Finally, Universitywide Global Navigation on www.kent.edu
Kent State's leadership issued the long-overdue mandate that all academic units and "freshman suite" departments must transition their rogue websites to the institutional website "look and feel" via the university's content management system, CommonSpot.
The "freshman suite" includes those departmental websites a future or new student would interact with for the purpose of decision-making or conducting daily business, ranging from a college website, to the bursar's office, to recreational services. To accomplish the directive, the institutional website received a re-design that encompassed all Kent State colleges, campuses and the vast majority of its schools and academic departments.
Kent State's institutional website is defined as the majority of Web pages accessible within the first three clicks from the university's home page. Prior to this 2009-2010 redesign implementation, after those three clicks, the university brand deteriorated rapidly as Web visitors drilled down to administrative and academic websites. The look, feel and navigation of those departmental websites deviated from the institutional website in degrees from minor to extreme. Although CommonSpot was used by approximately 120 departmental websites to closely mirror the institutional website prior to the project, even those sites offered clunky navigation and a disconnect from the university's institutional website.
Goals and objectives of the institutional website:
- Expansion of the online brand to all university websites, excluding athletics, to ensure a more seamless experience for Web visitors.
- Alignment with enrollment objectives (recruitment through the student success program), whereby increased engagement should lead to increased applications and enrollment.
- Support of business processes that impact a student's daily experience, thus supporting retention efforts.
- Clear website navigation to make critical information more easily accessible to our range of target audiences.
- Access to interactive content for the purpose of increased engagement.
- Serve as a marketing and recruitment-based website, which allows additional development of content that showcases both campus culture and current student, faculty and staff success stories.
Fitting into institutional goals
Kent State is well aware of the fact that its website at www.kent.edu is the first source of information a future student taps into when initiating the higher education decision-making process. In order for Kent State to become a prospect's first choice, the institutional website needed a fresh, new design that integrated newer technology. Equally as important as the design and content overhaul, was the need to re-architect the university's technical Web environment. Coupling these two large projects allowed for the development of a family of templates with core branding elements that has been deployed to all university websites using CommonSpot.
This version of the university's website marks a milestone in Kent State University's online presence because, for the first time, the brand has been extended through all academic and administrative departmental websites through one global masthead and its primary navigation system. This accomplishes two goals. First, it advances the Kent State online brand. Secondly, it offers the functionality of a non-changing set of links that pertains to the university as a whole. This allows a visitor to always have a sense of location and placement within the Kent State University website environment, making visits from a departmental website page, such as the geology department, to an institutional website page, such as a success story, more seamless.
- First and foremost, a simplified navigation system was rolled out via the global masthead that appears at the top of each page in the university's websites. Inclusion of this global masthead for branding, design and functionality was a huge culture shift for the university community. Oftentimes, prior to this project, any mandated conformity or use of the template concept has encountered extreme opposition. Customization was encouraged and allowed via a left-hand navigation element, which was made available to departmental websites.
- Increased alignment with enrollment objectives was accomplished via the more visible access to online applications and the majors and degrees search from various parts of the institutional website, as well as college and academic department websites.
- Improvement of the technical environment was achieved by updating hardware, software and consolidating the previous 120 databases down to one database. This allows for content sharing between sites using CommonSpot, particularly news headlines, for the first time since it was installed in 2003.
- Continued support of business processes that impact a student's daily experience, thus supporting retention efforts, was accomplished by protecting and expanding the FlashLine login access from the university's website. Faculty, staff and students rely heavily on functionality housed within the portal, known as FlashLine. Previously, login was only an option from the www.kent.edu home page. It is now available from the utility bar located in top of the global masthead, which now appears on each university webpage.
- The transition to more of a marketing-based site is apparent via the large, rotating billboard images and their connectivity to success stories, use of service-based primary navigation and very apparent access to admissions. We shifted away from a bureaucratic structure and that tone in the copy. A long-needed Student Life section was added to the site and a previous administration section was shifted to the About KSU section of the website.
Defining Kent.edu's Audiences
- Future students are the target market Kent State must engage and motivate via its Web site. This population is composed of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors ranging from 15 to 18 years in age, with grade point averages of 2.5 - 4.0, ACT 18+ composites or SAT 860 critical reading and math scores.
- Admissions geographic recruitment efforts currently focus on Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and New York, New Jersey, the Greater Chicago area and the Greater Washington, D.C., area including Virginia and Maryland.
- Parents and guidance counselors remain influencers in the decision-making process.
- Prospective faculty and staff, as well as the general public, seeking general information.
- Current students, faculty and staff who rely on the university's website and portal to complete daily business.
- Alumni and donors, who the university would like to keep engaged and connected via promotion of success stories and connectivity to peers.