Graphic of a Venn Diagram depicting three overlapping circles. The first circle represents Institutional Needs; the second represents User Needs, and the third is Content. The area where all equally overlap is labeled "Ideal Web Strategy.".

Building Your Strategy

A strong strategy assesses the following questions and uses the answers to inform how to approach creating your website. The effectiveness of your strategy is the the foundation for your site success. Websites that do not elevate in outcomes invariably did not have rigourous effort put into the strategy.

On this page:

The Discovery Process: Understanding Institutional and User Needs

For some, producing a new website is a simple task. Yet others may find it to be a daunting, complex process. Whatever the skill level of the individuals in your department who are involved with the project, it is crucial to the site’s success that team members are on the same page. This means knowing exactly what it is you are trying to achieve through your new website.

  • Where am I now? Assess the current state of your website. What information does it currently contain and what is the quality of the information? This is the Web content audit.   
  • Where do I want to be? Identify where you want your website to go; for example, what needs must your website achieve? What messages or information do you need your users to absorb? Talking with key stakeholders will help you develop a shared vision of what you want your final website to achieve. This is known as a business strategy.
  • What do users want us to be? Consider the people who will be using your website—what are their needs? You may know what you want to tell them, but it is equally important to understand the needs of your audience, and how these needs might be very different from what you initially envisioned.
  • How do we get to where we BOTH want to go? Consider how to satisfy your needs and the needs of your audience.  You will also need to think about how you are going to get buy-in and support for this initiative within your department.

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 new website.

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 existing contributors.

Whatever the desired result, it’s important to have a focus. The Discovery process of the Digital Communications Transformation helps you achieve that.

This is where you will employ research to inform 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.

Step 1: Assembling a Discovery Team

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 making.

Your Discovery team should include these key roles:

  • Strategist: 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 audience. The strategist guides the stakeholder selection process and reviews the interviews for common themes or problems that need to be discussed, resolved or affirmed as a group.
  • Stakeholders: Can be part of the unit or directly impacted by the performance of the website. Stakeholder interviews will help you establish your site objectives and core messages. Interviews of your stakenolders provide the basis for your strategy, or mission statement.
    • Note: users of the website are your customers, not your stakeholders and can be evaluated for audience needs.
  • Interviewer: This individual is a critical thinker and a skillful, accurate listener who facilitates stakeholder interviews.
  • Researcher: This person visits other universities’ websites to identify ways in which your peers in higher education are using their sites to implement key messagNotees.

Step 2: Take the Strategic and Audience Needs Training

In this course you will learn how to how to create strategic objectives for your website that support your business needs, as well as those of your audience

You’ll benefit by learning:

  • the discovery process and skills required of each member of the project team
  • how to check out the your competition’s website
  • how to develop your website’s business case
  • new ways that you should be thinking about your audience(s)

Step 3: Determine the right discovery path for your site.

This is no "right" way to build a business case. Whatever works for your unit and your site is the right approach. However, that said, there are several key areas of thought you do want to include in order to ensure you are informing the building blocks of a website that works in the way you need it to.

Business strategies can be created at the Unit level, with individual sites/departments in their business strategy referencing the unit strategy and detailing points specific to their department OR each site can do an individual business strategy. The approach is up to the Unit Web Leader (UWL) of the unit.

At minimum consider articulating:

  • Business Goals and Organizational Context
  • Website Objectives
  • Key Messages
  • Target Audience Prioritization and Desired Outcomes
  • Team, Timeline and Process

If you have the time and resources we suggest also:

  • Audience Matrix (Most powerful resource you can add)
  • Stakeholder Consuiltations
  • Peer Institution Website Best Practice Review

Included in our resources are 2 templates, you can use them or utilize a format that makes sense for your unit, as well as a link to request sample busienss strategies.

Please note that business strategies are:

Unsure of what your site is classified as? Consult with your Unit Web Leader.

Step 4: Researching, Listening and Documenting

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 important.

  • 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 competition.
  • 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.


Resources for creating business cases

Business strategies can be created at the Unit level, with individual sites/departments in their business strategy referencing the unit strategy and detailing points specific to their department OR each site can do an individual business strategy. The approach is up to the Unit Web Leader (UWL) of the unit.  Below are 2 templates, you can use them or utilize a format that makes sense for your unit.

Learn from the UB groups that have already invested time and resources navigating the Discovery process. Read through their white papers and review their business strategies, looking for ideas that you can borrow for your own website. Want to see a strategy from a "bird of a feather" unit?

Resources for stakeholder interviews

Resources to help you understand your audiences

Related articles and books

Next Step:

Suggested Online Training

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