How to Build a University Website That Actually Works

May 24th, 2022

We’ve all been there.

Your director wants to start a weekly research blog, your faculty want to build their own websites but host on yours, your students want to know whether they’re going to be on campus in the fall, and you’re just trying to keep the site from crashing again.

By their very nature, universities have lots of stakeholders with diverse wants and needs. As they demand the same level of innovation on your website as in their research, just keeping the site running is often a challenge.

In this webinar with Pantheon, we show how you can build a platform that is easy to use, makes stakeholders and leadership happy, and supports you and your mission.

Start from the Beginning

It sounds simple, but anyone who has tried a major website overhaul knows how hard it can be to focus on the basics. Starting to plan by determining your site’s primary goals will ensure that key objectives are met. Building from the ground up will save time, money, and frustration and create a site with the infrastructure to support these goals.

Step 1 - Functionality: Building a reliable site that’s easy to navigate, hard to break, and secured against hacking will help users find what they’re looking for and leave you with fewer fires to put out. After all, it’s hard to create impact when all your time is spent keeping your site from crashing. Ensuring the site is backed up and can revert to a previous version will provide quick fixes if something does happen, and building a functional site will give you the credibility you need to get resources to do more.

Step 2 - Productivity: Your site works, so now it’s time to make sure it works for you. Is it easy to update? Does the content have a consistent look and feel? Basic automation and governance will make updates easier and the site look professional, leaving you time to focus on your mission instead of rote tasks. Creating a culture of collaboration between designers, developers, marketers, content creators, and stakeholders will ensure that the site works well for everyone.

Step 3 - Impact: The ultimate goal! With a solid foundation, you’ll have time to focus on engaging key audiences, supporting stakeholders, and promoting your mission. Creating success metrics will help you to achieve your goals, and continuous upgrades will save you from slogging from one redesign to the next.

Get Leadership on Board

The hardest part of any new initiative. Here are a few ways to set expectations and get your gatekeepers to open their wallets:

Meet Their Needs: Is there something on the website that really bothers your director? Show how your planned improvements will fix it.

Use Evidence-Based Data: Put those research standards to use! Show how improving website functionality and productivity will save time and money in the long run.

Be Realistic: You have a lot on your plate. A phased rollout will help to balance the needs of the web with everything else and spread out the cost.

Why It Matters

Having a reliable website has never been more important. Here’s a few reasons to make it a priority:

Crisis Response: If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that having a platform to provide accurate, up-to-date information is not optional, and that having a website capable of handling quick adjustments and heavy traffic is the key piece.

We’re Living in a Digital World: COVID-19 may have accelerated digital trends, but faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors expected to find information quickly and easily before the pandemic - and now, failing to provide answers at their fingertips is unforgivable.

FFW has helped universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, build digital platforms and solutions that deliver clarity and capability. We make your website secure and easy to manage so that you can create impact. Contact us to get started or learn more.

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Ryan Pirkle

Ryan Pirkle

Sr. Director Marketing & Communications Americas