New University Home Page Marks Beginning of Web Optimization Project
On December 18, 2012, visitors to Sam Houston State University’s website were greeted with a new home page – a home page that includes a new set of navigational headers, featuring “drop-down” menus, as well as other improvements. This date was chosen with faculty and students in mind, because it was the day after grades were posted and Fall 2012 semester activities were wrapped up.
This change was an important first step in the Web Optimization Project, a process which began in the summer of 2012. The Web Optimization Project is a broad collaborative effort involving SHSU’s Division of Academic Affairs and the Division of Enrollment Management. Those divisions organized a task force to identify SHSU’s current challenges in terms of the university’s online presence and from a recruiting perspective.
The task force identified three basic objectives to address SHSU’s overall web needs:
- Establish a high ranking for SHSU programs on search engines
- Optimize all SHSU websites to drive enrollment, beginning with online and graduate programs
- Eliminate process barriers for students who cannot physically come to campus or engage during traditional business hours
Redesign of the university’s home page marked the beginning of the project’s effort to meet these three objectives. The new home page has a streamlined header. While links included in the header remain accessible—we know how helpful the links in the header are to faculty and staff—the header was “de-cluttered” to make it clearer and easier to use. Handy items frequently used by faculty, staff, and students, including links to campus email, MySam, SamWeb, and Blackboard, are now contained in a new group of drop-down items called "Campus Tools."
The redesigned home page also includes a secondary navigation system that appears next to the rotating images (and story links) below the header. Other elements on the home page have also been updated in terms of appearance and behavior.
Many more improvements are now being implemented following the launch of the new home page. These changes are being completed by a new group of web content specialists hired in the second half of 2012 by the DELTA Center. Details on subsequent steps in the project are available in a presentation prepared by the task force. You can find it at the project website.
A common thread in the whole process will be collaboration and consultation between the project’s web content specialists and subject matter experts in SHSU’s Colleges and departments. The Colleges will still have full control and final approval of the content of their sites, but they will also benefit from the assistance and specific expertise of the project team. The team is committed to “being there” for users in every College and department.
Two Colleges – the College of Education and the College of Criminal Justice – have agreed to serve as pilots for the optimization project. Work on these Colleges serves as a model for eventual optimization of the other Colleges’ sites.
An Advisory Board for the project has also been created, with representatives chosen by each College and university department. The role of the Advisory Board is to keep each College and department informed about ongoing project activities, provide the faculty/College/department perspective, and provide input on various activities, including development of guidelines for new College and department websites. Again, through the entire process, the Colleges will have the flexibility and autonomy they need—while the University’s overall goals are also being met.