The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 15, 2006

Consulting Group Suggests Website Changes

The web design firm Dotmarket-ing gave a PowerPoint presentation Dec. 12 in Wilder 101 about the Oberlin website, discussing the site’s flaws, strengths and possible areas for improvement.

The ultimate goal of the redesign, according to the campus website, is “to ensure that the site presents a compelling, consistent identity; provides extensive and important information; engages web users and conveys Oberlin’s core values and key communications messages.”

“One of the primary goals expressed in Oberlin’s Strategic Plan was to ‘enhance the value — and the perception of value — of an Oberlin education in ways that strengthen Oberlin’s appeal to current and prospective students,’” said John Appley, director of new media for the College applications department, in an e-mail to the Review. “The web project fits into that same effort: That is, how can we better communicate to the outside world what goes on at Oberlin — what an Oberlin education means.”

The PowerPoint was the end result of the first in a three-phase process aimed at redesigning the college’s website. The changes will be based upon user opinion. This first phase involved interviews with several different demographics: students, prospective students and parents.  It also included surveys of the website’s users and analysis of web statistics. Evaluation of this information will be the bedrock upon which the new website is built in the next two phases.

The hour-long PowerPoint presentation first addressed user complaints about the website’s navigation problems. According to a survey conducted by Dotmarketing, students who rarely spent time on the website found its organization and internal search feature to be key problems.

“We’ve heard that there’s a lot of good information — if you can find it,” said J. Todd Bennett, the managing director of Dotmarketing. “The internal search engine used to search the website is awful.”

To address this issue, Dotmarketing is working with Google Mini, which tracks what people are searching for on the website. This will allow site administrators to determine what users look for, so that administrators can design links and accessibility accordingly.

As well as providing accessibility and more options, the Dotmarketing team also advocated an image makeover for the website. The goal, they said, is to coordinate the redesign of the site with the new Fearless marketing campaign so that both express similar themes.

Dotmarketing said to expect the website to be more interactive. According to user responses, current students, prospective students and faculty members want more venues in which they can share information with each other. Under Dotmarketing’s plan, the admissions office will be able to communicate the status of a prospective student’s application electronically rather than by phone as well as increase the overall visibility of admissions requirements.

Students were enthusiastic about the possibility of multimedia resources on the site, such as video lectures and tours of the classes:    “I think videos of teachers giving lessons — that’s absolutely amazing,” said one of the students Dotmarketing interviewed. “That would be a standout on any website.”

“We’re envisioning a site that embodies the concept of Fearless in the content it provides,” said Bennett. 

However, Bennett stressed that users were not interested in reading too much general information about the school’s mission or goals and were more interested in specific information.

“They see the Oberlin website as a functional tool to fulfill their requirements as students,” he said. “They say that all the schools sound the same. They’re looking for distinctive qualities that define a school.”

The Dotmarketing team is scheduled to return to Oberlin in January to present  phase two of the project — suggestions for improvement. The completion of the website, or phase three, is scheduled to be completed in fall of 2008. However, according to Appley, “Important pieces will be put in long before that.”


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