Next Web workers meeting – Feb. 6, 2015

RAVPDo you manage a school/college/departmental website that represents the university? This meeting is for you.

Come share your successes, failures, questions, and lessons learned with other Web workers from around campus.

This meeting’s agenda includes:

  • Elliot Polak talking about the recently redesigned Library System website and how their team has worked to improve the site since the initial redesign in August.
  • Nick DeNardis talking about front-end workflow and speed optimizations.
  • Round table

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to share their experiences.

Feb. 6 at 10:30 a.m. in the Simon’s Room, 144 Purdy Library

RSVP is not required but suggested.

Designing for next steps – A forward moving Web experience – #heweb12

This week I was in Milwaukee, Wis. with 700 other higher education Web professionals for the HighEdWeb 2012 national conference. The conference is known for gathering higher education Web leaders and the presentations are second to none and this year was no exception. I’ll post a full wrap-up in the next few days.

Designing for next steps – A forward moving Web experience

I was lucky enough to be invited back to speak about Web user experience. Through my experience hosting EDU Checkup, where I review higher education websites from the perspective of a first time visitor and my work here at Wayne State, the topic is near and dear to my heart.

The official description (below), pretty much sums up the talk but the slides only go so far. The discussion was centered around both the macro and micro experience that any website visitor has.

Getting a visitor to your website is only half the battle: how do you keep them? A lot of attention is put on the “action” items on a homepage but it’s more likely a visitor is landing on an interior page from a Web search or link. Every visual element, content or cue makes an impression with your visitor and influences what next step they take. The last thing you want to do is leave your visitor at a dead end or continuously force them to use the “back” button. With each page having a defined “next step” it gives your visitor a forward moving Web experience. The idea is more than just bigger and brighter action buttons. Your goal is to design an experience that make your visitors care. This session will walk through real life examples to identify common pitfalls and successful approaches, provide techniques to objectively look at your communications from your audience’s point of view and highlight tools to measure and track the success of your communications.

Video of the talk

Next steps from this presentation

  • Take a step back and start discovering your users’ journey. Use a tool like Woopra or Clicktale to experience where and how your users are actually using your website.
  • Use those journeys to travel through your website as your user, experience the site through their eyes.
  • Use a “human proxy” to get insights about feelings as the visitor is moving through the page.
  • Make changes to help the user discover a next step on each page of their journey. Make sure you can track these in your analytics package so you know you’re actually helping your users.
  • Introduce little big details that make the user experience memberable.

Iterative Web Redesign – CASE V Presentation

This last week I was invited to speak at the CASE V conference about Iterative Website Redesign. I was honored to give insights in to our Web process.

What is iterative Web redesign?


Taking small deliberate steps to reach a larger goal
(which may be not 100% apparent at the time).

How does this apply to Wayne State? 

Over the past 6 years we have been working on making the entire Web experience better. The way we do that isn’t by putting a lot of resources in to a new design every two years then sit and wait, but instead iterate what we have over time.

The motivation behind iterative design is to focus on craftsmanship. By focusing on just one section of a page we can let our designers design, writers write and developers program. Typically they would have to juggle multiple competing aspects of a page at one time. This bigger picture is great but it thins out the amount of time they have to focus on making each area as optimized as possible.

Your website doesn’t suck

We hear a lot of people around campus coming to us looking for a redesign because “their website sucks”. There are some instances when a full redesign is necessary, but more often their website doesn’t suck, a few areas just need improvement.

The talk focuses on “micro ideas”, these are the existing goals for each area of your site. Every site already has them, why not take advantage and improve their performance. I give a few examples from other institutions and even outside higher education that show this strive for constant improvement while keeping existing goals. One of my favorite is the 37 signals homepage evolution video.

Feedback loops

This process is never ending, websites are not “projects”, projects have end dates. Creating an effective feedback loop is important to making the right changes. Making sure the feedback is from actual users, that feedback can be subjective and the solution you come up with might not work for everyone, the goal is to focus on the majority.

Lastly, everything needs to be documented, not only so history doesn’t repeat itself but more importantly to show insights behind decisions and build credibility. The improvements you make to your site aren’t going to make you famous, they won’t result in a nationwide press release, but often are more important to the success of your website than any redesign would be.

Iterative Website Redesign: Micro Goals in Action

Dream big, think small.

Do you employ iterative redesign techniques? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Workshop: Iterative Website Redesign – Micro Goals in Action

In addition to presenting about Giving Your Content Legs at the Penn State Web Conference, I also gave a two hour workshop about Iterative Website Redesign.

All too often I see higher ed institutions treat the Web as a print document, set it and forget it for two year then pump a ton of money into “publishing” a new site. My (our) approach is different, we are making design, copy and code changes every month based on how our visitors are using the site. This workshop was intended to introduce iterative redesign, the methods behind it and how to actually get started today.


Complete website redesigns are a thing of the past, it’s time to think beyond the launch it and leave it mentality. Learn how to discover the pain points of your website and successfully correct them. This interactive workshop will walk you through your site as an end user. Learn about A/B and multivariate testing mechanisms, how to create effective tests, and how to publish results to build credibility and authority. This workshop will be hands on with the ability to take away a process to build upon.

Take aways:

Any website you manage shouldn’t be thought of as a “project”, website’s don’t have end dates. You have to think of your website as a business, treating every visitor as if they physically came into your shop. The experience they have is the layout and content of your site, why not optimize it for their needs.

Most higher education websites are not completely broken and it doesn’t make sense to scrap a site every two years. Take all the knowledge you can from your existing site and make incremental changes to optimize every section of your site. Using free tools you have the ability to pay attention to your visitors in their natural environments.

Presentation: Give Your Content Legs and Run With It

Last week I co-presented with Mallory Wood at the Penn State Web Conference. It was the first year they brought in outside attendees and it was a great experience. It rivals some of the larger higher ed Web conferences out there and I was glad to be a part of it.

The slides from the talk have been posted for a while but I wanted to give them an official home that allowed for comments and future followup. Below I outline the talk description and the intended take aways. Unfortunately the talks were not recorded so this is the closest you can get to the real thing. Enjoy.


Congratulations, you have a website and it is full of content. But… what are you (the human!) doing on the back-end to make sure that visitors are finding the info they came for? Happy Visitors = Happy You. Reacting to your visitors needs, or even better, being proactive will go a long way in enhancing a visitor’s experience with your website. This session will teach you to do just that, helping you think beyond “write it and leave it” by showing you how to transform what’s generally static into long lasting social and interactive content. Let’s redefine what it means to publish content, rethink where it gets published, and rework existing content to meet your visitor’s needs.

Take Aways:

See the content on your website in new ways. By thinking reactively and proactively about content that is already being created, you will learn how to transform content and harness it for multiple channels. Think beyond write it and leave it content, take your content and make it work for your users.

Redefine what it means to “publish content for your institution”. Learn how to react to your visitors needs, how to be proactive to assist your visitors. Make your content interactive, create content from social interactions. Create social content from static content/content your visitors need. Multi channel approach to publishing content, bring ‘hard to discover’ content to your visitors. Learn how to track interactions beyond your website. And how to setup a schedule for routine interactions.

Presentation: Social Media Tools for Startups

I gave a presentation last week to students in the Backstone LaunchPad here at Wayne State about Social Media Tools for Startups. My co-presenter was Erica VandenBerg of DHall Ventures who talked about the reasons why and how to approach social media while I talked about the day to day tools.


The audience was students who are interested in starting their own businesses. The Blackstone LaunchPad is setup to help them develop their ideas, get resources, funding and set them up for success. The talk was a primer to social media and how to use it from a complete start.

Start by listening

Setup a central reading post for all mentions of your company, industry and followers so you can keep track of what people are saying about you. It is important to stay up to date with things happening in your industry and with your followers to ensure all your messages stay in context and you can react to your advocates.


The second step should be to integrate social items into your existing properties. People are going to your site already, give them the ability to extend your content into their social networks. At the same time make sure you have the ability to track were and how your items are being shared. This will give you insight into where to be most effective with your messaging.


Lastly it is time to start sharing and interacting. As you start executing your campaigns it is important to also tag all the URL’s you share with Google campaign codes. This allows you to see what campaigns are driving the most traffic to your website. Your website should be your “home base”, it is where you should be driving all of your traffic. On your website you want to ensure you have calls to actions on every landing page.

Tie to goals

Within Google Analytics you can setup goals and even assign a dollar value to goals. Over time you will be able to see all the visitors who complete these goals and which campaigns and items drove the most amount revenue. In the end using social tools are just a gateway to solving problems and driving more traffic to do business. Not every Tweet or Facebook message needs to be tied to a campaign but make sure long term campaigns are in place so you’re not just spinning your wheels.


Just as a side note, this presentation is meant to be a primer to social media. More detailed technical information available upon request.

Flexible Web Branding, the Case Against Single Web Templates – My CASE V Presentation

I was out most of last week at the CASE V conference in Chicago. I was asked to speak about Flexible Web Branding, the Case Against Single Web Templates. My presentation is embedded above.

Presentation description

Look at the use of single templates on higher education websites. Implementing an institution-wide template sounds like a good idea at first but how does it perform in the real world? Get insights into the pros and cons of implementing a single template across all institution websites. We will explore what works and what doesn’t, from both the management and end-user prospective. Discover techniques to embrace the uniqueness of each area of your institution and how to engage your visitors along the way.

Flipping through the presentation you will notice a lot of screen shots, this is where I walked through the user experience while giving initial thoughts and motivations for next steps.

The golden rule of the web: Treat users as you would want to be treated

Breaking the talk down

The goal was to get everyone thinking about the end user, their end user. We use sites like to benchmark other institution’s websites but what are we really measuring? We are not the primary audience for those sites, most noteworthy sites end up being very pretty but not functional at all.

In my talk I walk through three noteworthy websites from the past year, similar to how I would on EDU Checkup. What we discover is the redesigned sites employ a single web template in which all content is meant to fit within a single structure. Unfortunately the needs of each page are different and although the single template is well branded, it doesn’t cater to the user’s needs.

I propose a happy medium starting with a three tier branding system.

  • Tier 1: Homepage, Admissions, Financial Aid, Housing, etc.
    • These sites need to be both well branded and pay close attention to the needs of the users
  • Tier 2: Current Student oriented sites, Offices, Departments
    • These sites don’t need as strict branding and can make the users work a little more
  • Tier 3: Staff & Administrative sites, Centers & Institutes
    • These sites can use a single template or have a completely external audience and need little branding

Starting the process of a flexible template system starts with determining the user and departmental needs. From there, sketching wireframes and building wireframes on a grid. Basing the structure on a grid can make sites that look different feel similar. It also allows for items to be interchangeable. You will find all departments use similar constructs, just with their own content. Identifying and creating these constructs is important to creating a maintainable infrastructure.

I then go through two examples that cater to the end user while still keeping the uniquenesses of each department and needs of the user on the page they are on.

Take aways

  • Treat users as you would want to be treated
  • Every department cannot fit into the same box
  • Create constructs everyone can use
  • Have fun while still being professional
  • It’s just the web

Analyzing Real-time Visitor Searches #heweb10

Today I gave a talk to HighEdWeb about Analyzing Real-time Visitor Searches. It served as an insight into how we use data to drive design decisions. Many of the changes to are driven directly from what we learn from analyzing user searches. The audio should be up soon and I plan to add it to the slideshow.

Session Description

Higher education websites always have a steady supply of visitors. It’s great to see the numbers in Google Analyics fluctuate each day and trend upwards over time, but are your visitors finding what they came for? This talk is a high-level-to-in-depth look at tracking what visitors are searching for in real time from your site. We’ll go beyond the consolidated “popular keywords” list to an actual trend list with grouped phases and pages. The goal is peer into the visitor’s mind and figure out why they are searching for “address” on the Contact Us page or “Professor Smith” on the Faculty Information page. Higher education websites always struggle to accommodate two audiences, internal and external. Search results based on location don’t lie, it’s easy to combine real internal searches with reasons why quicklinks and extra menus may or may not be functioning as optimally as they should. It’s time to go beyond pageviews and user paths and look at real-time search analytics.


Nick DeNardis
Associate Director of Web Communications, Wayne State University

Nick DeNardis is the Associate Director of Web Communications at Wayne State University. As host of the video blog, EDU Checkup, he reviews higher education websites from the point of view of a first-time visitor, while critiquing the design, information architecture and code of the sites. He is a staff writer at .eduGuru, a higher education marketing and Web development blog. He takes an active role in the higher education Web community by sharing his thoughts and real-world analysis in the Wayne State Web Communications Blog. He is also an officer for Refresh Detroit, a group of Web professionals whose goal is to promote Web standards, usability, and accessibility.

Realigning your Redesign Process – My Case V Presentation

I was asked to speak at the Case District V 2009 conference this last weekend. Below is my presentation, description and links of the sites I mentioned. If you have any questions about the presentation or topic feel free to email me, ndenardis [at] wayne [dot] edu.


What is the first step to redesigning your site, where is it falling short and how do you fix it? Find out about a successful redesign process that has been refined over the past six years with over 350 web sites. See how an internal team can work efficiently and with little resources to launch a large number of quality sites. Walk through the redesign process to get tips and pointers to deal with difficult departments and people.

Links from the presentation

State of the Wayne State Web site

Last week I gave a presentation to our small group of communicators, it shows the past, present and future goals for the Web site architecture. I didn’t have time to officially mind map the entire process so I just drew it up on the white board and took photos so bear with me.

The Past

Five years ago when I started in the Web Communications department the web environment was completely decentralized and every site was on their own server with their own content managers, designers and developers. An end user would be bouncing from site to site with no visual or information consistency. It made a lot of sense from a department standpoint because they could control their own environment.

The Present

Over the past five years we have begun to centralize the thousands of sites into a central server environment and identity manual. So far we have 350+ sites in a central look with completely new navigation which focuses on the end user. This is great that each site works well and from a first time visitor they know they are at Wayne State University.

The Future

In the next five years our plan is to improve the users experience even more. Right now the sites are still very separate which means the user has to relearn the navigation each time they bounce to a new site. We have identified some key paths our primary audiences need to take to be successful, our goal is to make those paths usable.  This means creating some central repositories to pull information into the main Web site and to disburse to the department site.

Some other added benefits would be greater integration of information and up to date content. A key facts database that can dynamically be updated across the web and reminds when they need to be updated. A central degree and requirements list. Press releases and news will all be housed in the same spot to pull from and reference. And last but not least a central faculty profile system, opening it up to all faculty, not just the ones in it now. This will allow each of the departments be promote information broader and for users who are not failure with our university structure to find information easily.


This is just a plan and there are many steps that would need to happen before parts of this are actually implemented. On the other hand there are a few things we can start doing pretty soon and we will be getting those in the queue over the next few months.