Things are looking a bit different today on the university’s website.
Actually, they look a lot different.
Following almost a year-long process of online surveys, stakeholder consultations and usability studies, Western’s re-designed website went live this morning. It’s a long-overdue change, said Terry Rice, Marketing and Creative Services director in Western’s Communications and Public Affairs Department.
“The previous design had been tweaked over the past few years, but was in need of a significant overhaul,” Rice said. “Our website is such an important tool for telling the Western story. Whether it’s a prospective student thinking about applying here or faculty member thinking about working here, the site serves many audiences and it’s critical that we have a design that is engaging, clean and, above all, user friendly.”
Judy Steward, team leader of the Customer Support Centre, Information Technology Services (ITS), played a major role in creating the templates, data definitions, content types, configuration sets, formats and other behind-the-scenes needs to bring the website to life.
She trumpeted the number of sites now operated by Cascade, a content management system (CMS).
“There are a number of benefits to having the new design available in just one CMS,” Steward said. “From an ITS perspective, we can focus our support on just one product. This affects front-facing assistance, like the Help Desk, documentation and training as well as server-side support like software implementation, maintenance and backups. This is beneficial to us as a support unit, as well as to any of our customers.”
With literally hundreds of people involved in the redesign, it was important for the university to consult with students, faculty, staff and alumni on all aspects of the design to deliver a great end product, Rice said. He added his team poured over existing stats to learn as much as they could about what Western’s audiences want and need.
The changes will be quite dramatic for people when they see it for the first time, Rice admitted.
Among the new features:
- Access to the most frequently used websites (including Western’s directory) from a ribbon that is constant across all new websites that use the same template;
- A rotating banner that will feature big news stories, recruitment activities, research stories, as well as athletic and cultural events;
- The main website navigation is now in a ‘mega-nav’ format, which streamlines access to the most-visited pages;
- On second-level pages, the secondary navigation is moving from the right to the left, which will be more intuitive for people.
Western launched its first website in 1997, and has seen around a half dozen full redesigns and countless tweaks to it over the years.
Over the last year, Western’s homepage has boasted more than 6.6 million visits by more than 1.8 million unique visitors.
As you would guess, a majority of those 6.6 million visits are from inside Canada, but a number come from around the globe – 180,980 from the United States, 95,614 from China, 34,838 from India and 31,135 from the United Kingdom.
Social media has become an ever-increasing driver of traffic to the website, and you will see that reflected in the changes made to the homepage. Nearly 16,000 visits came in from Facebook, 2,677 from Twitter and 2,067 from LinkedIn. Nearly 64,000 visits came in via iPads, another 60,000 from iPhones.
Those visitors viewed more than 9.4 million pages, averaging of 1.42 pages or more than three minutes per visit. Western’s traffic remains steady throughout the year, with predictable dips in December around the holidays.
Rice said the web redesign was the next logical next step following the rebranding work the university rolled out earlier in the year.
Stewart agreed. “Overall, it makes for a stronger design and easier maintenance for Western’s collection of websites,” she said.
That said, the launch is just the beginning.
Rice pointed to feedback tabs on the homepage and key second-level pages. The comments gathered from those areas will be used by developers to help improve the sites in the days and months ahead.
“At every stage of the consultation, people pointed out things to us that kept making the site better and better,” he said. “This has been an incredible amount of work for our talented team of student designers, web designers in our department, as well as a few key partners in ITS. It will be rewarding for all involved today (launch day).”