Finalsite recently connected with Harpeth Hall, an independent college preparatory school for young women, located in Nashville, TN, to discuss the recent redesign and launch of the school’s new website.
Director of Marketing and Communications Jessica Bliss and Database/Website Administrator and Analyst Shari Shephard shared their experiences behind the process with Finalsite’s Connor Gleason, and how their team partnered with offices across campus to create a mobile-first design and a better user experience for families.
Watch the interview or read the discussion below!
Connor Gleason: Take a step back for a moment and go back before the launch of your new site. What were some of your goals for the redesign and what were you hoping to accomplish?
Jessica Bliss: The first thing that we considered when we were looking at our website was really how usage has changed since the last time we did a website redesign five years ago. What we know is now more than 50% of the people who visit our website are using a mobile device, so one of the very important first goals was to make our website more mobile-friendly.
We also know that the way that we interact with websites has changed a lot over the last five years. It used to be more desktop-centered and you didn't mind clicking into really detailed and in-depth information on a certain subject...Now we're so used to scrolling and so we wanted to take what was multiple pages about one of our premier programs or one of our academic offerings and condense it down into single pages.
In order to meet the parents where they are, the other thing we looked at was our audience. In designing the website, we wanted to make sure we were reaching all three of our really important users, and that is our alumnae who see the events that are going on on-campus, prospective parents who are going to our website to see if Harpeth Hall is a good fit for their daughters, and our current parents, who often go to our website just for information on events.
We really wanted to create something that was mobile-friendly, mobile-first, and that would meet the needs of all three of our main audiences.
Connor Gleason: A redesign can be such a big undertaking. When you were starting to approach the project, what were some of your strategies for gathering content and the brainstorming process? What served as inspiration?
Shari Shephard: One of the things that we really were considering was the way that people take in the information now, so we started with some analytics for the past five years and we just started compiling the information to see what the evidence shows.
We were interested to find a few surprises on some pages...There were a lot of pages that didn't have much traffic and some of those pages had so much good content. We realized that we were missing out on our opportunity to share some of our really good programming, so with the analytics in place, we started with the categories of audiences. Our admissions team was a huge part of that process, so we shared what our analytics showed, and then gave some suggestions. We also met with the advancement team who really reaches out to our alumnae and then also, of course, academics and athletics.
Having the analytics in place helped with suggestions that started our journey, and then we went out and looked at dozens of websites and started getting ideas and putting all of that information together.
Connor Gleason: Talk about working with the admissions team. What was the collaboration like and how did both departments work toward each other’s goals?
Jessica Bliss: Our website is first and foremost a marketing tool for prospective families, so that was probably the highest on our list — to make sure that all of our elements were really speaking to those prospective families and to the prospective students. We really wanted to showcase the joy and all the activities and options for a prospective student, so we really wanted that “wow” factor, so when they visit our website they say, “I want to be a Harpeth Hall student.”
The collaboration started with the admission pages. We figured out what people really want to know when they come here. One is: What does your campus look like? So that was the place to put our beautiful campus tour right front and center on the welcome page. They want to know, “how much does it cost to send my daughter there?” so we wanted to make sure we had a really informative page that had tuition right there at the front. Then they also want to know, “how can I visit, how do I get more information, how can I see your campus in person?” and so that's kind of what we used to direct the different pages that we had here.
We did a storyboard for everything. We created note cards for every single one of our pages on our old site, and then we stood in a big classroom where we put them all up on a board and we started pulling this here and putting that there and saying there's no card over here...That was really part of our beginning process as well.
Connor Gleason: These hero images! We're always talking about hero images or videos that really stand out and stop people right in their tracks. These group shots certainly do that. What was the creative process behind that and some of the planning that went into these really dynamic group shots that catch everyone's eye?
Shari Shephard: It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun! We have our three statements: Think Critically, Lead Confidently, and Live Honorably, and so we started with those three titles, and then we figured out that we need an athlete here, we need a dancer there, we need an alumna here… We had this big, long list, and then we started plugging people in.
We came up with this huge photoshoot that we actually did over a combination of two full Saturdays. We had lots of girls, alumnae, and faculty and staff, and then we had this wonderful graphic designer who was able to take the shots and come up with what you see here [the composite designs]. It was pretty amazing.
Connor Gleason: What was the student reaction like?
Jessica Bliss: The Saturdays were full of fun. We had the girls come in all in uniform and with their props. They really loved being in front of the camera and getting to be themselves. I think that was the best part; each one of these girls is photographed doing something that she actually does at our school, so it's really natural. For them to do those poses I think they felt really highlighted and acknowledged for what they love to do.
Connor Gleason: The Community section has a really robust new section; it talks about student life, there's information about the PA, there are resources about adult classes on campus—it's clear you know the value of blogs and campus news and how to really tell the day-to-day stories and life on campus for families. What was the consideration for putting “Community” in the main navigation?
Jessica Bliss: Community is something that we talk about on our campus every day. It's really just kind of part of our language and who we are at Harpeth Hall. Connections, working together for the common good and being part of this community is really special. And because it is such an important part of Harpeth Hall, we wanted it to be front and center.
Student life was an important thing to include. We are an academically rigorous school and people know that, and that's why they send their daughters here, but we also know that the girls have a lot of fun. There's a lot of opportunity for joy and activity, and we didn't want that to be lost on our site. So putting student life front and center was really important for us.
We want to show all the opportunities that a prospective student may experience when she comes here. For me, telling stories is what we do through our images, we do that through our words, and we do that through our videos. That’s how we connect with people and tell the story of Harpeth Hall itself, and so we really wanted to highlight all the good work and all the accomplishments that our students are doing here, and that came naturally on this page.
Connor Gleason: A lot of schools are entering their third year of teaching and learning with COVID. Did health planning factor into the site at all? What were some of the considerations for folks who are off campus as a way to experience Harpeth Hall?
Shari Shephard: Like everyone else, last year, we were presented with ‘Okay, how are we going to have tours? How are we going to have preview day?’
We would normally have plenty of prospective parents and students on campus and we couldn't do that, so we came up with a virtual open house. It was actually such a hit that we will include it again this year, as well as the usual in-person open house, because we do have some families that are out of state and cannot make it in-person.
We're going to reinvent that a little bit this year and include the campus video. Our tour of campus is just awesome, so one of our goals this year on all of our pages is to bring in a little more video.
Shari Shephard: We really want to highlight the authenticity of our students and our faculty and staff, and we just feel like the video speaks to that so well. We have got some fantastic people that we want to showcase, and so we're looking forward to being able to do so.
Connor Gleason: Can you speak a little bit about your data integration? How are you leveraging that data? Is it seen through email communications, your athletic schedule, or do we see those data points through your faculty directory or calendar? How do we see your two systems working together?
Shari Shephard: So yes, yes, and yes. We are integrated with Veracross and we pull in data for faculty and staff, students, and families. We pull in the athletics teams, we pull in the calendars. I think what stands out for us, and we're kind of proud of, is our faculty and staff directory.
We wanted to make our faculty and staff directory a little more robust, and so we asked for our faculty and staff to send us professional bios and a little bit of fun information about themselves. We built this out this year because our analytics told us that our faculty and staff directory is one of the pages viewed most.
As far as the integration goes, it’s one of the things that I think has been really great for us. With Finalsite Messages and with the integration that comes along with Veracross, we don't have to have any kind of third-party source for our newsletters and our emails. Our communications manager has got such an artistic flair with her newsletter templates. We can make some beautiful communications that work seamlessly, and it allows us to not have to go to a third-party vendor.
Connor Gleason: There's so much work and creative energy that goes into a launch...What are you most proud of? Is there a specific feature or maybe a page or a function of the site that you just really love?
Shari Shephard: For me, I would say that it's just the whole overall project. When I look back at what we had compared to what we gained...I can say that our older site had started to feel sort of bulky and slow. The new site is kind of like the feeling you get when you clean out your closets and all of your drawers and everything's just neat and tidy and streamlined. It’s organized now and it just feels really good.
I want to give a real shout-out to Finalsite because although we did a lot of homework on the backend (we really looked at sites and looked at things that made us feel good) when we got all those notes together and Finalsite came up with a design for us, they really just hit the nail on the head and we loved it. We had a few tweaks here and there, but they’re really able to deliver what we were after.
Jessica Bliss: I think I’m most proud of the teamwork and collaboration and what goes on behind the scenes at Harpeth Hall. This was almost a year-long process for us. Finalsite was so remarkable in seeing our vision, understanding our vision, and executing our vision, and not only that but bringing in all these beautiful elements.
So I think my favorite part about the site as a whole is all the interactivity, the motion, and the ways that you can engage with the different elements. The fact that we have so many different elements as options to make our pages lively and interesting —that's all Finalsite!
I also have to give a shout-out to Lauren from Finalsite who was our project manager and she inspired the cute 404 page.
Jessica Bliss: She showed us some other examples of other creative ideas and said, ‘you all can be creative too!’ and she really inspired that. It was just great teamwork from front to back, and I think I’m most proud of that.
Connor Gleason: What has the reception been like? What’s the feedback that you're hearing from students or faculty or leadership? What are you hearing from your community?
Jessica Bliss: I’ve definitely heard from parents who just feel how much more user-friendly this is — that they know what they're looking for and then they know where to find it. And that's the feedback that I’ve received from our faculty, too.
Our faculty do so many incredible things—they educate in unique and innovative ways and we have incredible premier programs, from our winter program to our Center for Civic Engagement. On our old site, I think a lot of that great work got lost and people didn't know about it because they couldn't find it, they didn't see it, or it wasn't front and center. The opportunity for this website to elevate that work and to showcase what our faculty does on a daily basis— to educate our girls—the feedback on that has just been really, really nice.
Connor Gleason: So you're launched, you're on the other side of it. What piece of advice would you share with folks who are considering a redesign? Is it advice for planning or the process that’s important to consider?
Shari Shephard: Do your homework and get out there and see what you like and what you don't like. I think Finalsite works so well with that, and as Jessica said, our vision was to be authentic, to tell our stories, to have things more streamlined, and by giving examples of things, that really helped with the design part.
Jessica Bliss: I would say to not underestimate the process of it. It can be lengthy, but I think it's important to give the time for that. Give time to be creative. Give time to really get the wording right. Give time to make sure that the structure, the scaffolding of your website, the different elements in buckets that you're trying to hit, that you can reach that. This was almost a year-long process for us and there were times when it felt long, but the end result was so fantastic that it was worth the effort.
Connor Gleason: What's next? What are your plans for the site this year and going forward? And how do you see it working with your marketing and communications strategy?
Jessica Bliss: The first step after we launched was to tell everybody that we launched. We launched a social strategy to get it out in front of our prospective families and our alumnae.
Now, what we want to do is to make sure that we stay up with the trends. Five years ago, trends were different as far as how our users are using websites. Now, we want to make sure that we continue to keep our website tracking with how people are using their devices and we really want to keep it fresh, so that when you come to the website you feel like it's a new experience and you're not looking at the same old things.
In order to do that, we're going to be looking at it every six months to every year in an auditing process, where we're going to go through all of our images and all of our wording and make sure that it's updated and fresh. What photos do we need to swap out, et cetera.
I also would say that video is really a part of our next-step strategy. We have great ideas for how we can implement videos on really almost every one of our premier program pages, because we know people consume information in different ways. Some people are going to look at the images, some people are going to read the words, and some people just want that quick two-minute explainer that will give them everything they need to know. We want to go ahead and implement that and all of our pages too, so that's kind of the next year-to-two-year step.
Connor Gleason: Jessica and Shari, thank you for connecting, and once again, congratulations on the new site!
Harpeth Hall’s website launch is a reminder that a redesign should be a collaborative process across departments, especially between your marcomm, admissions, and advancement teams. A close review of your website’s analytics can shed light on the importance of a mobile-first design and prioritizing user experience, and when supported by data-driven decisions, creative content will set your school apart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Web and Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.