Thinking of Redesign Your Website? Start Here!

Date posted: February 28, 2012

Everything can use a good update now and again, and Web design is no different. Like school curriculums, facilities and other admin and marketing resources and materials, your college website will need to be freshened up and redesigned on occasion. A redesign ensures that your program pages are up-to-date with SEO and current Web design best practices.

If you’re thinking of redesigning your website, however, there are a few things you should consider before starting:

  1. Understand where you are
    By leveraging Google Analytics, you should already know the strengths and weaknesses of your college or university website. What is working for you? What isn’t? Understanding where you are will make it easier for you to figure out where you have to go.
  2. Define your website goals
    Aside from providing clarity, defining goals also helps make it easier to track the effectiveness of your marketing and online campaigns. Knowing what you’re trying to achieve is the easiest way to get a plan in place.
  3. Know your audience
    Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you have to know what audience you’re trying to reach. This distinction will help guide your choice of content, as well as a host of other design features.
  4. Analyze your competition
    Before redesigning, it’s a good idea to analyze the competitive landscape. Find out what other college and university websites are doing: what do their sites say about their school? How are they laid out? How do they look? By isolating what you think best fits your goals, you can get a wealth of inspiration from what’s already out there.

With these ideas in mind, here are a few things you should do when redesigning your school website:

Focus on clarity and simplicity
User-friendly Web design should be the ultimate goal of any redesigning effort. Don’t bury content and information in unnecessarily complex design. Keep navigation and site architecture simple and clear, with plenty of visual clues and easily understandable links. Don’t be confusing.

Offer easy-to-find info and contacts
Don’t make it difficult for visitors to find information or to contact staff and faculty. Make pertinent school information easy to find and use, and your visitors will do just that.

Use 301s
Once you’ve redesigned your web site, you don’t want to lose pages that are ranking well on search engine results pages. Using 301s, however, you can redirect traffic from these old pages to new pages. 301 code is interpreted as a “permanent move” to a new location.

Update your website goals
Should there be changes to the URLs of your program pages, make sure that you also update your website goals to reflect these changes. Without this important step, the tracking and measurement of your website performance will not be accurate.

Emphasize school colors/logo
Whether or not you are rebranding your college or university, your redesign should emphasize the school’s logo and color scheme. This will help future brand identity initiatives and help give your college’s online presence a unique visual component.

Write for the web
Content may be king, but badly written text can easily cut off the royal bloodlines. New text (or updated old text) has to conform to Web writing best practices, and by that we mean:

      • Concise text
      • Paragraph breaks
      • Headlines and categories
      • Highlighted keywords
      • Bullet lists
      • Simple language

For more on writing for the Web, check out this entertaining chat between Sage and Rocky Lewis:

Integrate multimedia
Text is essential, but too much of it can force visiting eyes to glaze over. Make your site more dynamic with pictures, videos and audio. The more you mix and play with multimedia, the more engaging your program pages will be.

Focus on social media
As we’ve pointed out recently, a comprehensive social media plan is now a necessity for colleges and universities. Any redesign must have fully integrated social media components, buttons and calls to action. A school blog (or a series of student blogs) can also be a very important feature to include in any school site redesign.

Go Mobile
We’ve been saying for some time now that the future was mobile, well the future is now. A redesign of your college’s website must include mobile-friendly components or a mobile app.

What to avoid when redesigning your college website:

While it’s important to include certain elements, it’s just as important to make sure you avoid some of the following:

      • Broken links – It can happen during a redesign, but make sure that all broken links are removed or fixed.
      • “Under construction” signs – If you’re not ready to go live with something, don’t put it up.
      • Out of date info – We know that things change quickly, but if you’re going to the trouble of redesigning a school website, you have to make sure that information (regarding courses, staff, faculty and events) has also been updated.

What else do you think is important when redesigning your college website?