I had a friend contact me the other day and tell me that they had just gotten a job at a university out in the midwest. The website wasn’t all that great, they had no social media presence, and her job was to change all that. She asked for advice, everything and anything. Truth be told, I had never really thought about it like this before. When I started, most of this stuff was in play or at least in process. We had amazing web designers/developers and a creative director to point them in a common direction.
It was fun to think about starting from scratch. I started listing websites, blogs, and people on Twitter I thought could help give insight as my friend had requested. The very first thing I said, however, was that they needed to find some way to measure. At the university I work for, data matters, as it should just about everywhere. Decisions are made on data, not guesses (most times). If you’re just redesigning a website for the sake of the look, you’re not really helping the user out by neglecting their opinions. When I say opinions, I’m not necessarily talking about asking them (though you certainly can). Using something like Google Analytics, or in our case Omniture, allows you to identify people’s preferences when navigating your site. You identify their behaviors which in a lot of cases is similar to the larger group of users. Once the behaviors are identified, you can design a site that makes it easier for a person to find the information they are looking for. The faster they can get to the information, the lower the drop off or exit rate.
We have now redesigned our website 3 times since I have been here. A lot of times that includes updating the graphics and the images, but we have also added a new dimension, user experience. Through several reports, we can identify the most common paths of users, the things that are clicked on the most within each page, split internal and external visitors (via IP address), and ultimately design an experience that caters to our audience. All that said, measuring is an important function, especially when it comes to the web. Helpful links to get started: