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Follow the Clicks

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The Dalhousie Web site is scheduled for an overhaul. With that will be an opportunity to rethink how we present our University to the external world.

As an organization that has fostered web pages from the early years, the proliferation of pages has been organic. Our web site followed organizational structure and gave units their own identity. In recent years, however, Google and other search engines have rendered that model obsolete. Now, rather an a web structure that mimics our complex organization, we need it designed for the naive searcher.

To understand how people seek information is to follow their clicks

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We have analytic tools that track clicks and searches. When we see a particular term being sought routinely, we will position that information so it is readily available. For instance, on the Dal site, many people search for ‘blackboard,’ our course management system. To accommodate them, we should give Blackboard a prominent position on our pages. Other information is sought at particular times of the year: Convocation, billing due dates, application requirements. . . these all see spikes. We need to present that information accordingly.

Our new web project provides the ability to break down our organizational boundaries in favor of integrated services. Here’s an example: In the old web, many of the teaching, academic support, IT and related services all have distinctive web pages. They also reside in different divisions at Dalhousie. From our organizational perspective, this makes sense. From a prospective students’ perspective, it is confusing. As we think about how to present our services, we need to reframe them. Think of a link on the home page for Teaching and Learning Resources. From there would be a page that highlights information resources, faculty support, access to research databases, tutoring, help with Blackboard, support for multimedia in the classroom and stress management for finals. With one fell swoop, we’ve just crossed the turf of three organizational divisions. From a student perspective, we put together a basket of resources that makes sense. The web is blind to our organizational boundaries.

We are doing this as we plan for the ITS web pages. People are rarely looking for ITS the department. Rather, they want help on various topics: What do they bring to campus for the first semester? What number do they call with questions? How do they pay a bill online? How do they reset a password? How do they get into Blackboard? Is wireless available on campus? What kind of computer should they buy and where? Where can they find computer repairs? There are hundreds more questions like these. Having a central place to provide these answers will help us organize our information to be more attuned to their needs. They will not need to know about our organization, or whether they should contact Network and Systems, Administrative Services, Academic Support or the Help Desk.

We’ll be following the clicks and adjusting accordingly.

Interesting . . . if we can do this for web pages, can we do it for our organization?

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Web Revitalization Project

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A project is underway to revitalize the Dalhousie Web site. Consider it a do-over. Our goal is to make it more engaging, intuitive and attractive to our visitors. The Dalhousie web pages are a central component of our marketing strategy.
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The first step will be to acquire a new content management system and migrate the old pages into the new site. Some content will come along, other content will be placed in an internal site, and some content will be retired. It is all part of a larger plan to organize our information according to how people search for information. The project is akin to moving from one house to another. Belongings need to be sorted, organized and boxed. Each box will be labeled for a specific room in the new house. And, as with any move, it is a good time to clean out the closets and discard things that are no longer needed.

Once completed, our new public site will:

  • create a strong first-impression for prospective students and those seeking information at Dalhousie
  • reflect Dalhousie’s enrolment objectives
  • be easily navigable, searchable and intuitive, designed for information-seekers more than reflective of our internal organizational structure.
  • engage people through integrated social networking tools

In addition to a facelift to the public web pages, the my.Dal web portal will be upgraded. The portal – or intranet – will be used as a secure gateway to Dalhousie information systems, online services and targeted communications.

Faculties and departments will receive plenty of support for the migration of web content. A team will be established to provide central support and administration of the external web pages. It will comprise content providers, technologists, and designers. The project team will be working with a web consulting group to help with this large project.

Watch Notice Digest for regular updates. You may also subscribe to this blog site and use the RSS feed. Regular updates will be posted here. Those who wish to engage with the web project team may join the online project discussion at www.yammer.com. Sign on and select the Web Revitalization Project.