Over the past nine months the John Carroll University website has gone through significant changes. Most noticeably, the homepage of the University website received a “facelift” and has gone through continual subtle changes since its major change in the spring semester last year. This is the beginning of a total makeover for the entire JCU website.
These changes have come from the direction of John Carfagno, the assistant vice president of integrated marketing and communications, who recently joined the University in April 2009.
“My first step was the homepage, because it is the most visited page,” Carfagno said. “It is the front door of JCU’s web presence. I wanted to improve the look and feel which would help the Web branding presence.”
Carfagno said that in the beginning of the upgrade he wanted to hire someone who had experience in higher education webpage design.
Mike Richwalsky, director of marketing services for Web, started in February 2010. Previously Richwalsky worked at Duquense University and Allegheny College doing web design.
Right away Richwalsky began to take questions and suggestions about the webpage.
“Mike got engaged with different content management systems (CMS),” he said.
CMS systems are webpage design tools. There are two types, open source systems which are free to use with a support community, or an “off the shelf” system which can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After testing different open source systems, Richwalsky chose WordPress, an open source CMS. Throughout this year 32 different users have tested the system for the campus community.
A few of these testers include the sustainability committee and Office of Alumni Relations for the 2010 homecoming webpage.
Theresa Spada, assistant director of alumni relations, was in charge of the 2010 homecoming website which used WordPress.
Spada said her training consisted of 10 minutes of a tutorial and she did the rest.
“The new CMS is wonderful, it’s super user friendly and intuitive,” she said. “I do have some experience working with technology, but for the average person it is very easy to navigate.”
Previously, Spada used Dreamweaver, an “off-the-shelf” CMS system which many of the university pages use. Dreamweaver is more technical than WordPress which means users need to have some background with technology.
Carfagno sees the positives in WordPress for the entire campus community operating webpages.
“This changes the game,” he said. “Before, people on campus had to be techy to be able to handle their own web content. This editor looks a lot like Microsoft Word. It does the heavy lifting for you.”
WordPress takes care of the main design for its users.
This new CMS will save money as well and it is a free website to use. Also, according to Carfagno, because it’s simple and easy to use, salary hours will decrease for people spending time on the webpages. Carfagno estimated an instant $60,000 in savings.
Richwalksy said that the number of help calls have gone “way down” for the groups that have been using WordPress.
Sophomore Lauren Vine, thinks that the changes to the homepage have been positive.
“I think that the improvements to the homepage were needed,” she said. “I like how upcoming events are highlighted near the bottom and bigger events are near the top.”
Carfagno said that student input is what he likes to hear.
“We’re always trying to make [the website] better and more competitive,” Carfagno said.
Carfagno said it is important to have a strong and consistent web presence to attract students to the university. To do this, Richwalsky has linked different social medias like Facebook and Twitter to the homepage.
In the last year alone, the hits on John Carroll’s website have increased in Ohio by eight percent, in Pennsylvania by 12 percent, in New York by 31 percent, and in Illinois by 11 percent.
“The web has become the resource for finding out information, and we are trying to enhance the overall experience for students and families,” Carfagno said. “People are paying close attention and we’re taking actions to make the web better at John Carroll.”