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An Exemplar cuTheme Site: The Sprott Success

A headshot of Liz Lariviere smiling. She has brown eyes and long brown hair.
Liz Lariviere, Web & Digital Communications Coordinator

Preparing for the new cuTheme migration can be very exciting, although, it can also be a bit overwhelming as it is a big change. A few of our sites, such as the Sprott School of Business, were a part of our cuTheme pilot project and have successfully helped pave the way for this new transition across the Carleton domain. Unlike other faculty sites, all programs within Sprott are represented by this site. We had the opportunity to interview Liz Lariviere, the star behind the Sprott website. She provided us with insights on the overall clean-up and organization process, metrics, and navigation, as well as her additional advice on website management.

Clean-up Process

Regarding the minimalistic and clean look of the site, how did you manage to classify all the Sprott pages under just four menu categories (Programs, About Us, Research and, I am:? ). Were there other menu categories you were considering? Did you always have just these four categories, if not, what was the organization process like, and how long did it take?

“This took about 6-8 months of research and re-organizing. We [myself and Kim Swartz, Media & Relations Officer and our Comms Team Lead] started by benchmarking about 25 different Business school websites. Half were Canadian and the rest were bigger-named Ivy League schools, both American and International. We looked at their nav, web architecture, and content. We noticed that the better sites had 3-4 menu items and their content was succinct and very visual.

Then we took a full inventory of our 500+ pages and cleaned up any orphaned pages, anything that was outdated or didn’t NEED to be on the external website, which was a huge job. (As a faculty, we don’t have departments like others do, so our website covers everything Sprott) Staff and Faculty info was moved over to the intranet and we overhauled our UG current students section after 4 years and a few different people in those roles. We got it down to about 325 pages. Then I had to take all those pages and fit them into our new categories. If it didn’t quite fit, we had to decide if it belonged on the website and/or what to do with it. The other thing we had to keep in mind is that websites aren’t as linear as they used to be, so we also limited our structure to 2-3 levels, otherwise, it was just too much! I think I had 6 different spreadsheets before we decided we were happy with it and it made sense. It was a huge job, but I’m so glad we did it. It was clearing off and reorganizing a messy desk and starting fresh!”

Audience Filtering in Menu Bar

The I am: section is a unique touch that other Carleton websites have not included in their menu bar. Do you believe this menu category is an effective way for users to find the content they are looking for? Would you recommend other departmental sites across Carleton include this category in their menu as well?

“I do! I have to admit we “borrowed” this from another website we came across in our research. Our 2 major audiences are 1) prospective students and 2) current students. The “I am a…” menu allows the visitor to select the audience they belong to, and us to easily deliver our messaging and content specifically for them. Of course, they can get to those same pages in other ways, like search, but this menu gives us the option of an audience filter vs content filter.”

Google Analytics

Do you track your Google Analytics often, and if so, do your analytics have a big impact on the way you display content on your site?

“Yes! We’ve always tracked GA and review monthly reports. Our site follows some solid trends during the academic year, but sometimes we do get surprises and it’s always good to have the numbers to fall back on to figure out the “why” – whether it was positive or less than positive. It shows us what our stakeholders are looking for and when, and allows us to make changes if they aren’t seeing the content we want/need them to see too. We relied on our GA stats a lot when we were re-structuring the website for CUTheme too. If a page wasn’t getting views, did we need it? If yes, we had to figure out how to redevelop that content. If not, it allowed us to build a case as to why it shouldn’t be web content. It also gives us insight on other aspects of comms, like whether or not a social campaign was successful, and what kind of stories resonate with our community.”

Top Navigation System

I noticed the Sprott site uses a top navigation system. Have you noticed an improvement in user experience when switching from side navigation to top navigation?

“Previous to CUTheme, we were on Framework and a totally custom template before that one, so Sprott has always had a top nav. It’s also in line with industry standards and trends.  So while I can’t compare it to a side nav, we did reduce the “laundry list” of 8-9 menu items and that’s been an improvement. We noticed an increase in traffic, more time spent on pages, and lower bounce rates in some places. We also realize a lot of users just search, so we also worked on improving our SEO. #TeamTopNav!”

Additional Advice

Do you have any advice for our other clients who manage Carleton sites?

“I think my advice would be to always ask yourself (or your colleagues) is does this NEED to be on an external website and what value is it providing to the stakeholder, especially if you’re managing a larger site. Content can balloon quickly, so sometimes we have to step back and evaluate the best way to communicate our message. I also try to do a yearly review with our different teams and clean up anything that’s outdated or no longer providing value and that helps us keep on top of our content.”