Managing Website Life-cycle in Higher Education: Are You Typical?

Date posted: October 29, 2012

In the process of doing our business we conduct a lot of website audits for colleges and universities. In an audit we look at many things including, a school’s search rankings, web analytics, technical site configuration, social media integration, SEO, SEM, design, usability, etc. In these discussions with a site’s managers, we provide feedback to them on their site versus an ideal standard of “best practices” in higher ed marketing and versus their competition. These conversations lead down many paths, depending on the school’s most immediate marketing priorities but often the question comes up, “Do you think we should redesign our site?”

This is challenging question whose answer is dependent on many specific local factors and where their site is in its “life-cycle”. To get better at answering this question we have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what is most important across the ”life-cycle” of a successful higher education website and how to help our clients create it. A first, and maybe most important observation on this is that there really is no such thing as a “typical” life-cycle.

Over the last few years we have seen the full gamut from those that have done complete redesigns 3 years in a row, to those who are perfectly satisfied (and successful), incrementally tweaking their site for 5 years in a row, before redesigning. Local factors as wide ranging as crashing KPIs, a rebranding exercise, a new college president, a move to a new CMS, etc, can all motivate a redesign and immediately redefine your site’s life-cycle. In fact, it seems most prudent to expect the likelihood of unpredictable and changing life-cycle “conditions” like these and manage your website accordingly. So if this variability is the norm, how do you manage across a website’s life-cycle?

Here’s a example of what I would describe as a fairly typical website life-cycle. It includes ongoing regular content maintenance and new special projects throughout the full cycle, and a major update in year three, bringing the site around to a redesign in year four. Using this example, it is my argument that it is not managing to the four year life-cycle that’s most important, rather it is the common strategy and process you use along the way to manage your site, through each stage, that will define the overall success of the site at any given point.

Clearly you need to have a long term plan for the site to project your activities and resources into the future but given the uncertainly of longer term planning in the higher ed environment it is equally or even more critical to ensure your success at each stage. The model above suggests a common cyclical strategy and process to plan, build, maintain, improve and manage the website (or website component), through each of the stages (and or projects) of its life-cycle. By breaking down the life-cycle of your site into these iterative cycles and processes you can more effectively manage your website through your long term plan as well as through a wide range of changing local factors. Here’s more detail of some of the suggested individual components of each major step in the cycle.  

Source: Websitecriteria

The individual components of each stage provide an outline of the elements you need to attend to as you manage your site through successive iterations of revision, updating and redesign. It can be used at the high level to guide your redesign or at a very granular level to manage the development and implementation of a special web project.

We would love to hear about unique strategies you have developed and used to manage your website through its life cycle, under changing local conditions. In coming blog posts, we will continue this theme of exploring the higher education website life-cycle in more detail, including: – The Role of Analytics in Managing Website Life-cycle – 10 Common Triggers to Website Redesign