Framingham State University launched a new website on Aug. 23, with the main goal of making the site more responsive, according to Director of Education and Interactive Technologies Robin Robinson.
Sara Mulkeen, web content coordinator, said the old website “wasn’t responsive” and didn’t work well on smartphones and tablets.
Mulkeen said the website has “so many different audiences” and that “it’s kind of our public face to the outside world.”
She added that administrators wanted a website that was not only “engaging to that external audience,” but also “usable for the internal audiences.”
The old website had “great information” but didn’t “tell the story of Framingham State.
“It didn’t really give the public a good idea of what actually goes on in the everyday life of the campus.
“It was really a restructuring that we wanted to do of the navigation, and how people interact with the site, and we wanted to make sure that we were building it so that it made sense to all different user groups,” said Mulkeen.
The primary user group that was focused on during the redesign was prospective students, according to Robinson.
She added while the web team recognizes that current students, faculty and staff use the website as well, it’s not what is driving the design changes.
“Some of the in-house terminology changed. There was a lot of conversation around continuing education, and what does that mean. From an outside perspective, you have no clue what continuing ed is, because it’s a very broad category,” said Robinson.
The total cost of the new website was $188,000, according to Robinson. iFactory, the company hired to help design the site, was paid $90,000 for its services. The content management software cost $59,000 for three years. Hosting the site cost $39,000 for three years.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said the cost of the website was “funded out of college operations, which means student fees.”
The website redesign project started in the fall of 2013, according to Mulkeen, and a company was hired to help design the website in the fall of 2014.
A website management team, made up of the internal web team, faculty and staff from across campus was created to oversee the project and pick a company to help launch the site, according to Mulkeen.
The team picked iFactory because the company “understood our vision” and could provide a quick redesign, said Robinson. The redesign involved a new homepage, which was launched in the fall of 2014.
iFactory provided templates and an HTML code for the web team to use to build the website.
“It was a lot of consultation that we paid for,” said Robinson, “that informed how we needed to move forward.”
Other companies that bid on the project would have cost between $40,000 and $200,000, said Mulkeen.
An oversight council, which was made up of the executive team, was responsible for making “large money decisions” and overseeing any major choices, according to Robinson.
Four focus groups were created to cover all levels of people who interacted with the site, said Robinson. They were made up of alumni, current students, the web management team and admissions. The focus groups helped create the menus and navigation system of the site.
Decisions were made to change what was posted in the navigation, and it was grouped “according to what people found to be the common path we would take to reach a certain point,” said Robinson.
Open labs were held for students and faculty in January, during which time people went through a site map test, according to Robinson. The information was also used to help create the navigation system.
Labs were also held over the summer every Tuesday and Thursday to retrain over 120 people who are responsible for website content on the new content management system, said Mulkeen.
She added the web team provides the tech support and content management that is used to update the website, but there “are over 120 people on campus who actually do the updating. Each department maintains its own website content, so this project was not only a redesign of the website, but we also switched our content management system based on iFactory’s recommendation and what we wanted to accomplish.”
Aug. 23 was the deadline for the website redesign project. According to Robinson, the web team didn’t have the HTML code from iFactory to actually build the pages until the “middle of June.
“So it was over a six-week period that the pages actually got built out. Every week, I would send out communication to say, ‘There’s five weeks left. Have you built out your pages today?’”
Robinson said when the web team started the project, they had a list of 25 things that needed to be included in “the rollout” and every one of them was met by deadline.
She added, “We recognize, however, that for internal audiences it is a culture shift and it was an adjustment when people came back.
… Overall, I think people have been happy with the website. If anyone has a recommendation for changes, or finds a problem, we ask that they email email@example.com because we’re always open to hearing and improving.
“We recognize that it’s not perfect, and it never will be, quite honestly.”
Jennifer Dowling, a graphic design professor, helped design the communications arts department’s main page as well as its faculty page. She also worked with the Graduate and Continuing Education office on its home page.
She said since she was designing and working with the website, she knows “how hard it’s been for the team that’s been working on this, because there are a lot of new things for them, too, and they’re also trying to work with all the particularities of the different departments. There are a lot of challenges. It’s a big undertaking, so I do commend them.”
Dowling added she has concerns about the navigation of the site. “It’s very hard to find some things, even through a search.”
Depending on how the page is organized, Dowling said, some pages are “easier to navigate” than others. The menu on the left can be “customized,” and when designing the communication arts department’s main page, she “tried to make sure the students – prospective or current students – could find what they needed on the site.”
She added she tried to embed links within text so “it would be easy for someone to find, say, our communication arts application. Whereas if you just use the standard layout, sometimes you have to scroll down the page a little too far to find what you need.”
The size of the font is also a problem, said Dowling. “It’s very difficult to fit information without feeling like – it’s almost like it’s magnified, visually – it’s very hard to have a page where you’re not scrolling endlessly to find the information.”
Dowling said if font size was smaller, there would be more room for text and pictures, and people would be able to navigate individual pages more easily.
The website is responsive, according to Dowling, and the site sizes itself to mobile device screens. “But because the font size is so large in the default design of it, when you view the preview for the phone or iPad, you’re seeing so little, because all you see is a picture or a little bit of a title.”
Richard Allen, a history professor, said one of the issues he has had with the website, which he brought up at the All University Meeting, is that “at that time, the site was basically not functioning.”
He said he had tried to locate information he needed and “all that ever happened is I would click on one thing and it would sort of loop back and bring me back to where I had started.”
He added he had recently checked out the website, and it seemed “to be functioning the way it’s supposed to be.
“The bottom line is we had this extended period, far too long, when all manner of people could not access the website and get the information that they normally expected to have available to them.”
Derrick TePaske, chair of the communication arts department, said in an email that the faculty in his department appreciated “that many people have worked long and hard” on the site, but they have “great frustrations” with it.
Those frustrations include broken links, search functions, lost bookmarks and important information that is buried “four clicks deep.
“We were told from the beginning (and grudgingly accepted) that a major purpose of the new website was to ‘be about marketing.’ But now, if I put myself in the position of the parents of high school students (or the students themselves) I might well be put off and deflected by the site. That’s bad news for the University community, and terrible ‘marketing.’”
During the first Alumni Association meeting of the year, which was held Friday, Sept. 18, alumna Pamela Edrehi, ‘73, had some complaints about the new website.
She said it was difficult to find the alumni page on the website, and she had to “click around” a lot before finding it.
The website uses a Google custom search, said Mulkeen, which means using the website’s search bar “is the same thing as what would happen if you went into Google and typed in, ‘Framingham State University’ before you put in whatever your search term was.”
When the site was redesigned, all the page URLs and names were changed, according to Mulkeen. Google has “search robots” which “crawl” the site, depending on how often the site is updated. “There are all sorts of things that go into search engine optimization and how often Google crawls your site, recognizes changes, anything like that.”
In order to make Google’s search robots crawl the site faster, the web team sent Google lists of URLs that weren’t going to be on the new site so the web pages wouldn’t be indexed anymore. They also sent Google a site map for the robots to crawl as well.
“Basically, for the first week, anytime someone hit a 404 error page, they had the option to submit the error. Those ones that we got from people saying, ‘Hey, I can’t find the academic calendar,’ – we know the academic calendar is on the site, they were just searching for it and Google was showing them the old URL for the page instead of the new one.”
The web team created “promotions” for certain URLs that were popular searches, which push certain pages to the top of the search results.
“We weren’t able to create promotions for all 1,000 new pages or every PDF that was uploaded onto the site, but just from the error reports I got most of the time people were searching for the content instead of looking for it within the navigation, so Google was showing them the old URLs even though the content was there somewhere on the site,” said Mulkeen.
She added that a week after launching the new site, Google robots had crawled 70 percent of the new pages.
“It never really gets to 100 percent indexed,” said Mulkeen. “It’s not a perfect science.”
Hamel said the administration has received a lot of positive feedback “in terms of how it looks and what it’s trying to do.”
He added that they have received some negative feedback regarding links and that “the best way to address those is to let ITS know so that they can in fact be addressed. If a complaint is made, and ITS isn’t informed, it’s not doing a whole lot of good.”
Hamel said, “With any IT initiative, patience is a virtue. It’s a very successful project in that it’s meeting the main goals of being responsive and being constituent focused.”
President F. Javier Cevallos said, “With any kind of technical thing – and the website is extremely complex – it always takes a while to get everything to work properly, to get all the links active, to get all the pages to follow the format.”
He added, “You’re always going to be finding small things that need to be done, and it’s a matter of updating it. I guess the feeling was that it was ready enough to go live although it was clear that there were things that needed to be completed.”
Rob Murphy, a senior, said he is not a fan of the new website. “It’s too cluttered, and not really geared toward effective searching.”
Junior Sam McGuire said, “When they first put it up, none of the links went to where they were supposed to, but IT worked really hard to fix all those things if you actually submitted a report.”
Radhika Bhatt, a sophomore, said, “I heard there was going to be a new website, but I have honestly not noticed a big, big difference.”
Senior Tyler DeMoura said it’s the “same info as always, there’s just a side panel now.”
DeMoura believes the cost of the website is a “complete waste of money” and it could have been put “towards improving the WiFi so students can actually access the website to begin with.”
Cameron Zamagni, a senior, said, “I think it is more difficult to navigate than the previous website. I think they prioritized aesthetics over user-friendly software.”