How Illinois State used GatherContent to deliver high-quality content consistently, across multiple university website redesigns.

3 minute read

Illinois State University was founded in 1857 and is one of the top 100 best public national universities in the US. It is also the oldest public university in Illinois. They have almost 21,000 students and 3700 staff.We recently spoke to Zach Parcell, Content Strategy and User Experience Manager, and Becky Gropp, Content Strategist, about how they use GatherContent for ongoing redesigns of departmental websites.Zach highlighted these areas of success with GatherContent:

  • Templates in GatherContent map to the CMS for consistent structure and format of content
  • Broke down barriers between content, design, and development in the Web Office
  • Resulted in quicker turnaround for projects

Connecting the silos

Before using GatherContent, silos were prevalent within the Web and Interactive Communications Team. This resulted in a culture where collaboration between design and content teams didn't happen. Design focused on design, content focused on content and so there was a lot of push and pull during a website project.

That meant Zach and the Web and Interactive Communications team would be told things such as 'I can't design/build what you want until I get the content.' So Zach set out to find a way to ensure content was planned, produced and delivered to other teams when they needed it, to facilitate better collaboration and content operations around a shared goal for each website project.

The subject matter experts from around campus involved in the projects know their subjects inside and out, but aren't as familiar with writing for the web and user experience. Changing the tools and processes as part of their content operations allowed them to help the subject matter experts deliver the content that was needed. A bespoke workflow was created in GatherContent to facilitate successful collaboration with departments.

The bespoke workflow in GatherContent for one of the website redesign projects.

It allowed designers to see the content be developed and offer a way to lend feedback or propose layouts before all the text is final. It also identified areas that might need more development resources than expected and plans could be made earlier rather than later.

A platform to put content first

Zach wanted to find a tool to help them put content first. Google Docs and Office 365 were considered, but ultimately rejected because they weren't designed for website content.

There was a business-wide goal to give content the attention it deserves as the University considered the words to be the most important thing. Zach noted, you can make bad content look good, but it is still bad content. They wanted to ensure all of the content they published was high quality and met the needs of their audience and the institution.GatherContent allowed them to manage their content production in one place. It also ensured that the three key elements of a content operation, people, process and infrastructure, were all unified.

Everything was managed and produced in one place, connecting silos with a Content Operations Platform.
I wasn’t looking forward to the content gathering process. Not only do I detest versions of Word documents being sent around, I am a visual person and I need to see where the content is going before I can approve it. GatherContent provided me with a visual representation on the status of each individual page in development. Edits are done in place, access control and versioning are built-in, eliminating the need for Word documents entirely. It helped me identify where resources were needed in order to keep the project moving forward, something that I would not have been able to do otherwise.

Charles Edamala, Chief Technology Officer

Keeping people focused on the right things

Using GatherContent ensured all those involved in the production, reviewing and approval of content were focused on the words. The people within the departments that would need to use GatherContent varied widely across departments, and included department Chairs, faculty members, admin staff, marketing people and many others. Often they have little technical expertise and website development knowledge, and varying experience of writing for the web too.

Each department within the University is referred to as a client and Zach and his team work with them closely on the redesigns of their websites.By keeping the client focused on the content, it resulted in fewer revisions and faster approvals. A lot of the reviewers and approvers were academics who had busy teaching schedules and student issues to deal with. GatherContent meant they could easily see the content they needed to review and approve, with a clear workflow to facilitate this process.That then meant the Web and Interactive Communications team could provide the design and developers with all of the approved content for the entire website they were working on. Truly content first.

GatherContent has been a huge success for website creation and continual maintenance at Illinois State University. It has given us the chance to strictly focus on the content on the page which has led to a stronger end product produced in a faster timeframe than in the past.

Zach Parcell, Content Strategy and User Experience Manager

Structuring and scaling content

To ensure continuity and consistency across departmental websites, there is an approved structure and template within GatherContent to unify all of the individual sites the University has.The template also matches the page structure in the CMS. This ensures content is provided in the correct format, consistently.

Structured page templates made it easier for subject matter experts to produce the content needed, and on time.

Pages are quickly built using the drag and drop function in GatherContent and they are reordered easily in the same way too. Zach and his team also make full use of the tabs within an item as this allows them to include metadata and SEO content all in one place.Previous to using GatherContent the process would be to sit down with the stakeholders and subject matter experts within each department and start to create pages one-by-one directly in the CMS. There was also a process of Word Docs being sent back and forth with content.Together, this made for an inefficient content operation and Zach himself has noted that content is better since using GatherContent because people started to care about it. It was no longer a case of anyone being able to publish anything. Rather, there was more emphasis now on ensuring content was purposeful and useful.

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About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.

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