Not sure you can track the ROI on a Website project? Just look at Tufts University's recent news.

"The Office of Undergraduate Admissions this year received a record−breaking number of applications, making the Tufts Class of 2017 the most selective in the university’s history."

"Much of Tufts’ growing popularity can be attributed to improvements in the admissions office’s communication efforts, according to Coffin. Last year, Admissions replaced its traditional viewbook with Jumbo, an admissions magazine, and launched an improved website featuring interactive elements and blogs." - full article.

The factors affecting costs.

A lot of factors go into creating budgets for, or pricing out, a website project. For example:

  • Will the project require an in-depth period of Discovery where we will focus on crafting a new content strategy, internal workflow, or marketing plan?
  • Does the information architecture need to cover a massive site with spin-offs and silos, and require a completely new approach?
  • Is the site complex enough to need wire frame rounds, numerous meetings, stakeholder support sessions and several iteration rounds for each deliverable?
  • Do designs need to go much further than simply a home page and sub page, and rather include possibly 30-40 unique iterations within the user experience which establish a new language and structure from which a many-thousand page website can be built?
  • Does the site need a completely new content management system capable of managing workflow and content needs for hundreds of content creators?

These are the factors which can take a fast track smaller budget project and transform it into a 18 month six figure website project.

The most important thing for a client to think about before embarking on this journey is to establish what the goals are when it comes to "Return on Investment" or ROI.

If you're going to spend several hundred thousand dollars on a website, what does it need to give back to you in return? There is no reason you shouldn't have these things itemized out from the beginning, and you should be able to translate those results into revenue. Then you can truly say, it was worth it, or it wasn't. Marketing, at its core, is a business investment. You don't buy stock without hoping it goes from $30 a share to $60. You should have the same expectations when you pay for marketing.

Project Details.

When Tufts University started talking to us about their Admissions site, we knew one thing was critical. We had to get it off the existing CMS platform (including the clunky WordPress blog installation) and get them all onto something that was easy and fast. Tufts, like many large (and small) universities and colleges, was running on a overly elaborate, expansive and challenging CMS platform mostly consisting of in-house build-outs and tools. The admissions team had their hands tied, with every content update or feature request taking days or weeks as it wove its way through a complex process of approvals and scheduling requirements, until an IT team member could facilitate the update. The team wanted to be much more hands-on, providing helpful avenues for content and interaction to prospective students as they considered applying to Tufts.

Moving the Tufts Admissions site into open source BigTree CMS was a given. We knew this was a critical first step in our planning. Once we knew we had a green light to build the site on BigTree, we were freed up to let our Content Strategy minds get creative. Tufts has no shortage of big personalities and charismatic students, faculty and staff. It's something you're struck with when you first step foot on campus, and it was something that had to be conveyed through the new site and blogging strategy. Tufts also has one of the best Admissions teams in the country - so if you're interested in getting to know them - the blogs let you do that, and more.

When we started architecting the new site, we knew we had to create some consistency for a potential student and their family when they were exploring what Tufts had to offer. It was far too easy to get lost in programs or sub-sites and never allowed you to find your way back to Admissions. With an organization as large and complex as Tufts, consistency and organization are critical factors in an online experience. Once we had the Information Architecture nailed down, we made sure we had places for content, and that the content strategy was in line with not only what we knew target audiences needed, but that it was also in line with the stories the Tufts team wanted to tell.

If you don't know the capacity, interest and personality of your content creators, you won't be able to craft a truly effective strategy.

I give Tufts a ton of credit for not shying away from showing personality. It is paying off in spades. Let this be a final, once and for all, answer to the fearful looks of administrators and staff when we discuss content and user generated content in particular - people want authenticity! People want stories! We are humans, not robots, and while we certainly have informational seeking needs, we want to be treated and spoken to by other human beings. Have empathy for your audience, and don't strip your content of all personality - or you'll blend into the rest of the masses trying to portray some kind of false ideal of perfection and sterile content presentation.

Once we knew we had a team of "people" willing to spend the time sharing their stories, ideas and insights (as they related to a larger content strategy focused on admissions and marketing goals) we made sure the structure of the new site and blogs didn't get in the way. We observed the gold rule proclaimed by Zeldman, "Good design is invisible." Thus content is the star. We kept close guard that we never let the content get a backseat to any other user experience or design element.

I would add my own proclamation. "A Great CMS is invisible. Content creators are the stars."

BigTree CMS and its blog module allows users to jump into the CMS and get right to what they are there to do - create and publish content. It's already placed in intuitive locations within the site thanks to a solid information architecture. It's easy to read and interact with thanks to solid user experience strategies being implemented throughout the design and build processes. And it maintains a healthy lifespan once it's live, with integrated SEO mechanisms and other interactive tools ensuring the content doesn't live in a lonely silo or outcropping. Content is instantly easy to locate, read, share, interact with, search upon or view on any device (note: we are in the process of upgrading Tufts Admissions site to be fully responsive).

After Launch.

At the end of the day though, we have to push our clients' boats out into the sea and hope they sail on their own. In Tufts case, they are an outstanding example of a team that have implemented and maintained an amazing content strategy, as well as an overall approach to maintaining their blogs. You can read what they had to say about their record number of applications here.

It is immensely satisfying to have a client report these numbers and attribute them directly to the new marketing initiatives and website work they undertook. We are very happy for Tufts (and all the students who get accepted), and we are looking forward to rolling out all the new exciting things we are working with them on. Next time your director of marketing or finance asks you why you should spend the kind of time and money it takes to do these things right, send them to this blog post. When it's done right, and maintained by a good team, these online and content strategy initiatives can have the kind of serious financial upswings most schools can only dream about.

Note: Tufts worked with both Fastspot and Neustadt Creative Marketing to craft their overall marketing plan, including the creation of the Admissions Magazine Jumbo. Neustadt's team was primarily focused on strategy, and implementation for Jumbo, while the Fastspot team focused on the strategy, IA, design and build of the Admissions website, blog platform and virtual tour.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published February 6th 2013