Another project that we just pushed out this week is a new Aggie Traditions site. We began this site almost two years ago, but it kept getting put off for other projects. Unsurprisingly, then, I am overjoyed that it is finally live.
This began as a pet project. I had noticed that there were several websites about traditions across campus. The Traditions Council had one, the MSC had one, Athletics had one, and even HR did. There was a lack of consistency of quality and even of content across these sites. I therefore reached out to the other site owners and we got together to plan a single site that could elevate our traditions and which we could all support.
Getting it finished took some maneuvering – tying it to the mobile app which did have a set-in-stone due date – but we are all happy with the results.
The biggest project we have been working on for the last year is not even a website, it is a complete overhaul of our university mobile app. We began this process over a year ago, and it finally went live on Monday.
It is available on the app stores now, either as an update to the previous app or a new download if you do not already have it installed. If you don’t, I highly encourage you to go and give it a look.
The new app, based on the Kurogo platform, will be a significant improvement over the previous version. Our guiding principle in the project has been to identify content that will be useful for our campus users and get it within the app. The Kurogo platform helps us in this by providing the concept of personas – instead of trying to cram all of the content onto a single dashboard the users can select their audience type and see a screen with content relevant to them.
We do not see this as a one-and-done project. While Phase I consisted largely of replicating the content from the previous version of the app into the new platform, the entire project will be a multi-phase process where we continually bring in more content, more services, and more audiences.
Our hope is that this can become an important content platform that is embraced and wholeheartedly used by our campus community.
We have had several questions about how we created the RSVP forms used for the various Staff Appreciation Week events last week…as well as quite a few requests for copies of the files. I agree that these were cool, but they were nothing special that we did ourselves. We simply leveraged Google Forms to create easy to make RSVP submissions.
We had actually begun using Google Forms a few months ago. We were getting more and more one-off requests for submission forms for different projects, and I wanted to move away from the tedious process of creating and then securing custom-built forms. Google Forms was the obvious answer. They are free to use, simple to put together and incorporate into your site, and make data collection easy because they simply submit to a Google Sheet. We are in the process of replacing many of our legacy website page forms with updated Google Forms. I highly encourage that anyone who needs to collect quick information also take advantage of this resource.
GoWeb is excited to announce our first campus WebTalk on search engine optimization!
In today’s world, over half of a website’s traffic originates from search. As a web developer, we must optimize our pages for search in order to stand out and be found. Attend this presentation and learn what you can do to ensure your sites don’t go unlisted and unused, while avoiding the snake oil treatments that are associated with this topic.
The WebTalk will be held at 10:30 a.m. on March 11, in General Services Complex room 2605, inside suite 2601.
Please join us for the presentation and conversation around this important topic.
The Texas A&M Mobile Strategy Team is excited to announce the launch of a new campus community, GoWeb – goweb.tamu.edu.
We have seen widespread campus adoption of responsive web design. Currently the majority of college and division websites are mobile friendly – gomobile.tamu.edu/texas-am-mobile-strategy.
While there is still work to be accomplished, we believe our next step should be to expand our scope beyond focusing solely on mobile and move toward providing resources on all web communications. This includes usability, accessibility, best practices for development, as well as branding and message consistency.
How can you get involved in the GoWeb Community?
- Join the GoWeb Google group and Slack channel to stay up-to-date on events and important information – goweb.tamu.edu/get-involved/
- Check out our calendar of educational and social events – goweb.tamu.edu/events/
- Visit our resource center for more information and links to important web resources – goweb.tamu.edu/resource-center/
In order to better build our community and increase collaboration, we will be folding the Go Mobile and UWeb listserv into our new GoWeb google group over the next few months. Please take steps now and join our Google Group at goweb.tamu.edu/get-involved/google-group/.
In the weeks ahead we’ll highlight additional resources, events and collaboration opportunities. We hope you are as excited as we are about this new community and the potential to come together to implement the business goals of the university, adopt standards of best practice, and share resources, knowledge and expertise across the campus.
I mentioned earlier that replacing the web calendar was going to be one of our projects for the spring semester. I was taken back by the amount of campus interest in participating. We had over thirty people – ranging from IT folks to marketers/communicators to administrators – volunteer to take part.
This group looked at several vendor products and evaluated how well each would meet our local needs. The goal was to make sure that the solution works for both us here in Marcomm as well as for all of the departments and offices who need their own calendaring solution.
The team has now selected a preferred solution – LiveWhale Calendar. The next step (after purchasing and contracting anyway!) is to put together an implementation team to identify the important content elements. In the same spirit of selecting a product that meets our needs, I also want to make sure that this collaboration carries through the rollout as well. If you or your office were not part of the evaluation team but would like to join at this state please send me a note to let me know. I hope this team can also serve as an overall guidance team to promote some best practices for creating and marketing our events.
Our latest site to get published is a special request from the Office of Governmental Relations. This site was modeled on a template that was developed for the office of the president. For various reasons, this one would up betting launched first.
This site layout is intended as a compliment to the university website. We realize that many office don’t have the four or six navigation links that the university site needs, so wanted to create something that presented the navigation in a single row. We do have the header/footer structure available in github. If you are interested in code for the rest of the site please get in touch.
Along with the new semester comes new projects needing our attention. Here is a quick rundown of what is taking up the most of our time now and for the immediate future.
TAMUmobile phone apps
Our vendor contract for the current version of the apps will be expiring soon, and we have recently finished an RFP to select a vendor to create the replacement. Modo Labs was selected, and the contract was executed right before the Christmas break. We are now working with people from across campus to identify content needs and working with the vendor to get the app built. Look for rollout in mid to late April.
The current web calendar has become increasingly difficult to update and maintain. We are in the beginning stages of selecting a new software product. Our intention is to find something that meets all of the needs that our current system meets and extend the functionality to include many things that the current calendar cannot do. We will hopefully be previewing several systems in late January to early February, with a selection to come soon thereafter. Depending on complexity of rollout and competing projects, I hope we can launch in early to mid Summer.
Web Development RFP
Most of us have more work than we can handle ourselves. Marcomm is therefore working with Purchasing to create a pool of pre-approved web development firms. This will allow departments from across campus to contract with these vendors without needing to do an individual RFP for their project. The RFP has closed, we should begin evaluating submissions before February, and hope to have a final pool established before March.
We all collect these, right? But how many of us do anything with them? Do we even know what metrics to focus on? A cross-college group is being put together to look at how we can roll out a truly campus-wide analytics program, identify important metrics, and discuss how to use data to drive decision making on website creation and updating. I expect this will be a year-long project. If you are interested in participating it isn’t too late, just shoot me a line.
Staff Appreciation Week
Along with our strategic projects, we always have things that come along that just have to be done. The latest is support for the upcoming Staff Appreciation Week. This website, along with some HTML emails will be front and center for the next few weeks.
I am sure there will be more to come, and many things so small they didn’t make this list, but this will at least give you an idea of were we are putting our focus for the next few months.
The last few months have revolved around special projects, committee meetings, and project planning for the future. Most of our focus has been internal during this time, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of project launches or other announcements for us to have posted.
A bit of a preview of what we have to look forward to as we move into the holiday period and the Spring semester:
- Web analytics – a campus wide team has been formed to look at creating a single analytics login, best practices for measuring web traffic, and identifying the most important metrics to include. Work on this will be ongoing throughout the Spring and Summer.
- TAMUmobile phone apps – the contract with our current vendor expires in the Spring. We have gone through an RFP process to identify a new vendor, Modo Labs. We are beginning to learn their development framework, and producing an update version of the app will be one of our major Spring projects.
- University web calendar – the software powering the current web calendar is becoming more difficult to keep maintained and updated. We have put together a group to evaluate requirements for a new software platform and identify a replacement.
- Several websites, both internal and for other customers, are in various stages of production. We will release them as they are finished and approved for publication by the site sponsors.
The typical way university websites are redesigned is to go look at what other universities have done and build something like that. There has been buzz about looking at corporate sites as part of the design process, but little of that has actually been done. In today’s world, though, we probably should take a page from the corporate playbook.
The trend online in business is to have everything online. Look at car insurance, for example. The website for any insurance company does not just describe the products and give you a number to call a local agent. It instead offers you the opportunity to create an account and sign up right away.
The corporate world is also much better at identifying and agreeing on the customer (i.e. the target audience.) They define measurable goals and set benchmarks for what successful completion of the goal is. The site has a defined purpose. The example insurance company website, for example, might have a goal of increasing policy purchases by 7% over the next six months. How many of us have that precise of a goal? How many of us instead have a goal of just providing information to whoever is interested in looking at it?
Whoever the target audience is, the goal should be to engage with them. Active engagement leads to conversions. Drive customers to your products, whatever they may be. For a university this might be a completed application, registration for a campus visit, or even the completion of a “send me more information” form.
Take a look at some of the for-profit educational institutions. Because of their profit motive they have been among the leaders in applying these principles. Compare their navigational elements to yours and see where they are putting their focus (not that this is something we should strive toward, but it is important to consider.)
There has been a focus shift in the role of websites. They originally centered on the organizational structure, then moved to focus on the user, and they are now becoming about the engagement process and driving conversions. Many of us are in isolated IT or communications groups. In order to effectively migrate our sites to this new paradigm, we must reach out to those who are setting our mission goals and find out what our priorities should be.