Content Recommendations for Kent State University
On behalf of the Kent State University (KSU) department of Student Life [and University Health Services], I performed a variety of user experience and content strategy research to determine KSU’s audiences and stakeholders and their respective needs and to evaluate whether the existing content conforms with KSU’s desired voice and tone.
Overall, KSU’s [UHS] section mostly meets audience needs. There is, fortunately, little content that is obsolete or trivial, so users are able to find what they want with minimum fuss; 90% of the 86 web pages reviewed can be kept as-is or easily updated.
The existing content serves the purpose of informing [students, parents, and KSU employees about UHS and how to stay healthy]. Users will be able to locate information quickly and schedule appointments, which will drive traffic to UHS, meeting the University’s goal of maintaining student and employee health.
There is room for improvement around content location to avoid orphaned content (that cannot be found through typical web navigation). KSU should also consider ways to alleviate the burden on the lone content specialist within Student Life, by scheduling more content in advance and by drawing on more user-generated content.
The objective of this project is to evaluate the Kent State University (KSU) Student Life section [or later, the University Health Services (UHS) section] to address the following problems:
- Who are KSU’s audiences and what are their needs?
- Who are KSU’s stakeholders and what are their needs?
- Does the content in the Student Life section [UHS section] meet both set of needs?
- Does the content conform to KSU’s desired voice and tone?
Previous work established a set of personas, representative amalgamations of typical users, based on user research. The following personas were used throughout the remainder of the content assessment.
- Alexis, Prospective Student: female, age 17, Chicago; attends an honors program at an urban school. “Where does what’s right for ME fit into the equation?”
- Beth, Parent: female, age 48, Columbus, OH; married with two children; parent of high school student athlete with good grades. “My biggest fear is my daughter going to school in California where I can’t quickly help her if I need to.”
- Matthew, Current Undergraduate Student: male, age 20, sophomore, business major; from Loudonville, OH; lives on campus with a roommate. “A college degree is the first step on the road to financial independence and to living the American Dream.”
- Brandy, Current Off-Campus Graduate Student: female, age 40; married with a 10-year-old daughter; works full time and is pursuing an online graduate degree. “Getting a Masters will be worth it as long as I don’t sacrifice time with my family.”
Additional work (described in the Overview section, below) led to the creation of the following message architecture for the KSU Student Life section. [Note that this message architecture is not directly relevant to the UHS section, but we have been instructed to act as if it is.]
KSU is nice people. We are…
- Welcoming but not Formal
- Friendly but not Simple
- Accessible but not Elite
- Social but not Lavish
- Authentic but not Sophisticated
KSU is up to date. We are…
- Modern but not Trendy
- Innovative but not White-Collar
- Collaborative but not the Thought Leader
- State-of-the-Art but not Bleeding-Edge
- In Touch but not High-Level
KSU is working together for a worthy cause. We are…
- Connected but not Seasonal
- Empowering but not Aggressive
- Collaborative but not Informal
- Motivated but not Stodgy
KSU is serious, too. We are…
- Focused but not Conservative
- Responsible but not Reactive
- Successful but not Traditional
KSU casts a wide net. We are…
- Regional but not Premium
- Multigenerational but not Expensive
- Diverse but not Urban
Using the existing KSU audience personas described above, I undertook a user experience narrative for each persona. The purpose of this exercise is to put yourself in the shoes of each persona and to identify what promotes and detracts from their relationship with KSU across the dimensions of Awareness, Enrollment, Membership, Contribution, and Advocacy.
The results of the narrative were then used to create a user experience journey for each persona. This template summarizes each persona’s needs and expectations from KSU, the journey that persona undertakes from awareness of the University through advocacy on its behalf, the messages the persona wants to hear, and the differentiators that drive interest and engagement for that persona.
Using the results of the experience journeys, I worked alongside representative KSU clients [actually, fellow Content Strategy students] on a card sort exercise to draw out an appropriate message architecture for the website. We iteratively determined which attributes apply to KSU’s brand, and which do not and therefor make good antonyms. For example, one of our messages is that “KSU is up to date. We are Modern, but not Trendy.”
The brand attributes and message architecture informed the creation of a style guide for the KSU employees who will create content for the Student Life [or later, UHS] website. The style guide covers such topics as brand, voice and tone, content types and examples, writing conventions, and so forth.
Finally, a content audit covered the sections and subsections with the Student Life [actually, UHS] website. They are as follows:
- The University Health Services Home Page
- Employee Health
- Student Health
- Central Billing Office
- Services [i.e., the various services offered by UHS]
- Mental Health
- Health Promotion
- About Us [i.e., About UHS]
In addition, I identified the types of content housed within the UHS website:
- Text – a typical web page consisting primarily of words on a screen, accented with incidental graphics or images
- PDFs – documents such as forms or flyers in Adobe’s Portable Document Format, intended for printing rather than viewing
One of the main purposes of a content audit is to identify content ROT: that is, content that is Redundant, Obsolete, or Trivial. Much like its namesake, content ROT causes the entire website to stink – users cannot find what they want in the case of obsolete or trivial information, KSU employees are forced to maintain an inventory of potentially irrelevant or redundant information, and search engines such as Google punish KSU’s web page rankings when they find redundant pages.
Fortunately, according to my analysis, the UHS website contains little content ROT.
- I analyzed 86 distinct URLs and discovered only 2 pages that can truly be considered Redundant: a pair of orphaned images that are already in place on other pages. These two URLs can be safely eliminated.
- An additional 3 pages consisted of Obsolete information relating to old health scares around mumps and Ebola. The contents of these pages should be archived and their URLs should be removed.
- 21 of the 86 pages analyzed have some content that should be rewritten to better follow KSU’s guidelines around voice, tone, or style. These pages are not truly ROTten, but they are not fully consistent with the UHS brand guidelines.
- 57 of the 86 pages have content that can be kept as-is. These pages will need to be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate, but no major work on them is needed.
- 27 of the 86 pages are orphaned, meaning that they are not accessible except through normal website navigation, but only via their direct URL (or a very targeted search query). Many of these pages are redirects to various PDF forms that should be made accessible within the appropriate section of the UHS website, where they will better meet the needs of the busy audience personas.
Based on the work and analysis described above, the following are my recommendations for Kent State University’s Student Life section [and not really the UHS section, because these recommendations draw from user personas and message architecture done in the first half of the course].
I recommend the following guidelines for content on the Student Life website:
Focus on Value for Money
- This is a primary driver for all four personas, and the information should be readily available from KSU’s admissions department.
- The Student Life section needs to start measuring what value it is providing through web analytics or other techniques.
Check Out Our Checklists
- All four personas are looking for detailed guidance on how to navigate their KSU journey; checklists are an easily understood way to provide that guidance.
- Checklists are relatively straightforward to create for our busy content management person.
Segment Content into Small Chunks
- The busy personas appreciate short pieces of content they can consume quickly.
- Small chunks of content are easier to keep updated.
Integrate Other Departments’ Information
- Relieve some of the burden on the Student Life content management person by pulling information from other departments, or linking to their web pages.
- The audience personas have interests spanning the entire university, so there could be numerous linkages.
Allow User-Generated Content
- All four personas are looking for connections with others, so give them a place to post messages and images.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking the users will do all the work. A KSU employee must still curate the user-generated content.
Schedule Content That Fits the KSU Cadence
- The user journeys themselves have a cadence (from prospect, to applicant, to student, to alum). The KSU schoolyear has a cadence as well. Find content that’s relevant to each part of each cadence and schedule it in advance.
- Scheduled content takes the pressure off the content management person to create it on the fly.
Promote In-Person Events
- Our personas value face-to-face interaction. Quick pointers to in-person events are highly relevant to them, and require little more than a name, date, and location.
- The Student Life content management person needs much more advance warning of upcoming events to make this effective.