University still adjusting to new website launch

After launching a redesigned website in September, Josh Beppler, integrated marketing coordinator, said Waynesburg University’s renewed online presence has been, overall, successful.

The process for designing a new website began last spring, when the university partnered with the marketing firm, Ologie, to come up with a new design and brand. Beppler said a committee of university faculty and staff met once or twice a week, for hours at a time, planning. The committee planned to launch the site this past summer,  but Beppler said the process was postponed until the fall semester to provide a more complete, finished product.

The feedback from students, prospective students and parents on the site, Beppler said, has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ve had a lot of validation of the efforts that we made and a lot of the research and discovery that we did that made sure we were building a site that was a productive tool for the outside users,” Beppler said. “But also making sure that our students and our faculty could find what they needed to find on the website pretty easily.”

Beppler said website maintenance comes with “bugs and growing pains,” though, many of which the team didn’t foresee. During the planning of the website, Beppler said, the team would occasionally find certain aspects that didn’t function as planned, making timely corrections and updates necessary. Beppler said the response time of the university’s core website team, including representatives from the Office of University Relations, Information Technology Services, Academic Affairs and others, was especially strong.

“We’re constantly making sure we are staying on top of any issues and getting them resolved quickly, and in that way, you’re extending the life of your website,” he said.

Among current students, the new university website has gotten mixed reviews. Senior public relations major Clay Carper conducted a class research project among communication students to evaluate how they use the site to learn about departmental events. He conducted three focus groups with students from different class levels to evaluate their interests in websites in general and understand perceptions of the university site’s redesign.

“We wanted to get their interests about websites in general, so we didn’t ask about the university website specifically but we asked about factors and characteristics of all websites,” Carper said. “And then we used that to introduce the Waynesburg website and how it functions.”

Carper said across all three student populations, the general attitude was that the website “wasn’t where it needs to be,” referencing problems with search functionality, “boredom” with the design, and the idea that the website is geared mostly to prospective students, not current ones.

Many students cited issues using the search bar feature of the website, Carper said. When students search for an item on the site, they are often redirected to a “Page Not Found” message.

However, while this was an anticipated problem during the early stages of the site’s launch, Beppler said that the search bar is nearly 100 percent functional. Most frequently-visited pages are recognized by the site, he said. When a page isn’t found, its because Google is still searching for links attached to the old website, but that error will improve over time.

“A lot of that is just natural maturation,” Beppler said. “So, I think we were prepared for some search issues as the site launched, but I think they have been remedying a bit every day. I think it’s getting better every day.”

Beppler said he’s learned that launching a new website takes constant maintenance. His team will continue to make improvements for months to come. Right now, he said, the team is looking for ways to make the website more responsive on older devices and web browsers. They are also looking for ways to digitalize the Waynesburg University Course Catalog as its own site, to make browsing course titles online more convenient for students.

While there will always be more work to be done, Beppler said he is proud of the team’s accomplishments this semester and grateful for the feedback from students, faculty and staff.

“I hope people like the site,” he said. “This was a year-long process that a lot of people worked on and worked hard on.”