A year is a long time in the world of the web. Design trends, technologies, content formats, audience habits, browsers, and devices can change radically in a mere 12 months.
But in the real world—where most of us live—a year goes by really fast. Before you know it, two years have passed, then three. You start to realize it’s been a long time since you took stock of your website.
An annual assessment breaks this cycle. Don’t think of it as a comprehensive audit, but rather a routine checkup on basic performance measures, systems, and overall progress. It’s one of the best web management habits you can adopt.
Here are six areas to review every year:
Take a look back at the past year in Google Analytics. Focus on especially prominent areas of the site—home and second-level pages, admissions, academic programs, and so on—and any sections that have been redesigned or heavily marketed. For starters, explore the following:
- Audience overview, year over year: Compare the last year’s sessions, users, views, and so forth with the previous year’s, noting any significant changes.
- Device usage: Check the mobile versus desktop breakdown, especially if you need to make the case for mobile-friendly enhancements.
- Network and geo: See how much of your traffic is local, including from campus networks, and look for spikes in visits from particular states or countries.
- Acquisition: Examine where visitors are coming from—look for results of any social media, advertising, or other traffic-boosting initiatives.
While you’re at it, evaluate your analytics setup. If you haven’t created a Google Analytics view for off-campus traffic only, consider doing so. Explore features like annotations and event tracking that might enrich next year’s assessment.
Exactly where you focus depends on your site and your goals. Tracking simple, top-level metrics is fine—it gives you a big-picture view of trends. But determine what additional, more precise questions you want analytics to answer.
2. Core Content
Review the overall state of your content, again starting with pages that prospective students and other key audiences visit most. Ask questions like these:
- Is our most important content current and complete?
- Does it reflect brand and message standards?
- Are page structures and metadata consistent?
- Are there areas of redundancy or duplication?
- How would we rate visual content (photos, media, etc.)?
- Are we accurately showcasing diverse programs, people, and perspectives?
Answers may point you to specific projects for the coming year, or prompt you to rethink your goals for developing and deploying new content.
Keeping your site accessible to people with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities is absolutely essential—it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the law.
An annual checkup offers a good chance to ensure you’re following established guidelines (most colleges and universities strive for WCAG 2.0 AA). Run tests using accessibility checkers like WAVE to identify any areas of concern, or take advantage of our free OU Insights accessibility scan.
4. People and Processes
As part of your checkup, track who’s actively contributing to your site, evaluate whether they have the training they need, and make a plan to address any gaps. You might find areas of your site that aren’t being updated simply because no one’s assigned.
Also, consider your publishing workflow. Is new content getting sufficient review? Are there bottlenecks in the process? What do the people who work on the site every day think?
5. Peers and Competitors
Get a general sense of where you stack up against direct competitors and aspirational peers. You don’t need to dig deep—just look for innovations that catch your eye, ideas you might adapt, and any indication that your site might be falling behind.
Most importantly, use your annual checkup as a chance to gauge your progress toward established goals and to set goals for the next year.
Identify potential design or technical enhancements. Chart traffic trends you want to influence. Develop content priorities. Design research projects. Track any issues you want to address in your next major redesign.
Once you’ve completed your work, be sure to share findings and goals with your immediate team, your network of contributors, and your campus leadership. Reporting out will remind all these constituents that your website is your institution’s most valuable marketing and communication tool—and assure them it’s in good hands.
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