A website for sore eyes: CMU’s web presence undergoes a thorough redesign
Tuesday, November 3, 2015 10:00 PM
The Colorado Mesa University website is having some work done. This goes beyond a facelift — it’s a transformative nip and tuck. When the new version of the site goes live in mid-December, users may not even recognize it. And that’s a good thing.
“The website is CMU’s most critical communication tool, with more than 782,000 site users last year,” said Mike Mansheim, director of marketing and publications. “While the site has undergone numerous upgrades in recent years, the last major overhaul was in 2008. To better serve our diverse audiences — current and prospective students, faculty, staff and community members to name a few — a complete revamp of the site structure, design and content was needed.”
Increasingly, visitors are browsing the web on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, necessitating responsive design. Responsive sites adjust based on the width of the device being used.
“No matter the device width, the content will adjust to fit in the area that it’s given without breaking the site or making you scroll a lot horizontally,” said Andrea Keck, CMU’s digital communications manager and the leader of the redesign project. “Content will be stacked vertically so it can fit on the screen.”
Another critical component of the redesign is a user-centered information architecture. Keck spent the summer researching other university sites and analyzing traffic patterns on the existing CMU site.
“We conducted focus groups with both current and prospective students and their parents, and we did a user survey to see what visitors were accessing, what they were looking for, what was being used on our site with our current navigation and what wasn’t,” Keck said.
The redesigned site’s information architecture arranges content based on this information, making navigation easier. Keck said one piece of feedback that the Marketing Office heard often was a need for a robust events calendar and more obvious information on the university’s academic programs and requirements. Those are made very clear in the new site’s design.
Keck said she has been working with departments across campus to take a closer look at their pages and optimize them for users. “We’re trying to clear out extra stuff that isn’t useful, or isn’t accessed or is outdated, so we’re only delivering the content that’s necessary,” she said.
The clean up will make searching the site easier. It will also help make CMU’s content more visible to search engines like Google.
“We’re taking a much more strategic approach to content,” Mansheim said. “We’re launching a brand newsroom, prominently featuring our stories on the home page and giving previews and quick links to our social media channels.”
The new site breaks some outdated web design rules. Mobile technology has changed the way users browse and visitors are used to scrolling vertically for a long time thanks to sites like Facebook. CMU’s new site will also be oriented vertically, but improved, concise content will keep the amount of scrolling reasonable.
Mansheim said that the marketing team is working closely with staff in Information Technology and a third-party vendor to implement a new web content management system (CMS) to replace the extremely outdated software powering the site.
“While most end users won’t notice that change, staff who play a role in editing site content will be pleased with a much more robust and easier-to-use system. It’s like replacing the engine in a vehicle. Most of us don’t care about the mechanics of a car, we just need confidence that it can get us from point A to B safely. For the average visitor to the website, they can rest assured that the site will deliver the information they seek. For our site contributors, we’ve upgraded from a four-cylinder engine to a V8.”
One thing that won’t be changing just yet is MAVzone, CMU’s campus portal. “If you’re accessing MAVzone from our site, the link is in the same location. And once you’re in MAVzone it will still look the same,” Keck said.
Mansheim said there are plans to upgrade it eventually but that the site update takes precedence. Other university-affiliated sites, including the microsite for future students; the athletics site, CMUmavericks.com; and SupportingCMU.com, the fundraising and alumni relations site will also not be changing at this time.
The redesigned website will roll out next month after Finals Week. “We wanted to do it after school is out so that we’re not disrupting students during classes or finals by shaking things up. And offering it during a downtime lets people get familiarized with the new site before the spring semester starts,” said Keck.
Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations