My Philosophy

The University’s public website is first and foremost the face of the institution to the outside world. It is likely the first point of contact for many prospective students, their parents, prospective faculty members, future employees, and many others. It may be the first and only impression of SJU for those who’ve never stepped foot on campus. As the face of the institution, it functions as the primary source of information about the University for the general public, news media, prospects, alumni, donors, among many other constituents.

Our website is also a reflection of who we are. As a Jesuit university, it is important to show off our uniqueness and leverage our distinctive ethos to convey who we truly are and what we genuinely stand for as a community. For this reason, our website serves its purpose as a manifestation of the people who attend, teach, and work at the University; the website functions as a synopsis of the culture, principle, and values of the people who make up the community.

Saint Joseph’s University’s website at its core, therefore, is a window through which we allow the world to witness us.

The Web as a Collective

Because the website represents the University community, planning and maintaining the online presence needs to be a communal effort. And because no one person, department or office is the definitive expert on all topics that could ever be represented on our website, it is a necessity for the University to have a strong network of representatives who plan, produce, and maintain the website’s content through a well-defined set of processes.

This network of people and the procedures for managing the workflows are commonly referred to as “Web Governance.“

While the word “governance” may carry an oppressive connotation in the context of cross- functional collaboration, Web Governance is not a top-down form of decision-making; it is rather a collective approach to defining the website content through orderly processes in an effort to allow the content contributors to routinely plan, implement and evaluate the publically visible content on our site and to ensure that the many parts and pieces that amount to are orchestrated to be useful, accurate, up to date, and timely for our website visitors.

User-Centered Content Strategy

As the saying goes in the retail industry, “the customer is always right.” Whether or not this philosophy agrees with you, examining the customer experience from a customer’s perspective is always beneficial for increasing customer satisfaction. In the case of higher education, “customers” can refer to prospective students, parents of prospective students, current students, parents of current students, alumni, donors, corporate partners, and more. Placing the user experiences, as diverse as they may be, at the very heart of formulating our website content strategy is crucial for having an effective web presence for Saint Joseph’s University.

In order to develop a user-centered content strategy, market segmentation is a necessary part of being able to cater to the varying needs of the various audiences. For this reason, segmentation is a balancing act between overly generalized content for the generic audience vs. hyper-personalized content for the specific audiences. If the segmentation of the audience is too general, some content may not satisfy their needs. If the segmentation is too granular, the maintenance workload to keep the information up to date may become unrealistic, and the website will be at a greater risk of becoming obsolete and useless over time.

Segmentation, therefore, is also necessarily a process of triaging the target constituents and focusing on the select objectives that best benefit the University. This prioritization of customers is something that should be discussed openly through the process of Web Governance so that the respective content owners can focus their strategic efforts on speaking to the same target audiences.

Know Where to Go & How to Get There

Knowing the objectives, planning the path to achieve them, and measuring the effectiveness of driving toward the goals are becoming increasingly important for non-profits and for-profits alike. All organizations inevitably have limited staffing and fiscal resources. Determining the key success metrics and routinely measuring our progress against them allow us to optimize the successful initiatives while sunsetting the rest that are simply taking up time, money and space.

Clearly defining what and how to measure, however, can be an enormous challenge at a large organization like Saint Joseph’s. Pinpointing precise key performance indicators for measuring how the website is contributing to brand awareness, customer satisfaction, lead generation, cannibalization, or net profit is especially tricky when business processes are not well measured in some areas of the institution. Garnering the participation of key stakeholders across the University becomes essential in trying to measure the effectiveness of any strategy. This, of course, requires a

very transparent and unbiased collaboration between divisions across the University. For anyone who’s ever worked at higher education institutions, we know this to be particularly challenging.

Because the intimate knowledge of divisional objectives and metrics often reside with the respective units, defining the goals and metrics is a process that should be formulated through the collaborative process of Web Governance. Collectively defining the success metrics, establishing procedures, and identifying the sources of metrics that ultimately offer a three-dimensional view of the University’s progress will be a key step in making sure that the web/digital initiatives conduce toward the institution’s overall strategy in measurable ways.

Be Practical

The strategy for driving an initiative from Point A to Point B will fail to materialize if the goals and/or the means to achieve the goals are unrealistic. Purposefully aligning the budget, time, staff, and objectives for optimizing the outcome is an essential part of building a web strategy, and keeping the key stakeholders in the loop on the webteam’s allocation of resources should help in setting realistic goals and expectations across campus.

At times, Saint Joseph’s University should carefully review the staffing and fiscal allocations to evaluate whether or not the resources are sufficient for sustaining the institutional demands. The role of web and digital marketing has dramatically expanded in the last decade, and it will continue to have an increasingly integral and ubiquitous influence on the University’s marketing, enrollment, fundraising, community engagement, etc. Many higher education institutions are still retroactively adapting to the quickly shifting demands, and Saint Joseph’s University faces the same shifting demands today. The operational needs for the University’s web presence shifts at a swifter pace than many other areas of operations and will likely warrant a more frequent reevaluation of its staffing and budgetary resources.

Going Mobile

Mobile Traffic as % of Global Internet Traffic

It is no secret that the adoption of mobile technology is growing at a staggering rate. Research firm KPCB ( notes that mobile traffic as a percentage of global Internet traffic has grown at an exponential rate over the past 5 years and will continue on that trend. [For their full 2013 Internet Trends report, see]

So, what are we doing to better support mobile devices, you ask? Well, plenty.

First, for a couple of years now, we’ve had a mobile-friendly interface designed for current students, which is available at The most current version of the “M dot” site, as we refer to it, that was re-launched this fall, was built using responsive web design techniques that automatically adjust the content of the page to best fit the size of the device. Currently there are links to the new shuttle tracker system, SJU dining hall menus, the Blackboard system, and library catalog search, among other services. We are closely tracking usage and are make changes and additions based on usage and feedback from users.

i.sju.eduWe have also just recently developed and launched a mobile-friendly version of top-level pages on optimized for prospective students. The new design, available at, which also uses responsive techniques, allows prospective students to get to the information they are looking for more easily using mobile devices, especially smartphones. While this does not give them access to the full site, it does allow them to get some information easily and hopefully get them “hooked” on SJU and they can return to the site later from a laptop or desktop to get more info.

Moving forward, we intend to make the entire site mobile-friendly. There are two strategies that we are investigating currently, using responsive design for all pages and developing mobile-specific templates. There are pros and cons to both, which we are evaluating with a goal to select one direction and then plan on when we could have the site updated. It is still too early in the process to be able to put a specific date out there, but we definitely are trying to do it sooner rather than later.

Lastly, we know that a large part of being mobile is to have a native app, i.e. an app that is available from iTunes for Apple devices, Google Play or Amazon for Android-based devices, and the Windows store for Windows-based devices, and launches directly on the device as opposed through a browser. These native apps are the ultimate goal as they are typically what people think of when thinking mobile.

Currently, we are evaluating a number of mobile platforms that facilitate more rapid development and easier maintenance of apps than if we built them ourselves from scratch. We hope to move through the evaluation process this spring with an eye toward possible implementation over the summer. We really would like to launch a native mobile app specifically for current students sometime during the 2014-15 academic year, if possible.


New University Search Engine

The university has moved from its unsupported, internally hosted, Google Search Appliance to a cloud based solution, Google Custom Search engine (GCS).

The new Google Custom Search (GCS) provides:

  • Better and quicker search results
  • Easy and powerful search administration.
    Search indexing statistics, logs, and integration with Google Analytics, provides relevant feedback which is used to improve Google’s central index, providing better search results from as well as the result using and the search box at the top of all university pages.


With this information we can use GCS’s advanced features to make sure users are getting the information they need when they need it.

  • Advanced search features, including Promotions, which displays results, based on key words or time periods, at the top of the search results with a brief description, image, and custom appearance such as borders and background colors.


  • Autocomplete, helps users get results quickly by displaying useful queries as soon as they start typing in the search box.


  • A less expensive solution (free for universities)

SJU’s search collection includes all the web pages in these domains:


IT Web Services along with University Communications configures and maintains the Google Custom Search Engine. Secure sites/pages, mySJU, and certain file types are not being indexed.

If you have any questions about the new search engine or request help on adjusting page results, please submit the request to Due to GCS limitations, we cannot accommodate all requests to change search results.

1 Smartphone x 1 Clunky Website = People Moving on with Life

I mentioned in my previous post that one of the inevitable priorities that I see coming for Saint Joseph’s University is playing catch-up to the mobile revolution.

Googly-Eyed Dogs

If you’ve ever tried browsing our site on an iPhone, I know what you look like. Image credit unknown.

At, our website was originally designed with the computer in mind. “Responsive Design” in conjunction with “Mobile First” was a somewhat new concept during the planning stages of this website, and Saint Joseph’s University missed the chance to build a site that worked on both big and small screens. If you’ve ever tried browsing our site on an iPhone, I know exactly who you are because you have a permanent expression stuck on your face.

So why is mobile and multi-device strategy so important? This seems like such an obvious question considering how almost everyone has a smartphone nowadays.

Of course mobile web strategy is important because we want to be able to navigate on our phones. As a student/faculty/staff member, we probably visit the SJU website several times a week. But I want to take a moment to explain the importance of mobile strategy for our world audience—the people whose first impression of us is likely via the website.

All the possible reasons why the smartphone has become more and more relevant for the University’s comprehensive digital strategy lead to one simple thing: sheer convenience.

Convergence of Technologies

All of these devices converged into the smartphone in your pocket. Image credit unknown.

The Convenience of Convergence

When you look at the smartphone, it’s packed full of all the goodies that used to be in multiple, distinct devices. In addition to the phone being a cell phone, it’s also our email, calendar, web browser, search engine, gaming device, world map, camera, video player, audio recorder, calculator… you get the point. The convergence of these technologies has already happened, and the convergence will continue to happen beyond our imagination.

The fact that all of these gadgets and computer applications converged into a small device in the palm of our hand is extraordinarily convenient, and it makes the smartphone the most effective communication device above anything else we’ve ever had.

The Convergence of Communication

On the day that all of our communication tools converged into one tiny gadget, it changed the way we conduct communication forever. The convergence of these technologies resulted in collapsing and unifying our daily communication channels; our phone, text messaging, email, web browser, search, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram all became much more interconnected on the smartphone because of how freely we jump back and forth between the assortment of communication channels.

The Finale can’t be Clunky and Un-integrated

The website is often the final destination in a digital marketing campaign.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever clicked on a link in an email and found yourself on a site that doesn’t work well on your smartphone. What did you do then?
…click, click, DELETE!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever clicked on a link from a Facebook post and found yourself on a website that took too long to load. Did you sit there for minutes on end while the spinning wheel did its thing?
…click, click, CLOSE!

So when the website (which in many cases is supposed to be the finale of a marketing campaign to convey who we are and what we stand for) doesn’t work as expected on the smartphone, people are perfectly fine to swiftly move on.  In the world of integrated communications where email messages, texts and social media work perfectly fine on the smartphone, a clunky and un-integrated website is not going to retain the traffic no matter how awesome it looks on a bigger monitor.

Yup, that’s right:
1 smartphone x 1 clunky website = people moving on with life

The Inevitable Facts

Here are some intriguing facts from a variety of sources to illustrate how people are adapting to mobile devices:

  • 9% of total web traffic on included mobile & tablet devices in 2012.  The amount of mobile & tablet traffic is expected to almost double to 17% by the end of 2013.
  • The total of smartphones entering the world was about 3.6 million devices per day in 2012. Compare that to the approximately 371 thousand babies born per day. [1]
  • In 2013, 78% of juniors and seniors in high school had access to mobile devices, and 68% of those students used the mobile devices to browse college websites. [2]
  • 47% of juniors and seniors in high school check email on mobile devices daily, and 67% check at least once per week. [2]
  • 52% of consumers between 18 and 30 years old say their smartphone is now their primary email-reading device. [3]
  • 49 % of consumers of all ages are likely to click on hyperlinks in emails sent from businesses to their mobile phone. [3]
  • 82% of iPhone owners open email on their mobile device. [3]
  • 250 milliseconds can be the difference between a visitor gained vs. lost on a website. [4]

The use of smartphones has been rising steadily from year to year, and I haven’t seen any indication of these trends tapering off.  While many of these numbers are surprising to see, the trend of the increasing importance of smartphones is very much in line with our expectations.

The biggest takeaway from these statistics for me is that smartphone users expect to be able to access everything from anywhere at anytime, and very quickly.  Being a smartphone user myself, I know this to be true.

Seamless Mobile Experience

Establishing a mobile-friendly website as an integral piece of the overall digital strategy for Saint Joseph’s University will be the foundation for enabling other impactful initiatives.

So What Next?

Transforming into a mobile-friendly site should be at the forefront of the University’s website priorities.  Sure, there are many other priorities, but establishing a mobile-friendly website as an integral piece of the overall digital strategy for Saint Joseph’s University will be the foundation for enabling other impactful initiatives and improvements we carry out on our website, now and in the future.

Remodeling a big website like ours to be mobile-friendly at every tier and every page, however, is going to be a long process that takes a lot of planning.  Going mobile is a big shift in how content contributors across the University will need to think of the website, and a large part of the webteam’s job will also be to guide them in creating concise, task-focused content for our mobile visitors.

While the entire transformation may take several years, we plan on taking incremental steps to implement “Responsive Design” in manageable chunks so that we can see timely results on the most visible (and most visited) pages of

The first such baby step that we’ve recently taken is the introduction of mobile-friendly landing pages at and (Go ahead and try them on your smartphone.)  This is not the perfect solution, but it’s a small step in the right direction. Next up will likely be a template overhaul at the top-tier of the website so that the smartphone experience from the homepage down to the main sections of the site is seamless and uninterrupted.


  1. Wroblewski, Luke. Data Monday: Mobile Devices Per Day. May 20, 2013.
  2. Noel-Levitz, LLC. 2013 E-Expectations Report: The Impact of Mobile Browsing on the College Search Process. October 7, 2013.
  3. Constant Contact, Inc. Constant Contact and Chadwick Martin Bailey Study: Three-Quarters of Consumers ‘Highly Likely’ to Delete Emails They Can’t Read on Mobile Devices. August 13, 2013.
  4. Lohr, Steve. For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to WaitThe New York Times. February 29, 2012.

Conference Recap: No One is Alone

When you come to the same place every day and do the same job every day, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I know this first-hand: I stepped onto campus for the first time as a student in August of 2000, and I’ve been here pretty much every day since. Nine of those years I’ve been working on our website, listening to the needs of our students, hearing the ideas of our faculty. And while the needs of our students and the ideas of our faculty are relevant and worth primary focus, thirteen years at a single place can give you some serious tunnel vision, leading to a way of thinking that yours is the only way of doing things, for better or worse.

That’s why I love perspective. And when four members of the Web Team attended the HighEdWeb Conference last month, perspective is exactly what we got.

HighEdWeb is an association of web professionals who work at colleges and universities across the country. From back end coders to graphic designers to content writers, this is a group jam packed with smart people who know a lot about the Internet in general and how to use it to communicate with students in particular.

I learned quite a bit at the conference: I learned about how to use social media more effectively, I learned about analyzing content on our website and others, I learned about the role of technology in the future of education. But none of these things can measure up to the greatest lesson I was reminded of:

We are not alone.

Not in an “alien autopsy” kind of way. Conferences teach you that other schools – many, many other schools – have the same problems we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Every school is overwhelmed with massive chunks of information that can be difficult to display in a way that will seem logical to all users. Every school needs more resources in web than they already have. Every school has things about their website that they wish they could burn to the ground and build from scratch, but knows that it’s not realistic to do so.

Some schools are doing things on their websites that make us, as a Web Team, extremely jealous. Some schools are doing things on their websites that make us scratch our heads. Conferences like HighEdWeb let us learn from each other and, if we really like something on someone else’s website, borrow ideas from each other.

It’s cool, though. We’re all friends.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. Sometimes, tunnel vision can happen on the micro level. You only know what your department needs. And that’s okay; looking out for your own needs is what keeps you functioning on a day-to-day basis. But it’s conferences like these that remind us that not only are we the web workers a team, but that everyone at this university – and higher ed in general – are a team, working towards the same goals.

This blog is a great start toward fostering that understanding here on campus. We’re all here to serve the students we have in the best way possible, and we’re here to make sure that SJU continues to draw high quality students in the future. Let’s use this blog and its accompanying newsletter to start the conversation to make it happen.

I’m looking forward to the perspective.

Think Before Hitting Submit. Are You Just Adding to the Black Hole?

The history of publishing content on the web, at many colleges and universities, included the practice of throwing any and everything online, and see what sticks. Most server file systems look sort of like the My Documents or Trash Can folder on your computer, a place where we tend to add a new page, upload and image, or document and forget about it. Maybe, someday, you may get to organizing or updating those files and pages that still have to-do dates of November 2012. However, from my experience seeing what content managers do online, most usually just leave the old page, which has the November 2012 content, and add a new page that has the same content, but now has to-do dates of November 2013.

This is the pattern that allows many sites, including SJU, to have pages and pages of unused, un-updated, useless content that no one can find or reads. The old version of the site, before the current redesign, had over 10,000 page files, and twice that amount of images, graphics, PDFs, and Word docs.  Image yourself that perspective student, potential faculty/staff member, or just someone browsing for information on our site, and has to wade through 10,000 pages to find the one piece of information that you need. Then they try to use our search box to look for that to-do page, but the results present the November 2012 page first, instead of the November 2013 page. And we hear all the time, “Search is not working,” Guess why?


Is your website working?

Does it have the best, most updated, content for the audience you are trying to reach?

Is it presented in a way they want, or are more likely to read it?


These are the question that we all need to think about before we hit submit in any of our web content management systems. Otherwise, you are just adding to the “black hole” of the web, and likely what you just published online is not going to be effective, engaging, or get any views at all.



Usability Testing & Web Analytics

All of these tools will allow you to back-up the content you have or would like to have online with actual data. There is a great deal of information on the use and philosophy of these tools, so I am not going to begin to re-define them, however here are some good sources for more in-depth information on each:

Usability Testing (A/B Test, Card Sorts, Reverse Card Sorting)

Web Analytics (Site Stats, Event Tracking)


“This is too technical for me.”

“I don’t have time for this; I just need to get this content up”


Don’t worry; the Web Team is here to help.

The Web Team is in the process of developing procedures and tools that will allow you evaluate the content you have or want to put online. Giving content manager the opportunity to think about the business case for what you would like to do online or the issues you would like to address, before putting in a ticket or project request for a site overhaul, adding a photo carousel, or asking for scrolling text across the top of the page.

We are adding the ability to do A/B testing on ideas, to see if they are actually good ideas to improve engagement or test particular functionality, instead of just throwing it up and seeing if it sticks. Card sort testing that could allow your users to determine how content should be categorized and organized in a way they understand. Event tracking, to determine what action items are being used and what is simply being ignored. We will also be taking advantage of available plugins for Cascade and WordPress, to provide more access to analytics and website statistics to content managers, so you can have a better understanding of site usage.

More information and progress on the development of these tools will be published here, as well as in any contact you have with members of the Web Team. However, feel free to comment below with any ideas you may have to promote this effort.

Let’s try not to continue to allow the black hole grow, and work together to create useful, meaningful content for our users.


A Brief History of …

Being the elder statesman of the Web Team, I thought that I would take the opportunity of my first contribution to the revamped Webteam blog to reflect back on the history of the site. Seeing how I built the first one, I feel somewhat connected to it.

Unfortunately, it looks like the first instance is lost in the annals of time. Not even the Wayback Machine ( has a copy of it. While I can’t show what it looked like, I can assure you that it was nothing like the sites of today. In fact, it was mostly text because back in the early 1990’s, digital graphics and images were not only much harder to create, they were nearly impossible to transport across a very immature and slow Internet. When connecting via a 28.8kbps modem, not many people had the patience to wait for a smiley face to load!

The Early Years

The first site actually was a natural progression from our Gopher server, which was a text-based system that allowed you to share out documents over the Internet, and Usenet, an early way to collaborating with others online.

The first web site ran on software developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In fact, pretty much all of the early software developed for the Internet was developed at colleges and really was intended for academic use primarily. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 90’s that commercial use took off when new companies such as AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy started providing Internet access to the general public.


June 1997

But I digress. Back to the history of

The initial purpose of the site was really to centrally house, and provide easy access to, any and all things SJU. Looking back to the earliest version of the site available through the Wayback Machine, from June 1997 (shown at left), you can see that we referred to it is at the “Campus Wide Information System”. Plus started to have some pretty nifty graphical elements, too. I miss those gargoyles, which were taken from actual photos of the ones that are on the Barbelin/Lonergan building.

In those early days of the web, I spent a lot of time going around asking folks to provide some content, any content, for the site. We would take anything, from descriptions of academic programs to departmental news and meeting minutes, and anything in between. It was really a place to post that information for anyone at SJU to easily access. We really didn’t think of it in terms of student recruitment since most high school students didn’t have access to the Internet at that time.

April 2001

April 2001

The site evolved from there over the years. The next full redesign was done around 2000 (who remembers Y2K?) and was on display for the University’s Sesquicentennial celebration in 2001. One important thing to note with the new design was the “Info for” section where we first started targeting information for specific audiences, including external ones.

Riding the Internet Wave

May 2005

May 2005

2003 marked the next redesign of the site, which introduced a little more color along with some new technology (at the time), such as an RSS feed to provide updated news stories along with some javascript to do a rotating “Featured Event” in the lower right corner. During this time we also spent a lot of time working with faculty and staff of SJU to help them become web experts in their own rights. We provided access to web development tools (Macromedia’s Dreamweaver and Contribute) that enabled them to create and update the content on the site without actually having to know HTML. This really drove the amount of content on the site to new heights.

To this point in time, all of the design and development work that went into each new revision of the site was done in-house by IT, University Communications, and Creative Services staff members. At the same time, other universities were following the lead of corporate America and enlisting the services of professional web design firms to take their sites to new levels, primarily to aid in the recruitment of new students.

March 2009

March 2009

A Recruiting Tool

So, in 2006, we took that path and enlisted the services of a design firm from Providence, Rhode Island, who had a large amount of experience working with universities, to design our new site that was launched in the fall of 2007. The new design was much more clean than the previous one and really started to show campus off in order to give prospective students a (virtual) feel for campus.

This also marked a decided change in the purpose of the site. It was no longer the “Campus Wide Information System” from the late 90’s but the primary online recruiting tool for the University. While MySJU had been around for a few years, it was during this time that we started to make a concerted effort to move information for current members of Hawk Hill into MySJU in order to optimize the site for external audiences, particularly prospective students.

July 2011

July 2011

Some updates were done to the homepage in 2010 to respond to the needs of all audiences. As shown in the July 2011 version of the homepage, we enhanced the way that news was presented and introduced the new features “Hawk Profiles” and “Campus Experts” to showcase the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff to prospective students. You’ll also see in this version the undergraduate admissions mantra of “Not for Spectators” was introduced to the site to match the recruiting materials they were giving out to high school students.

Where We Stand Today

October 2013

October 2013

Our current version of the site was launched in July of 2012 to coincide with the launch of the magis / live greater marketing campaign highlighted by the sponsorship of local TV coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympic games. (I know everyone has seen the commercials by now!) This new version is a continuation 2006 model in that we are really focusing on making it the best recruiting tool possible by incorporating more “immersive imagery” to really give prospective students a feel for how beautiful our campus is and attempting to align our information up with the needs of the primary audiences that are looking at the site, the prospective undergraduate, adult learning, graduate business, and graduate arts & sciences students.

imc-award-2012The new site, while certainly not perfect (and we know that), has garnered some critical acclaim for external entities. We got an “honorable mention” in the School/University category from the Webby Awards, which represents recognition in the top 15% of the over 11,000 entries submitted for the 2013 awards.

We also received “Best in Class” award in the University category from the Interactive Media Awards. These are achievements that our team, and hopefully the rest of the University, take great pride in.

The Future

Our work is certainly not done. We are working every day to make the site better, to meet the needs of SJU. Having the newest site live for over a year now, we have accumulated a mountain of analytics as well as feedback from various constituents that we are using to identify further changes, fixes, and enhancements to make to the site. In the short term, we’ll be implementing some new features and tweaking things here and there to make the site more effective. But, sticking to our 4-5 year refresh window, we are already starting to think and plan what the next version of will be. Look out, 2016 is just around the corner!

Hi. I'm Cary. Let me introduce myself.

Hi.  I’m Cary Foster, and I’m the new Director of Web Communications at the Office of Marketing and Communications.  I’m brand new to Saint Joseph’s University in a role that’s never existed before, so I want to take this opportunity to explain my goals, ambitions and priorities.

First, why this position was created.

Here’s the gist of how the official job description explains my responsibilities:

  • serve as the University’s lead web content strategist;
  • promote an integrated web presence across, MySJU, social media, and mobile apps;
  • develop, implement and manage online communication strategies in support of the institutional goals;
  • facilitate partnerships across the University to devise a comprehensive web communication plan;
  • partner with colleagues in IT to drive ongoing web development for SJU.

In short, there is an institutional need for a dedicated expert to establish a university-wide online strategy for Saint Joseph’s and follow through with specific goals that support the overarching institutional priorities.

Why I was hired.

I was hired into this new position because I have just the background and experience to build this venture for the University.  Prior to Saint Joe’s, I led a team of five web professionals at Oberlin College to propel their top-level web marketing, content strategy, web governance, social media, UI/UX design, software development, and email marketing.

I know what it takes to run a successful online strategy, and I’m excited to contribute my expertise to my talented colleagues in both Marketing & Communications and Information Technology.

What I plan to do.

To be frank, I don’t have any solid plans yet, nor should I because I’m still in the process of getting to know this place.  I have lots of ideas based on my first impression of the University’s online collaterals, but it wouldn’t be fair for me to solidify any plans just yet without hearing some ideas from you, the campus community.

To that end, here are a few to-do items straight out of my Wunderlist:

  • set up strategic discussions with University leadership;
  • schedule planning sessions with admissions;
  • schedule discussions with the deans to hear their visions;
  • set up conversations with academic department chairs for input from faculty;
  • schedule strategic discussions with University Communications;
  • schedule strategic discussions with division-specific communications liaisons;
  • schedule a conversation with student senate;
  • start a webteam blog to share ideas with campus;
  • establish a cross-functional project group for developing institutional digital style guide;
  • establish a cross-functional project group for developing institutional social media guidelines;
  • establish a student webteam to help with site production/maintenance;
  • define staffing needs.

As you can see, most of my to-dos are about talking with people.  And I intend to do a lot of listening.  Through these conversations, I hope to start forming some short-term and long-term goals for Saint Joe’s.

Improving the online experience.

While I’m still learning the unique people, history, culture, and the sheer organizational complexity of SJU, my fundamental purpose in my new role is driven by my desire to improve the online experience for our general audience.

Nowadays, improving the online experience can involve a ton of different things, and the following are the components of web communications that’ll drive my short-term and long-term priorities:

Visibility & Positioning

How we want people find our site, and what key phrase we want Saint Joseph’s University to be associated with on search engines.

Branding & Messaging

What our online communication channels convey, and how they come off to people.  Basically the personality that people perceive through our online mediums.

Information Architecture

How intuitively information is organized for our visitors when they navigate the website.

Mobile Accessibility

How seamlessly the webpages, images, videos, email campaigns, etc. display on the variety of modern mobile devices.

User Interface Design

How intuitively interactive components are designed on our website, email campaigns, mobile apps, etc. for the visitors.

Platform & Software Compatibility

How consistently webpages, email campaigns, videos, apps, etc. display/function on the many versions of various software on all of the operating systems that are being used on the oodles of computers and devices out there.

Maintenance & Production Cycles

How opportunely we position resources on our website for visitors.

Content Contribution Model

Who the content experts are on our campus for the different areas of the website, and what the workflow looks like for them to contribute their specialty content for the website.  This ultimately impacts what visitors see on the site.

Content Modeling

How website assets are structured, categorized, tagged, etc. in the database so that different types of content can be related for dynamic output.  E.g. department ←→ area of study ←→ major/minor ←→ related majors/minors ←→ course description ←→ course id ←→ related courses ←→ faculty profile ←→ directory data ←→ syllabi.

Other Technology Stuff

Of course, there are tons of other systemic considerations that ultimately influence the online experience: e.g. server uptime, server response time, network/server security, disaster recovery protocol, software security, software versioning and deployment plans, etc.  Luckily, I have expert colleagues in IT who are better at thinking about technology than I am!

Final thoughts.

Just as you have a three- to five-year cycle for upgrading your computer, we generally have three- to five-year cycles for upgrading websites and other digital collaterals.  For this reason, many of our short-term and long-term goals will be planned with this natural life cycle in mind.

Looking at the cycle for Saint Joe’s, one of the inevitable priorities that I see coming for the University is playing catch-up to the mobile revolution.  I’ll likely write another blog post dedicated to explaining why mobile strategy is important for the University, but it is certainly a huge and fundamental component to improving the overall online experience for many people.

So, I hope to seek your input and hear your ideas through chitchats, discussions, heated arguments, angry phone calls (nope, none of that), and perhaps through the comments section below.

I look forward to hearing from you.