Incremental Process for Eventual Web Re-Design: Start with the Data

In the process of the site redesign for UMW, we will go through the usual committee process. However, I’m wondering if the project itself that this committee will be charged with could be a more iterative one.

Many folks who came into Web design in the early 2000s, and today, are from a print communications background. This has led, I believe, to a notion that a “Web site” is like a piece: You plan it, edit it, publish it, go home.

But we all know that a Web site is like a shark: It has to keep swimming or it dies (Yes, I’ve seen “Annie Hall”). To that end, is there any reason why we can’t test drive ideas live, read analytics over a period, then make adjustments as we go along?

UMW Blogs is, by it’s nature, incremental and organic in growth. It comes from the content up, not from the home page down. It’s nice that folks redesign the home page now and then, and I love those little flippy things in the primary navigation, but the little flippy things are not what’s cool about it.

We have a unique opportunity in that the current site is so stale that any change to the home page would be seen as a welcome sign. I’m proposing that, based on the following data over the past year, maybe the committee would want to test drive a few before a wholesale change:

  1. Visits to “Featured Faculty” encompass 0.8% of the home page traffic.
  2. Get Recognized gets 1.0% of the home page traffic.
  3. The home page links to only 6 of the pages that are in the UMW Top 20 for the year (measured by page views since we have many repeat customers internally). Not included is a link to the library, which is a consistent #3 in terms of site traffic.
  4. The most visited page linked to from the home page is the “Student/Faculty/Staff” page.

What does all this tell us? First of all, I’m using Google Analytics data here in the broadest sense, settling on a single piece of data over a period of one fiscal year (6/30/2009 through 7/1/2010). But, at first blush, we can conclude:

  1. The majority of site users are internal.
  2. Of the links we provide that are geared towards external users, the two least popular features take up a majority of the real estate.

This is not to say that the perennial argument about who is the primary audience for the site should be questioned. We should strive for a more externally-facing site. And, although the click-throughs to the “Resources” page indicate that folks are using the site internally, that should not really affect the real estate on the home page all that much.

So, I’m going to propose that some adjustments be made to the current home page to see if it can be made more efficient for external users. The externally focused links in the top 20, in decreasing order of traffic, (factoring out the home page and the resources page), are:

  1. Admissions (22.8%)
  2. Directory (17.3%)
  3. Academics (14.9%)
  4. About UMW (9.1%)
  5. News Release (with photo and teaser at bottom) (5.4%)
  6. Student Life (4.8%)

In addition, if you simply compare by site visits for the year, UMWBlogs site visits amount to 17.4% of the UMW Web site visits. That’s popularity we can “leverage” (I used that term to make Jim Groom happy). That would put them just under Admissions for popularity.

Are you sensing something here?

Here is my proposal for an interim change to the Home Page (which, of course, would need to go through the proper channels). I submit the following suggestions for your comment:

  1. Replace the “Featured Faculty” section with an RSS feed of faculty blogs on UMW Blogs. This would give more Faculty home page exposure, and eliminate the overhead of writing a story and producing a single web page for faculty. Faculty members could opt-in,  or, we could settle on a taxonomy of tags to select for home page inclusoin. It would end any resentment about who gets to be on the home page, too 🙂 Added bonus: The content always changes.
  2. End the “Get Recognized” Campaign on the home page and replace with a navigational Flash animation that shows our campus, people, and mission, and links to Admissions, Academics, Athetics, About UMW, and Student Life prominently.
  3. Upgrade and standardize the look and feel of the primary pages linked to from this graphic.
  4. Re-work the text navigation to put all internal links in one place, and clean up the navigation on the right.
  5. Since most home page traffic goes to the Admissions site, and not to the “application” site (which has an “apply now” button prominently displayed), I’d take that button out. It’s kinda cheesy anyway (I have no data to back that up).

Do you think these adjustments would be a good idea? Do you have any other thoughts? I’m all ears.