Business Planning and Strategy

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.

The Discovery Process: Understanding Institutional and User Needs to Define Ideal Web Strategy

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.".

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 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.

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 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 audience.
  • 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 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 messages.

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.

Next Step:

Related Online Training

Learn from Others

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.


  • You might have a range of people who want to be interviewed. One way to solicit feedback without it being too complicated is by using an online survey (such as Vovici). This shouldn't take the place of stakeholder interviews, but it will allow you to gather input from anyone who wants to have a say in the process.

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