College Website Content Management

Content management as it applies in Digital Literacy by Rachel Spilka refers to “a set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted and styled for delivery” (p. 130). My first thought was of college and university websites – who creates the online image, who maintains it, and how do you know if it’s effective? When your website looks different, are you being original, savvy, an “outside the box” thinker or someone who looks like they don’t know what they’re doing? A standard design helps you find information, “validates” it, and to a certain degree creates “credibility” – an implied added value that brings users to your site. Visit 39 Factors: Website Credibility Checklist (, and web design is the first standard. And it needs to be attractive with bells and whistles. University of Melbourne’s ( Dr. Brent Coker states, “As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behavior and inclinations translate to our online existence. As the Internet has become prettier, we are venturing out, and becoming less loyal” (The Melbourne Newsroom:


The annual Webby Awards ( selects the best of the Internet including websites and mobile sites and apps. I took a look at the awards for college and university website design, because I have the chance to redesign my page. Stephenson University was a top winner; take a look – Notice anything different? My eyes went straight to the left navigation – where is it? Stevenson dumped it on their homepage, but click any link on the center block of information and you get one. Whew.




I’m not a technical writer, but I write for work. No one at my college is a technical writer, but everyone with access to the Novus Content Management System (CMS) writes for our website. In Digital Literacy, William Hart-Davidson asks, “what does a writer do when the whole company writes (Spilka, 210, p. 137)? In the case of my school, you get a fragmented, out-sourced variation of styles and priorities. My college’s website design is awful. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work, our students love us, and we engage with and support our community– but our web appearance really bothers me. Take a look at Hillsborough Community College:




The left navigation isn’t alphabetical or listed in order of importance; certainly, “Dining Services” isn’t as important “Searching for Classes. In the middle we have “Steps to enroll” and “Apply Now;” “Apply Online is also on the left – everything leading to the same information. Part of the problem is the use of a content management system (CMS) – Novus – that longer meets our needs. And until recently we employed one web manager and no other web staff to maintain the college’s web presence. As Hart-Davidson notes, “content management (cm) systems provide resources for enacting the kind of work reflected in Table 5.1, but they do not do the work themselves. Nor do they help those who lack expertise in writing studies learn best practices” (Spilka, 2010, p. 141).


This is an area that interests me and I have a chance to practice what I learn with our Distance Learning website revision. But in an educational organization with so many layers of administration, and committees who make most of the decisions, how does one promote a new content management strategy? Do any of you in higher education employ technical communicators to assist in website design and maintenance? And how do you measure the success of your website?



Posted on October 1, 2015, in Digital, Literacy, Marketing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Dana,

    The questions you raise at the end of this post are key. We might want to emulate a certain style and usability tests will prove what it is that our users want, but it all comes down to budget and identity standards. Our undergrads have offered their user-experience skills to various departments on campus to assist them with their web presence, but no major changes ever happen. We do have one of our graduates working in University Marketing now as the Web Coordinator and Digital Marketing Specialist and at the opening week meetings he said all the right things about what we want from our web presence, but again: budget cuts. But at least with tech comm involvement we can prioritize what those needs are, right?
    (FYI he’s a great guy with decades of experience, so I’m not faulting him at all!)

    However, don’t get me started on why our CMS, Learn@UW-Stout (formerly Desire2Learn), needs to be housed in Madison. Every year there’s either an update that doesn’t work in a certain browser or a power outage that takes everyone offline. And if I took the initiative to move our entire course out of D2L and into WordPress, I think I’d get in trouble.

  2. We recently switched from Blackboard to Canvas for online teaching, and it’s been great. Canvas is very easy, intuitive, and students say the platform reminds them of Facebook. Unlike Bb, Canvas updates are done in the cloud so we’ve experienced no downtime. I can’t say enough about them as our LMS. Unfortunately, where our website is concerned, there’s no sense of urgency to clean it up.

    We’ve been moving to SharePoint for almost two years, and we’re nowhere close to implementing it. The sole woman doing it recently left. In an organization where there tend to be too many chiefs, I’m not a fan of the “budget cuts…there’s no money” excuse; it’s a cop-out. A college’s “face” to the world and their front-line staffing needs must be a funding priority. Just as big a problem is lack of guidance/ direction – which is true in any situation – and no set goals/ timelines. I’m a believer in start with the goal and work with that in mind. Sometimes, in academic arenas where everyone wants to “touch” a project the goal changes as more people become involved. This is a main reason why I believe we should employ professional technical communicators, conduct end-user research with students, and eliminate much of the approval process to get things done. Not every decision should be made by a faculty committee…

  3. I would suggest proposing a new content-management system with your manager. Make sure you’re armed with a list of reasons why you need one. See if that gets the ball rolling. Whatever you do, don’t do what we did at my company with our Web site. The IT director convened a “Web strategies committee” made up of representative people from across our organization. Problem was that most of them were completely ignorant of Web sites or even what the difference was between in intranet and the Internet. Rather than simply giving feedback about what they liked and didn’t like, it turned into a steering committee! This meant that we had to implement what the group agreed, even if it was the worst idea ever. From the start, it should have been convened as an advisory committee, with the final decisions left to the experts. Finally, that committee has been sunsetted, and I have never been so delighted. Our Internet site will all the better for it, and I will be a whole lot less frustrated.

    • Thanks Mary. SharePoint is what the college chose for creating sub-sites within our existing website; it’s a daunting project. Content has to be manually entered and the project is huge – which is why we hired one person…. Yes, we’re also ruled by committees and it creates inertia. And our advisory committees seem to think they advise and we must do. After meeting with a few over the past year and a half and getting no consensus I stopped. So, I’m secretly researching best practices, checking out the best college websites, surveying students, applying what I’ve learned through this program, and storyboarding a proposed site to present to my Director. None of which is my job, so I’ll have to do that also. Once I finish these last two classes….

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