repetitive queries for teams.

This case study from The University of Edinburgh explains how they embarked on a two-year project to iteratively improve IT help web content for self-service. When thinking about content usability, consider:

  • SEO. Content needs to be findable to be usable, and you need to make sure you are writing for people, not the search engine. Use this on-page SEO checklist to make sure you have everything covered.

  • Accessibility. This is a big part of usability that is becoming increasingly important — especially since the UK government has new laws on public sector website and app accessibility. Here are the guidelines and deadlines for how it impacts universities.

  • Readability. Readability online is different to reading on paper. We tend to have shorter attention spans and skim and scan. Although new evidence suggests that we may read faster on mobile devices due to being able to scroll with our fingers. Screens have changed how content is designed. Making sure content is broken up with headings, images aren’t too complex, is jargon-free, and in plain language. The Readability Guidelines Project from Content Design London is useful here.

  • Mobile-friendly. Statista reports have found that 41%  of prospective students visited a university website via mobile once a week during their search, and 18% checked in once a day. Think about page speed, text and image size, pop-ups blocking the view on mobile, and responsiveness. You can test your mobile performance with this Google tool.

7. Migration

Migrating content to a new CMS can be a risky process if you don’t do it right. You need to have an action plan to make sure you don’t lose any traffic or SEO credibility when you transfer content. Moz has a great step-by-step guide for this, and GatherContent has a content migration checklist that you can use to check you have everything in place before you move everything over.

8. Measurement

Measuring content performance is important after a redesign. Both to monitor any changes and drops in traffic since migration and also because well, a redesign is pointless without it! Make sure you have well-defined goals for measuring the impact of our work. Remember not to bother with ‘vanity metrics’ and focus on how effective content actually is for your users and strategic goals.

Zach Parcell, Content Strategy and User Experience Manager at Illinois State University recently did a webinar on meeting university goals and audience needs with their website strategy, including adding better contact forms and providing more ways for visitors to ask questions. The outcomes were:

  • 35% increase in page views
  • 43% increase in pages per session
  • 8,000+ new leads
  • 25-30% increase in applications

How GatherContent helps with university website redesigns

GatherContent helps over 170 universities with all aspects of their ContentOps, and this is important to get right when you are building or redesigning a website. GatherContent helps to:

Why not try a demo or free trial to see what it can do for your university?

Webinar Recording

How to not make the same mistakes with your new website that you did with your old one

10 practical steps you can take to get your organisation ready for content-led digital transformation.

October 1, 2020

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

How to not make the same mistakes with your new website that you did with your old one

10 practical steps you can take to get your organisation ready for content-led digital transformation.

October 1, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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