Before starting the work of creating content for a new Queen’s website, it is important to first outline your overarching communication strategy and website objectives or goals, and develop a shared understanding of the scope of the work to be done.
It is also very important, early on, to define the roles and procedures for your project team, and ensure that your team members can schedule their time to complete the project as expected.
There are many ways to draw up project documentation. How to do it best will depend on how complex or simple your site will be, the impact it will have on your audience and stakeholders, and your unit's or department's internal project approval process. But to ensure your project’s ultimate success, be sure to consult with and seek approval on the project’s objectives and direction from those who will be most impacted by your new website before you invest time on design and content development and put it online.
Consider the following questions when developing your documentation (and add your own questions!).
Site objectives and audience needs
What do you want to communicate overall? A vision or mission statement is a good place to start but be sure to connect it directly to potential outcomes of a website project.
What do you want people to know, specifically, about the program / service / project / department? i.e. is there is something new being offered, is there external recognition to note (such as rankings, awards or achievements, how well our students do after they graduate), is there an expected impact on your audience?
What differentiates your organization or offering from similar ones at other institutions?
What do we want to achieve through this site? e.g. improve awareness of a service, increase the number of applicants to a program, reduce number of frequently asked questions to staff, increase engagement in departmental activities, improve communication with stakeholders…
What other information will our user group expect to find online? e.g. a link to a login/tool, how to reach a real person…
What has changed since information was last published?
Or, if this a new website, why launch it now?
Who is your target audience?
Do you have secondary audiences to consider as well?
If so, is the information the same of different for each audience?
And is the method of communicating the same or different for each audience? i.e. will you also be using social media channels, or a digital newsletter? will your audiences be on laptops or smartphones? will they have access to high-speed Internet services?
Will the information your audience seeks change through the year? How does the academic cycle influence your communication needs?
What tone is most appropriate for your website – formal, institutional, aspirational, engaging and friendly, casual…
Team roles and process
How are you going to build and maintain the site?
Identify those who will be most affected by the website launch/relaunch and discuss the project.
Define your project timeline:
- When will the work start and when will it end?
- What is the best time to publish the new website?
- Will you launch everything at once or in phases?
- Do you have the resources to both build the project? i.e, web development support, writing, photography, videography, design...
- Do you have the resources to maintain the website once it has launched?
Research and insights:
- Do you have any research or statistics regarding your current site usage that will inform changes on a new site? i.e. analytics, surveys, help forms…
- How much new research and what new tools do you need to move measure success?
Managing the launch/re-launch:
- Who needs to be consulted about what?
- Who will do what?
- Who needs to approve what?
- Be sure to build in time for feedback, at various stages, from stakeholders and users.
- If you are replacing an old site, what is your plan for redirecting users to the new site?
- Once launched, what communication activities are required to connect your target audience to the new site?
Define your project or content scope so you know what you are building.
Brainstorm requirements with all key stakeholders.
Review existing documentation on the web, in print/PDFs, presentation materials, etc.
Do an environmental scan to identify gaps and opportunities.
- Take an inventory of your existing site:
- What new content needs to be created?
- What content needs to be updated?
- What content can be deleted?
- What content should be archived?
- What content should be linked to?
- What content should move to this site?
- What external tools will you integrate?
Note how frequently content will need to be updated.
Do you have daily/weekly/monthly news items or changes?
How will you resource that?
Article – Nielsen Norman Group: Content Inventory and Audit
Be sure you understand university and external standards and best practices, such as for visual identity, accessibility, privacy, and security
Once finalized and adopted, be aware of the tendency to add to the plan. Though the new ideas may be clever, or additional requirements may be warranted, they may drive the scope of your web development plan beyond what you can effectively manage. This is known as "feature creep". If you’ve done your work, these new ideas are seldom critical to the success of your re-launch. Keep a list of them to revisit at a later date.
Of course, your plan will likely need some tweaking as you build out the project. Assume that some flexibility will be required but also remember that your web site is never done – it should be a constantly adapting to new communication needs, trends, tools and technology. Expect that you will keep developing and redeveloping your site over time, guided by user feedback and analytics.