The following is a guest post by Zac Vineyard. Zac is the Web Programmer for Northwest Nazarene University, where he manages their web server, content management system (Typo3), content editor training, and a variety of other web projects. He is very interested in the organization of large web sites and believes in low-cost, easy web solutions for higher ed. You can follow him on Twitter or visit his persosnal web site and blog.
The most important content on web sites is text. Images help ground a user’s experience and video can be quite captivating, but, ultimately, quality text is the champion of web content. Some developers will obviously argue against this point, but I don’t want this to be a discussion about visual design, but rather a discussion on how universities, who at some level operate like a traditional media outlets, can use their story, news, and event media to its fullest potential. This is important because each story, announcement, and event we talk about online gets indexed as searchable content and has the power to impact our brand. The problem is that all our media is multifaceted, each type extending its hand to different audiences and purposes, making it hard to organize and distribute effectively.
Earlier this year, I started to re-evaluate how Northwest Nazarene University was presenting traditional media online. Part of this effort was initiated because I felt we were relying too heavily on social networks as means of syndication without much return. In fact, Facebook only makes up about 1% of our traffic each month, putting it well behind search engines (37%) and other sites. But as I investigated further, I found that not only did university departments and groups want their own way of sharing news with their more focused groups of constituents, but also that the way we were currently sharing news was very general.
Our previous method of working with news media was that almost every announcement, whether about a campus event or student achievement, got dumped into the same pot, which, in a way, gave us one media outlet. We were picking the best of our news articles to display on our homepage, and then hoping that other media resources, like the local paper, would syndicate our news as well. A few of these articles would land on our social network accounts. In reality, our media stream was like getting one or two channels with cable TV. This type of publishing, especially when you consider the wide range demographic groups any university is attempting to swoon, is far too general. The undergrad student would be lucky to find an interesting story among the varying types of news. The university Alumni would rarely find an event worth their participation.
In an attempt to focus our marketing efforts on one demographic group at a time (which, coincidentally, is what many Universities tend to do already), we are re-organizing our media stream into a combination of demographic and department categories and extending the ability for any department or campus group to post relevant news about their office or organization. The largest benefit we will get from this type of content re-organization is that search engines will now index all of our news in web site locations relevant to our media. This is what makes our text (i.e. the text of our news) so valuable.
Here is how we are planning to accomplish this important task:
- Build content elements on key web site destinations that list news
- Allow web site editors to add news to their respective media streams
- Give each stream an RSS feed, and finally
- Make every article “share-able.”
By “share-able” I mean the ability to push content links onto a reader’s favorite social network (Digg, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). This re-organization not only gives each department a voice in news media, but also reinvests the reader into the media through viral promotion—a big win-win.
Here is a quick diagram (crudely drawn in MS Word) that shows an example of what I am talking about.
Old Media Stream:
New Media Stream:
To be honest, the RSS feeds are a little over-kill here, but the CMS we use at NNU builds them automatically in conjunction with our news content module.
It is important to remember NNU’s situation, here. Facebook makes up only about 1% of our monthly traffic, as opposed to search engines, which make up 37%. Because of this, it is better to have changing news content published on our own site rather than off site. Publishing that news at a specific destination on our site, as show in the above diagram, is the key to leveraging the power of written word to linking a potential student/constituent to important information on a university website. I believe the benefits of this type of organization are too good to ignore: a voice for campus departments and groups, a more effective ability to focus marketing efforts online, SEO, viral promotion, and a simple news subscription method.
We are currently rolling out this new news structure on https://www.nnu.edu. Once we have our news content running at full steam, I plan to have updates on this project in the future, including traffic data and improvement methods.