Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Denison website raises visibility, targets prospective students

New Denison website raises visibility, targets prospective students
Sept 14 2013
Debbie Gillum

It’s no secret: Denison has a new website. While it’s a big difference from the previous website, this new site is more dynamic and interactive, with lots of layers and a slick view of events around campus.
President Weinberg is enthusiastic about the new site.
“I like the website. The hope is that MyDenison becomes the internal portal and the Denison.edu website becomes the external portal”
While it is still in the very early stages, the new website has already had positive anecdotal comments by key influencers.
“So far, prospective students, guidance counselors, and donors really like the website,” said President Adam Weinberg.
The website serves a wide variety of audiences, but a main focus is in recruiting prospective students.
“The new website will help raise visibility.We are always concerned about admissions, so we hope the website will become a sort of funnel to encourage new students to visit our campus,” Weinberg said.
Jesse Yeager ’10 and Assistant Director of Admissions returned from a "Southwest" tour of the Colleges That Change Lives fair in Chicago, Denver, Albuquerque and Phoenix and received many positive comments.
“I had multiple students comment to me that Denison had the best website of any of the (40 or so) Colleges That Change Lives schools. In fact our website was so intriguing to them, that they were compelled to come find me at the fair and learn more!”
Yeager likes how the new website is very externally oriented, “which is a wonderful for our mission in Admissions. It is a place I want to send students to so they can truly explore our college more and learn about the wonderful people here and the fascinating projects and passions that they pursue!”  
The site is primarily for people who don’t know Denison, but is still useful for staff and students.
“The site is designed to help outsiders and newcomers get to know Denison better and provide a big picture overview of who we are,” said Scott Tribble, Director of Digital Strategy & Development. Tribble was the guiding force throughout the long process of getting a new website.  
“It was his vision and guidance that enabled us to produce a site that goes well above and beyond the countless standard-issue ‘.edu’ sites so many colleges are publishing these days.” said Jack Hire, Director of University Communications.
Though the initiative was a team effort by the Office of Web, Social and Mobile Strategy & Development, and the University Communications staff, Tribble was charged with managing the project from concept to launch. This included defining the mission and scope of the site, developing its technical specifications, and identifying its organization, form and functionality.
“Because of the breadth, depth and richness of this dynamic site, it was an enormous undertaking, but with its launch in mid-August, Denison was able to take a quantum leap into a new era of communications with its public audiences.” said Hire
The new website also is more exciting, engaging and visual than the previous one. President Weinberg’s favorite part of the website is the stories that it tells about the community.
“It’s often challenging to help people understand how vibrant the Denison community is and how engaged and friendly students are.” he said, “The more we can tell stories about our students, the more it helps people understand the texture of our community.”
He emphasized that Denison’s major “selling point” is its quality of students, faculty and staff.
The previous website, which was last revamped in 2007, was viewed as static, whereas the new website helps keep Denison up with the times.
Getting to the new website was far from a quick and easy experience, especially because it was built up from scratch.
First, it was agreed upon by the college that Denison needed a modern web communication platform that could connect with prospective and current students, as well as faculty and staff.
“We wanted the website to communicate to these audiences in a way that they are accustomed to being communicated to online,” said Tribble. He emphasized how it’s “important for Denison to be aligned with the times and modern communications.”
Next, the right web partner had to be found. This search started in the early summer of 2011. The partner, called Code and Theory, that Denison ultimately chose to help them with the programming, code and design, has previously worked with Vogue and The Daily Beast.
When thinking about a new website design, Tribble looked to websites like Mashable, CNN and ESPN for inspiration. He wanted to explore what non-education organizations were doing on their websites.
“In the .edu space, there is a lot of similarity out there. We wanted something different,” Tribble said.  
The new website was a lengthy process because the new site was built from scratch and it was time consuming to move content from the old website to the new website.
In the end, the new layout of the website is, “striking, elegant and has beautiful typography” according to Tribble, “It’s bold for a college website but still feels appropriate.”
The new site is more conceptually organized around topics and related areas of interest, whereas the old website was based on the university’s organizational chart.     
Three new features of the website are the “Straight Talk From Students”, “Get to Know Denison” and “Denison A to Z”.
The “Straight Talk From Students” is from-the-heart unedited student comments and advice.
The “Denison A to Z” guide is a dynamic directory which is a literal and figurative A to Z guide of everything you need to know.
The “Get to Know Denison” section gives people a virtual campus experience of not only the exterior of buildings but also highlights what happens inside those buildings. This is a great tool for students who live outside of America and might not be able to visit Denison before applying.
The key motto behind the new website’s design is the tried-and-true phrase, “show don’t tell.” Tribble wanted it to be more visual.
“Images can be very powerful,” said Tribble, “It was a conscious decision to make the site much more visual.”  
Online, www.Denison.edu will continue to grow over the next several years. Websites are built to be continually adapted.

Tribble himself said it best: “The day you launch a website, it is already out of date.”