Creating the Cardinal at Work website was an opportunity for UHR to enhance the employee experience at Stanford. Our primary focus was consolidating and reorganizing content from 12 employee websites into a single online destination.
Now, faculty, staff and retirees can access information about benefits and rewards, career development, management, and connection opportunities in one convenient location. The site is also enhanced with features such as advanced search, a resource library, navigation by role, task and topic, and much more.
As with any large-scale initiative, getting to the finished product was no easy feat. From start to finish the process took nearly two years and more than 2,100 hours of technical and content development work to complete. Needless to say, we learned A LOT in the process and have compiled some of these “Lessons Learned” in case they may help others embarking on the website redesign journey.
So without further ado, here are some of the lessons we learned from launching a supersite.
#1: Have clearly defined goals and revisit them often
Ensure that you have clear goals for your site and that they are agreed upon by your key stakeholders. Refer back to your goals often, especially when making decisions, and don’t be afraid to remind stakeholders of these goals when they request new content and features that could potentially derail the project. This helps keep your project (and budget) in check. Your trusty partners at SWS can help remind you of your goals when you start to veer off course.
#2: Know your audience well, and remember their needs
Knowing our audience helped us make key content, navigation and technical decisions. Through research, surveys and focus groups we developed an understanding of the online behaviors and communications preferences of Stanford employees which helped us tailor the website to fit their needs. As part of this process, we also developed a “communications manifesto” which we referred to often. Part of that manifesto is that Stanford employees are “intelligent, influential, knowledgeable—and overloaded with information.” This served as a reminder to ensure our content was transparent and thorough while also being crisp, tight, and actionable.
#3: Develop a voice and style guide
Ensuring that content is written in a single voice and style was a top priority for us. Our old sites were completely fragmented in this regard. Because we have about a dozen or more staff members authoring content, we recognized that consistency and cohesiveness in voice and style could crumble quickly. Therefore one of our first priorities was developing a style guide and ensuring our writers had easy access to it. This was made possible by our friends at SWS who created an online version of the guide, which lives behind the login of the Cardinal at Work website.
#4: Use a data-driven approach
Using analytics from our old websites was key in determining content priorities and the overall structure of the new site. And, we validated all our decisions through several rounds of user testing at various stages throughout the project.
#5: Finalize content outside of Drupal
As much as possible, finalize content in Word or Google documents before putting it into Drupal. At the very least, finalize page names and navigation labels outside of Drupal. For us, we made the mistake of changing our page names and navigation labels all the time. Therefore URLs continuously were broken and we drove our web producer crazy in the process!
#6: Develop a system for organizing site feedback
When it comes time to solicit feedback from department stakeholders, develop a system to organize and track the feedback. We created a simple Excel document that included the date, name of person reviewing, URL of the page in question, page section and their comments. We also included a column for who’s responsible for making the change and the status (in progress, complete, etc.). This simple system helped keep things organized and streamlined. It also provided a historical record for WHY something was done.
#7: Provide frequent updates to stakeholders
Keep stakeholders informed of the status throughout the entire development process. We found that lunchtime “show and tells,” email updates and FAQs worked well to keep our unit informed of the site progress and important action items leading up to launch.
#8: Find a “photo guru”
A photo guru is a person on your team who is responsible for selecting and formatting all the imagery on the site. Having a singular person (or two) responsible for imagery helps ensure variety and quality in photos and avoids duplication.
#9: Working with web designers: focus on the “why,” not the “how”
Let web designers do what they do best. If something isn’t working for you, tell them WHY it’s not working rather than HOW to fix it.
#10: Find a pair (or two) of fresh eyes
Before the site goes live, engage a contractor or team member who has not been involved, to edit and comb through the site with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at what they find!
#11: One-on-one training and frequent communications with web editors
We have found that hands on, one-on-one trainings with department web editors are highly effective. Be sure they have access to the online style guide. Schedule monthly check-in meetings with web editors to provide demos and share updates.
#12: Soft launch first
Schedule a “soft” launch about a week before you start promoting your new website. This allows time to fix any last minute bugs or unanticipated issues. Announce the soft launch to select audiences and solicit their feedback and input.
#13: Wait and see
After launch, don’t panic when feedback starts to come in. Watch for trends and give the audience time to get used to the new website before you make major changes. And, when it comes time to make changes, be just as thoughtful and strategic as you were during the development phase.
These are just a few of the many lessons we learned throughout the process of building the Cardinal at Work website. If you have questions or would like to know more, feel to contact us. Best of luck as you embark on your website journey!
Brittany Cripe, Senior Communications Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Nakamura, Web Producer, email@example.com
Marie Vasquez, Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org