Crafting a Successful Web Governance Policy for Higher Education

Carnegie Higher Ed Jan 05, 2023 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Having an effective web governance policy is important to the student experience. The college search process can be overwhelming for prospective students and families. They are inundated with digital ads, print mailers, and “advice” from family and friends. How many times have we heard a Director of Admissions say, “Just get them on campus. Once they are here, they’ll know it’s right for them.” Undoubtedly, the campus visit plays a key role in the decision to attend an institution. It’s all about the “vibe,” right? Something students feel when they arrive on your campus.

But these last two years have changed the campus visit experience. COVID-19 significantly impacted the amount of students visiting campuses, so schools need to find other ways to share their campus experience. For many prospective students, your website is the first time they encounter your college or university. It’s the public face of your institution.

A website visitor should experience the same considerate welcome and sense of inclusivity as a visitor to your campus. They should expect to have issues resolved quickly, have questions answered thoroughly, leave your site satisfied, think well of your college or university, and be eager to return and continue engagement. Above all, your website should reflect and advance your primary business and strategic goals.

A unified site with consistent, on-brand messaging and a frictionless user experience is the goal—especially since your website is doing the job of a campus visit. But getting there isn’t always easy. Too many hands on the wheel can create a confusing, unattractive, and off-brand website that can turn students away.
How can institutions create and enforce policies that ensure a healthy web presence? Governance.

What is web governance in higher education?

Our favorite definition of web governance for higher education comes from Mark Greenfield: “Web governance is about deciding who gets to decide.” It includes the policies, processes, standards, and framework for establishing accountability, roles, and decision-making authority. This encompasses an institution’s digital presence—its websites, social channels, and other internet and web-enabled products and services.

9 areas of web governance for higher education

A well-structured, comprehensive web governance policy should include the following nine areas:

  1. Centralized responsibilities: Your web governance policy should outline which central entity owns and enforces your policy (typically the Marketing/Communications department). Within that, you’ll want to ensure that all tasks and responsibilities with the website are centrally managed. For example, IT might own website hosting and creation of new accounts, while Marketing owns the approval process of new web pages. Centralized responsibilities also cover web advisory committees and councils and how they will operate. Do they advise only? Do they set policy and adjudicate requests?
  2. Decentralized responsibilities: What offices and areas outside of the centralized office need to be included in your web governance? Clearly describe the rights for content contributors and publishers, including their responsibilities and how to maintain accounts so they remain in good standing.
  3. Web content classifications: Define the differences between your main .edu site and intranet. What content goes where? How will your team use internal communication tools such as Teams or Slack or campus announcement systems? Provide shape and form around the different types of content and the standards around them.
  4. Website management tools: The obvious one here is your Content Management System (CMS), but a tool that often gets overlooked is website analytics. Define who has access to analytics along with any support and reports they need. Other tools include forms, calendars, and plug-and-play systems that exist for content contributors across the institution.
  5. Account access and required training: Let’s all admit that we can do a better job of training our campus colleagues. Go beyond providing a login. Good governance outlines required courses before you get access to any system, including the CMS. Provide training for web writing, brand messaging, and any standard or editorial guidelines.
  6. Web standards and guidelines: Include and document your accessibility standards, video requirements, and editorial guidelines. Include links, examples, and contact information for anyone who may have questions.
  7. Domain name policy: How does your institution handle subdomains and vanity URLs? Who grants these domains? What’s the process for establishing them?
  8. Content review cycles: Every page on your .edu should have four essential components: an audience to serve; a strategy or intention to motivate, educate, or train; an owner—not a departmental owner, but an individual owner who will update content; and a review rhythm, at least annually. If one of these components are missing, then the page should not exist.
  9. Sites outside the CMS: The average university has 750 sites—student clubs and organizations, academic research blogs, etc. Which ones do you care about? How do you handle the sites that don’t use proper branding? How long are these sites allowed to stay out of the CMS and what’s the process for them to get back? What scenarios are okay for them to stay outside of the CMS and what policies do they need to follow in order to stay there?

4 essential components for policy governance

For any web governance framework to be successful, it needs the following four elements:

  1. Balance: If you’re going to hold your campus departments to a certain standard, then you need to provide the resources and services to maintain that standard. If you don’t have the resources or staff, recalibrate your governance policy to provide necessary information that sets you up for success.
  2. Representation: Web advisory councils are great for crafting policy because the best policy is shaped by people who live with it daily. Bring in your Admissions, Advancement, and Human Resources teams—anyone who generates content for external audiences should have a seat at the table to verify your governance framework.
  3. Ratification: Senior leadership needs to buy into governance. Maintenance and changes to the website are often inconvenient and extremely political (especially when it’s the home page). Having the ratification and senior leadership approval are essential for enforcing web governance.
  4. Application: Apply governance consistently! The moment you make exceptions and don’t document those exceptions is when it fails.

Let Carnegie Help with Your Web Governance

The best time to begin crafting your web governance is when you’re undergoing a website redesign. The redesign process sheds light on broken governance frameworks as well as new opportunities to streamline and improve your web presence.

If you’re interested in learning more about Carnegie’s website redesign process, check out this presentation from our EVP of Creative, Voltaire Santos Miran. If you want to work with us on improving your web presence, start a conversation with our experts about your web strategy!

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