– New version of www.UMSL.edu was brought online August 1, 2014 –PHOTO: The new UMSL website. Photo by Floyd Key for The Current 2014 (c)
By Daniel C. Hodges, Staff Writer for The Current
The redesigned University of Missouri–St. Louis website (umsl.edu) went online August 1 and features not only a new aesthetic design but also a new organizational structure designed to get visitors to their desired destination with as few clicks as possible.
The previous iteration of the UMSL website came online in 2011 after several years of development and its predecessor was in place for approximately ten years prior to that. The current design is the product of nine months of planning and work. The three year gap between the two most recent designs is no accident. Speaking with Mr. Jon Hinderliter, Assistant Director, University Marketing and Communication, about his research shows that the average life of a design on the web should be between three and five years.
Another factor for the redesign of the UMSL homepage was the lack of accessibility for devices that were not prevalent in 2011. Smartphones did not have the saturation they do now and tablets were in their infancy at the time. According to Mr. Hinderliter, “more than 160,000 visitors a month are visiting the UMSL website just on their iPads and that continues to skyrocket and grow.” This new site was designed for tablet functionality first, then for a desktop and smartphone experience. The smartphone version of the site has approximately 80 percent parity with the tablet and desktop versions.
In addition to the aesthetic redesign, approximately 80 percent of the site’s organization changed as well. The UMSL website takes advantage of Google Analytics to analyze how visitors use the site, where they navigate and what they use on the website. Looking at years’ worth of data, the design team found entire swaths of the site that were virtually untouched by visitors as well as links that people frequented that were stowed away several clicks away from the front page. The redesign focused on consolidating sections such as “About UMSL” that were rarely visited, “less than .1 percent of all traffic,” according to Mr. Hinderliter. It also brought more focus to the links to the application page and tour information. The Web Office continues to review the site analytics and will make adjustments to provide the most efficient visitor experience.
The aesthetic design and new organizational structure of the website was developed here at UMSL as opposed to being farmed out to a third-party developer. A 2013 university budget reallocation allowed for the hiring of both a web designer and front-end web developer into the university’s Web Office.
UMSL is partnered with Information Technology Services (ITS) to run the Content Management System (CMS) on which the website is built. ITS handles the backend of the system that drives the website while USML handles the front-facing aspects that define the site. The CMS was installed in 2011 with that redesign and remains in place today. Prior to 2011, sites on the UMSL domain were hand-coding their pages for public consumption. Once it went online, it took two and a half years to move 145 sites, consisting of over 20,000 pages, into the CMS. The UMSL domain now hosts over 235 sites.
The university website is not a static creation now that the redesign has been brought online. Tweaks and improvements are being made to improve the loading time of the site and pages such as the admissions and maps pages are scheduled for improvement in the coming weeks and months.
© The Current 2014