Shouldn’t your next higher ed web project be a Content Redesign?

January 17th, 2011 Karine Joly 18 Comments

I believe it should.

What do I mean by a “Content Redesign?”

Something quite simple and complex at the same time.

This Way That Way Which way to turnEvery 3 to 4 years, most universities and colleges (well, at least those with some budgets left) embark in major web redesign projects. After many discussions and meetings, your web committee finally gives the greenlight to start the work on a several-month project to launch a newly redesigned website.

In most cases, the redesigned website includes new homepage and secondary pages, a more user-friendly navigation scheme and even some improved content. While it infuriates a vocal minority, this new version is welcome by the majority and even seen as a success by the members of your web committee.

All is well in Redesign Land and everybody can go back to sleep work until the need for another upgrade arises 3 to 4 years later.

While some institutions decide to spice up a bit the classic redesign project scenario by throwing up a content management system (CMS) implementation, these redesigns with a CMS twist have most of the time the same ending: web content that is rarely updated, some become redudant and the rest turns stale as the months pass and new responsabilities get added to the job description of content contributors.

As many have already pointed out in our community, web content doesn’t get a lot of love in higher education – or anywhere for that matter.

In her book, Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson, highlights clearly in the first pages that web content is most of the time an after-thought, a filler, you know, the lorem ipsum designers use in their design comps:

Most web project schedules postpone content development until the eleventh hour. As a result, content quality is often seriously compromised.

So, no love for content? Really?
Why on earth would you spend so little time and effort on what fuels the Web?

As you know, people use the Web to find content that entertains, informs or helps them connect with others. And, while web designs look more and more alike with the same widgets, social plugins, navigation schemes and even colors, great web content will be the next big differentiator in the Web (or Facebook) arena.

Unfortunately, any serious work on content strategy and production requires an important amount of time and resources. It might not look as sexy as a cutting-edge or smart new visual design, but on the big scheme of things, it’s definitely more important.

So, what can you do?
For once, why not focus your energy and efforts on content by planning and implementing what I called earlier a “Content Redesign”?

What better place than higher education to sell the merit of good Web content?

Make your “Content Redesign” the project.

Don’t touch the visual shell of your website.

Don’t evaluate and implement a CMS while you’re at it.

Instead, just focus on content.

Not just the way it’s organized at the site- or page-level, the information architecture, but also what it says and how it meets the needs of your web audiences. Give your web content the attention it deserves.

The content strategy purists won’t like my idea, because content strategy calls more for a process-approach than a project-approach.
However, I believe that it takes a village of projects to raise an effective process.

The web community might not been too keen on this idea, because it seems easier to address everything at once.
Well, I think it’s probably because it’s easier to pass over content shortcomings when the project includes many other components.

What do YOU think about this idea of “Content Redesign” for higher ed websites? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share it by posting a comment!