By understanding your organization’s needs and core
messages, as well as the needs of your users, your website will
better serve both your organization and your visitors. The end
result will be to realize the outcomes you hope to obtain from your
Maybe your department is looking to produce content that will
attract the best and brightest faculty or staff. Perhaps your goal
is to show potential staff members the benefits of working for your
organization. Maybe you hope to attract new donors, or retain
Whatever the desired result, it’s important to have a
focus. The Discovery process of the Digital Communications
Transformation project will help you achieve that.
This is where you will employ research to determine the business
strategy—or the key needs—for your new website.
You’ll want all content on your site to strategically align
with your business strategy.
Discovery is achieved by a team of people who possess a range of
skills and expertise. This team collaborates to gather the
information necessary for creating a framework for decision
Your Discovery team should include these key people:
- Strategic Planner: This person is an influential member
of the department who understands the overall needs of the
university. This representative will work to build consensus among
team members on the key objectives, messages and target
- Stakeholders: They are directly impacted by the
performance of the website. Stakeholder interviews will help
you establish your site objectives and core messages. They provide
the basis for your strategy, or mission statement.
- Interviewer: This individual is a critical
thinker and a skillful, accurate listener who facilitates
- Researcher: This person visits other universities’
websites to identify ways in which your peers in higher education
are using their sites to implement key messages.
With your Discovery team in place, you now can proceed through
the five steps that will help you identify your department’s
strategic needs—the whole purpose for your new website. These
key points will help you stay focused on what’s
- Listening: Interview the stakeholders within your
department, asking them about the organization’s goals,
competitors and strengths. You also should question stakeholders on
what the website should accomplish, what improvements could be made
to the current site, and why they like certain sites from the
- Extracting Objectives and Core Messages: Review your
interviews to identify common themes and areas of disconnect.
Prepare the proposed strategic objectives and core messages for
review and discussion.
- Target Audience Prioritization: In identifying your main
audience, don’t focus on labels (prospective students,
faculty, alumni, etc.). Instead, concentrate on your site
visitors’ motivation—what information are they coming
to your site for?
- Building Consensus: Compile the information you’ve
gathered into a report that reflects what you have learned about
your objectives, key messages and identification of your target
audience. Here are a few pointers on drafting your report:
- Keep it simple; use bullet points to highlight key points.
- Be sure to include areas of concern you wish to focus on, core
messages to position on the site, your target audience, desired
outcomes (what you want your new website to achieve) and an
appendix listing the stakeholders.
- You can add more detail to your report by including notes on
best practices from peer institutions and an analysis of your
current website. Refer to the attachments section for an example of
a detailed report.
- Finalizing your Outcomes: Compile a set of written
results to share with leadership, stakeholders and the project
team. This document, or “white paper,” will inform all
decisions you make about your website going forward.
Following these steps doesn’t have to be an onerous
process. By seeing that everyone within your department is on the
same page, you can be sure that your new website will have a sharp
focus, one that will make it useful to your visitors, while
providing your organization with the outcomes it seeks.
Think of it as mapping out the route to your family vacation
destination: You know where you want to end up; all you have to do
is perform the research and draw up the best route that will get
you there. That’s the process of Discovery.