“Up to date” is one of the most important phrases of the digital world and the new AU website is just that. Rising concerns about the website’s lack of mobile compatibility and digital clutter that had accumulated over past updates motivated administration to call for a complete overhaul of the official website.
After 20 months of work by a team of staff, administrators and a few students, the new website launched at the beginning of the Spring 2016 semester, sporting fresh designs, streamlined browsing paths and compatibility with Google’s new standards for search engine optimization (SEO).
Stefanie Leiter, leader of the redesign, says that the update is the website’s “most extensive redesign to date.” Leiter said that mobile browsing was the most important facet of making the website meet Google’s “responsive-friendly” search engine standards, which makes the site easier to find on the web.
“Everything had to be mobile first, desktop second,” Leiter explained. “In a responsive environment, the photos and graphics have to be very specific sizes to fit across different platforms, so it was all started from scratch.”
As the biggest search engine in the world, Google’s requirements for SEO set the standards for the structure of most sites on the web. SEO refers to a site’s ranking in results when an individual uses a search engine. More optimized sites are more likely to appear at the top of search results.
Chris Williams, director of events and special projects, communication and marketing at AU, explained that a responsive website is one that “conforms to and fits whatever device you use to go to it. Whether mobile, desktop or tablet, the graphics all conform to the device.” This makes mobile browsing easier and more efficient.
In order to discern the places where the website was confusing or impractical, the team had to measure website visitors’ browsing patterns. According to Williams, one of the team’s goals for the website was to make navigation more audience-specific. “It’s not what we think is important but rather what our audience sees is important,” Williams said.
The team used a research method called “heat-mapping,” which tracks volunteer visitors’ mouse activity as they search for specific in-site items or pages, or as they casually browse the site. Google Analytics also offers statistics about web traffic and search engine rankings.
The web team, including staff member Scott Gower and student Katie Giger, had to sift through each page and sort out what content would be kept and what would be archived. According to Leiter, the past version of the website contained “over 4000 pages, and [they] cut the site in half to clear away the clutter and make everything accessible.”
Though most website development involves contracts with third-party programmers, analysts and graphic designers, the new AU website was created exclusively by the university team, which is one of Williams’ favorite features of the site.
Visual retouching was crucial to the update, and Mike Baker, a graphic designer in the office of Publications, created 80 new graphics prior to launch, a task that required approval by the rest of the team before its use on the site.
The “Students” section of the website has been significantly trimmed and streamlined to make it easier for students to find the resources and information they need. Web content for parents, alumni and other visitors has also been tailored and compartmentalized for those visitors, so students need not worry about having to go through irrelevant pages to find the content for which they are looking.
Despite the sweeping changes to the website, Leiter reminds students that “the work is never over for online communications. With this being our most extensive redesign, it will change and evolve to what is needed for the latest trends or requirements.” The nature of web design and communication is constantly changing, and changing at an increasingly rapid rate.
Williams, who has been involved with the website since it first became the responsibility of the Communication Activities Team in 1998, knows that even though the website has already been redesigned six times, there will be many more redesigns to come. “There’s never a stopping point to this,” Williams said. “Just because we’ve launched a new website doesn’t mean our work is done and that Anderson University has ‘arrived.’ This needs to be done and be done as well as it can be.”