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 sju.edu 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.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
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.