Q&A: When it’s time to revamp your website

George Lamelza (foreground), college director of web services at Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), and its web, marketing and communication team meet with other OTC employees to discuss the college's website redesign. (Photo: OTC)
George Lamelza

In 2017, Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) in Springfield, Missouri, launched a redesigned website that turned heads with its simplicity. At a time when many college and university websites were becoming more cluttered and confusing to navigate, OTC went the other way: a basic site with an image and a prominently featured search button — the idea being a simple word search is faster and less cumbersome for visitors than searching through various tabs.

Today, the college is preparing to again redesign its website. As in 2017, George Lamelza, OTC’s college director of web services, will lead the year-long project. Below, he discusses the reasons for OTC’s revamp and answers some general questions about college website redesigns.

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The college has been focused on simplifying the student experience at every touchpoint. As part of the college’s new strategic plan, Dream. Plan. Build., the website redesign will continue this focus. Our charge is to redesign the OTC website to provide a streamlined and intuitive experience to prospective and current students.

We start by identifying stakeholders and finding out what features are most important to them. Serving students is always our top priority, but we also must be aware of how changes affect faculty, staff and other visitors. This year, we’re listening to people from across the college community as they tell us what they need from the website. We will do this alongside our campus partners in strategic planning.

Next, we look at the data. We have been collecting data on the website since 2012. Additionally, we are planning an external audit, including an ethnographic study of user behavior, to get an objective view of what can be improved. We will compare this information with the user feedback we receive to pinpoint commonalities and see whether what people are saying matches what they’re doing. Once we know what we need to do, we begin making changes while continuing to gather feedback on the newer iterations.

The general process will be similar, but our web design strategy will be different. In the past, the approach was broad and standardized. Today, our focus is on personalizing the experience to ensure each user has their individual needs met. The previous redesign was also a major undertaking, moving from one CMS to another. That won’t be taking place this time, but we will be completely redesigning all the elements, page types and general flow of the site.

Our traditional-age students are digital natives who have grown up being served personalized experiences by companies like Netflix and Spotify, who excel at content curation. They expect tailored web services, and they expect to be able to access them on mobile devices. At OTC, the culture has shifted from “you come to us,” to “we come to you.” You see this in our student success model, which has received national praise for changing the way a student receives help and care throughout their college career. Our website needs to reflect that model and the expectation that we’re meeting each student where they’re at.    

Overcomplication. As I have said since the very beginning, simple is better. Too many colleges expand their web systems without planning for how changes will affect sustainability. What begins as an exciting project can devolve into a mess if information, terminology and brand standards are inconsistent. We must keep it simple but personalized. How we do that digitally is the exciting part of embarking on this journey as a college.

That would be great! We would like you to follow us on this journey. We’re excited about this project and the many ways it will benefit our students and our community. We can all discover the best ways to do that together.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.