Since Florida Gulf Coast University initiated the process of redesigning, reorganizing and revitalizing its website in September 2015, roughly 65,000 pages on 415 individual websites have been reviewed and revamped. As the project nears completion this week, FGCU.edu has been winnowed to a comparatively lean and clean 42,000 pages, has achieved ADA compliance and is, finally, mobile friendly.
To put the long, complex task into context, roughly 12,000 graduates have flown The Nest since the website re-evaluation began. A couple of major buildings have been proposed, funded and constructed in the time span, and a new college and a new school have been established.
In other words, the project was a mammoth undertaking, rolled out over time as key sections were completed. Users already have grown familiar with the high-traffic landing pages for colleges and departments that premiered in spring 2018. The migration of thousands of detailed pages deeper in the website has been completed gradually and systemically since then. In recent months, fgcu.edu also has been enhanced with an innovative, easier-to-use calendar of events, photo galleries that showcase campus and student life, and other appealing features.
The state-of-the-art site is the result of thousands of hours of work by the web team within University Marketing & Communications headed by Jeff Garner, director of Digital Communications. The project’s success would not have been possible without the contributions of 275 newly trained editors throughout the university who learned the new content management software and how to apply FGCU brand standards online.
“Projects of this scale at many universities are often on a five-year development cycle, but FGCU accomplished our redesign in about three years after the initial decision to fully rebuild and adopt a new content management system rather than make a temporary update,” Garner says. “We did the research to select the most flexible, technically advanced system that we could find, because the investment in time and budget must last for years and be able to adapt to changes in the market and technology.”
The team collaborated with dozens of stakeholders from across the university and transformed FGCU’s online home with new interactive features, easier navigation and more concise information. The result is more modern, engaging, easier for site editors to update and designed to appeal to the FGCU community as well as prospective students and others who want to learn more about the university.
Website Developer Mike Rechkemmer (’17, Art), who started working on the web team as an undergraduate intern, recalls struggling to find information on the old site that he needed as a student.
“Working closely with faculty and staff, I understood what needed to be communicated to students, and as an alum I understand what engages students,” he says. “It’s become a much easier process to learn about different fields of study and opportunities available to students.”
Rechkemmer helped teach web editors throughout the university how to build pages in the new site’s content management system (CMS). The new CMS has a lot more flexibility and allows editors to do more than just write, he says. They’re able to design the structure of their pages and hierarchy of their sites — “a whole different way to build,” he says.
A website advisory committee began meeting in September 2015 with two dozen members representing faculty, staff and students. They met regularly for months before hiring a third-party web consultant, iFactory, to conduct preliminary research on how the site should look and work. The firm specializes in digital solutions for higher education, nonprofits and healthcare companies.
“We had no major technical or project management failures and even had one record month when 19 sites launched flawlessly,” Garner says. “One big advantage of the site redesign is that we moved everything to the cloud, so we minimize downtime and eliminate the risk of impacts from hurricanes considering we are in Southwest Florida.”
Although the final phase of the website redesign is completed, the web team continues its efforts to develop innovative and engaging features that improve the user experience, support student success and sustain the university’s mission online.
“One of the best parts of the website redesign is that all sections have a consistent look and feel that clearly communicates that visitors are on an official FGCU site,” Garner says. “We are now strongly positioned adapt to changes in the higher education market and in technology as they develop.”