Developing a Content Strategy for Nonprofit and Educational Websites

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Developing a Content Strategy for Nonprofit and Educational Websites

The following case study outlines the steps to research and develop a comprehensive content strategy for nonprofit and educational website development.

What is a Content Strategy?

A content strategy develops a plan for creating, delivering, and maintaining web content and creates measurable outcomes by aligning content to an organization’s business goals.

Content strategies also better engage audiences by guiding organizations to create meaningful content.

A content strategy helps develop a workflow that aids in the producing, testing, and distributing content.

Who can Benefit From a Content Strategy?

While anyone with a website can benefit from a content strategy, nonprofits and educational institutions could best serve their audiences with a comprehensive content strategy.

A lot of the time, nonprofit and educational organizations don’t have the financial or timely resources to devote to developing strategic communication, and the web result ends up developed haphazardly, without purpose, and detrimental to the organization’s success.

Developing a Content Strategy

The process of developing a content strategy includes the following steps.

  • Examining current website condition by performing a content audit
  • Identify Business Objectives and Goals
  • Understanding Target Audience and Users
  • Aligning content to goals
  • Developing content governance and maintenance plan

My Approach

Developing a content strategy takes time and requires research across all communication platforms. Luckily for you, I enjoy this process and provide comprehensive results.

I look at existing website and social media content and dive deep into the nitty-gritty performance of content, including web structure, search engine optimization, navigation, and user experience.

After analyzing all content, I develop a report that highlights quantitative and qualitative data to improve web structure, navigation, layout, and aligns content with business goals. The report offers suggestions for improvement and outlines the necessary steps to develop an effective content-centric website.

The following case study represents a content study I drafted for Fairmont State University in West Virginia.

Case Study: Fairmont State University

Fairmont State University

Fairmont State University is the epitome of West Virginia. It has a hardworking, passionate attitude and is the home for positive change for West Virginians. Their students can do amazing things, yet, the website does not reflect that level of excellence. 

The University’s website is in dire need of a redesign. It has become overloaded with information, outdated, and difficult to navigate. The website does not tell the story of the University in ways that engage its audience. The obsolete website is becoming a detriment for prospective students, families, and key stakeholders and hinders the University’s success.

This proposal offers a redesigned FairmontState.edu that focuses on developing a website based on a content strategy that aligns with the university’s business objectives.

The content strategy includes developing a website that supports the following business objectives:

  • Increase student enrollment
  • Improve clarity and communication throughout the campus and drive users to the website.
  • Increase student engagement through sports, academics, and other activities
  • Increase student housing rates

To achieve these goals, the University should:

  • Simplify the front-facing website.
  • Organize content in five sections: Study, Admissions, Explore, Engage, Live.
  • Eliminate any extraneous links that do not support the business objectives of the University.
  • Employ and integrate rich media content across all platforms, including video, photos, and graphic design.
  • Develop two intranet websites for current students and faculty, and staff.
  • Align all content creation to business objectives.
  • Establish a content team and develop a content creation process
  • Maintain and audit all content to reduce information from becoming outdated.

This proposal includes an analysis of current content operations and offers guidelines and recommendations to improve the University’s content with a redesign of the University’s website.

Download the Full Report

About Fairmont State University

Fairmont State University serves 3,700 students and is located in Fairmont, West Virginia. The University offers 50-degree programs and includes 100 fields of arts, humanities, sciences, aviation, engineering and technology, education, nursing, and business administration. 

Fairmont State University in West Virginia’s third-largest school and prepares students for a lifetime of success. The newly designed website needs implementation as the primary marketing tool for future potential students, families, and stakeholders. Fairmont’s Request For Proposal includes the need for the following branding elements.

  • EMPOWERING inspirational, strengthening, transformational engine 
  • LIMITLESS optimistic, “can-do” attitude, unbound 
  • RESPONSIVE action-oriented, community-minded, helpful 
     
  • HARDWORKING goal-oriented, roll-up-your-sleeves, resourceful, tenacious 
  • GENUINE caring, supportive, warm, friendly, unpretentious, honest, informal 

Need for a Content Strategy

A content strategy is needed to ensure the redesign of FairmontState.edu is successful entirely. A strong content strategy provides the alignment of content that directly supports the business objectives of the University. 

A robust and effective website first needs a content strategy. The content strategy identifies the University’s business goals and creates a framework for content to achieve those goals effectively.

The University has already begun developing content they would like to include on their new website, including

  • Education that prepares graduates to participate in the knowledge-based economy 
  • Outstanding faculty and staff who deliver exceptional attention and support 
  • Learning opportunities with exceptional depth, inside and outside the classroom
  • We are “West Virginia’s School” 

While these content objectives are great starting points, it’s imperative to align content with the University’s business goals.

This report analyzes the current Fairmont website model, offers to redesign guidelines, and offers suggestions to maintain the website once implemented. 

Content Alignment Summary

Purpose

This section explores the possible business objectives associated with Fairmont State University and identifies if the current content strategy aligns with those business goals. This section also assists in exploring challenges or opportunities that exist with Fairmont State University’s content strategy.

Content Breakdown

Developing an effective content strategy can be broken down into four main guidelines:

Substance: What content does the University need to communicate directly with the University’s audience?

Structure: What content will be a high priority? How will it be shown to an audience?

Workflow: What tools will be used to create content? Who will become the workforce that manages the content and executes the strategy?

Governance: Who will be the critical decision-maker about content and strategy?

The information in the following section demonstrates an understanding of the University from a detailed discovery phase. I visited and analyzed the current content created and distributed on all Fairmont State University’s platforms. 

Business Goals and Content Objectives 

The following business goals and related objectives are summarized from information collected during the discovery phase.

Business GoalsContent Objectives
Increase student enrollmentDemonstrate the value Fairmont EDU offers to current and past students students.

Demonstrate the impact Fairmont EDU has had on the West Virginia Region

Inspire potential students and families to register for classes

Drive students to learn more about life-changing programs at the school.

Showcase current and past student achievement
Increase student engagement through sports, academics, and other activities
Demonstrate the opportunities available to become an empowered learner

Describe current opportunities for students to get involved with clubs, activities, and sports

Demonstrate the value of being a student-athlete at Fairmont State.

Demonstrate how past activities have strengthened the Fairmont community of learners
Improve clarity and communication throughout the campus and drive users to the website.
Describe new protocols, initiatives, and the health and safety protocols for students, faculty, and staff on campus
Increase student housing ratesDemonstrate the investments made by the school to improve student housing

Showcase the dorms, quads, community centers, and events that make student houses affordable, inspiring, and awesome.

Summary of Opportunities

Currently, the content from the University does not align with the business goals of Fairmont State University. A few opportunities can assist Fairmont State University in achieving its business goals and aligning content objectives. These opportunities focus on the four-step approach mentioned on Page 6.

  • Simplify the front-facing website. The current website, fairmontstate.edu, is overloaded with information.
  • Organize content in five sections. It’s challenging to navigate and difficult to find what students are precisely seeking. 
  • Eliminate any extraneous links that do not support the business objectives of the University.
  • Employ rich media content across all platforms, including video, photos, and graphic design. 
  • Simplify large swaths of the website that are text-centric
  • Develop a strong call to action across all platforms. 
  • Develop a content plan for all content creators to produce content that aligns with strategic goals.
  • Fully integrate content across all platforms.
  • Rebrand current publications that tell the story of the school, faculty, and student success.
  • Develop two intranet sites for current students and faculty and staff.

Current Website Condition

Analysis

I was able to use SEO Spider to analyze fairmontstate.edu. The site contains 82,367 internal URLs and 2,895 external URLs. I visited most pages and attempted to navigate the site completely.

First Impressions

I found Fairmont State University’s website overloaded with information and severely missing content-rich media. The abundance of communication made the website difficult to navigate. The current website also seems to be targeting many different audiences.

I also felt this website did not highlight the University’s story and the students who effectively make up the university. The University, in their RFP, dictates this feeling as well, writing: “The current website (www.fairmontstate.edu) does not tell our story.” Storytelling practices are essential and superior for a brand. 

The navigation of Fairmont State University includes too many options for users.

Current Content

In my discovery phase, I was able to identify the University’s potential audience as the following:

Audience

Understanding an audience is a crucial step in developing a content strategy. The Fairmont State University seeks:

  • Prospective students
  • Current students
  • Families
  • Regional partners
  • Faculty and Staff
  • Key stakeholders 

Current Condition

The website is flooded with information and does not offer a clear, distinct path for its audience. The website made me feel like the site was a clunky directory for everything in the University and not the marketing tool it needed to become. 

I was surprised to see a lack of integration of content on social media on the website. Each platform had a different voice and featured additional information not found on other media. For example, content shared on Facebook and Twitter did not appear on the website’s news page.

Fairmont State University Twitter Feed

Search Engine Optimization

Page Titles
Throughout the website, there are 31,119 different page titles. Page titles are the most critical aspect of organizing a webpage and are the primary way search engines find a website.

Most page titles on FairmontState.edu define the page appropriately, while others are cryptic and do not explain the page. Others are relatively short, and some are incredibly long, often cutting off in Google Searches.

Fairmont State is not effectively using page titles to organize its website. Most search engines display the first 60-70 characters. The University has page titles that counter best practices. 

My analysis: 

  • 14,710 duplicate page titles,
  • 8,318 titles are longer than 60 characters, 47%
  • 16 pages were below 30 characters

Examples: 

Long Title (179 Characters): Board of Governors member and Fairmont State alumnus Rusty Hutson, Jr., a finalist in Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 Southeast Awards Program | News | Fairmont State University

Short Title (23 Characters): Contribute | Tracts 

Meta Data Descriptions

Metadata descriptions are brief descriptions of the webpage. Usually, they are not seen on the actual page but will appear in search engine searches. Ideal metadata descriptions include no more than 155 characters and consist of strategic words to help search engines and users find the web content. 

Fairmont State Metadata 

The University inconsistently engages with best metadata practices. 

  • 12,044 Pages missing metadata descriptions
  • 3799 duplicate descriptions
    4363 over 155 characters
  • 18 below 70 characters

Examples

Long (1106 characters): “In July, the Fairmont State University Town & Gown Summer Theatre will present the popular musical South Pacific, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Continuing the longstanding tradition of high quality outdoor theatre performances at Prickett’s Fort State Park, Town & Gown Summer Theatre will honor veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces with special ticket prices and special recognition at each performance. Town & Gown Summer Theatre is an important educational, as well as entertaining, endeavor. The School of Fine Arts hires students from Fairmont State and other colleges and high school interns….”


Short (3 Characters): “Dr.”

Headers

Headers are crucial to the function of web pages. Headers essentially develop a hierarchy of information and help navigate the webpage by scanning the page seeking information.

Headers should include a range of headers, with H1 including the essential information and H6 containing the least important information.

Fairmont State University Headers

The University does a decent job at organizing content using proper header hierarchies. However, there are some inconsistencies.

  • 111 Pages Missing H1 pages
  • 14,965 Pages containing duplicate headers
  • 8,227 pages missing H2 headers
  • 8,649 Pages with duplicate H2 headers

Accessibility

Websites must be accessible to all audiences, including those with disabilities. One of the most important aspects of web accessibility is embedding alt-text with images.

Alt text tags should be included on all images and provide a brief description of the picture. The alt-text tag should not be used to stuff keywords into the website but should provide critical insight for visually-impaired viewers.

Accessibility reports indicate that Fairmont State’s website does not provide a positive user experience for users with disabilities.

Fairmont State Accessibility

I did perform an accessibility scan on fairmontstate.edu and found some glaring inconsistencies. The first issue I encountered was many contrast issues. The university’s color scheme is not web-friendly, and essential text might be challenging to see for some users.

Alt-Text

Fairmont State has 30,677 images in total included on its website. Of all the photos, only 42% of shots are missing Alt Text, 12,964 pictures. Fairmont University should include universal alt-text tags in all images to increase usability for all users.

Writing Analysis

Fairmont State University has developed a website that uses a ton of writing. The website has many pages that include too much text, and simplification would go a long way to improve the website. 

Voice

The website also does not contain a cohesive voice. Often, the voicing of writing changes from informal to formal and does not speak directly to the audience. I would strongly suggest adjusting and limiting writing to best match the audience.

Web Architecture

Mobile Devices

The Fairmont State website is mobile-friendly. Most pages translate very well on a mobile device, and only a few occasions do the page not integrate well on a mobile device. 

Often, the mobile device is over-cluttered with text, making it difficult to read on a mobile device. 

The website employs a double navigation header, and each header option opens up to hundreds of options.

Navigation

The Fairmont State website is challenging to navigate. There is so much information on the website that it’s often difficult to find pertinent details. The website currently features two navigation windows but is counterintuitive when navigating. It was often difficult to find information between the two navigation menus.

The site does contain navigational waypoints, but navigational improvement is needed.

Search

The search function worked as expected and was often the only way I could find information. For example, I had looked for housing information but couldn’t see the specific page between the two menus. I had to search for it using the search bar eventually. 

 Searching on a mobile device was difficult, and the menus hid the search function. 

Competitive Analysis

Potomac State University

West Virginia University Potomac State College provides an excellent user experience, as the site employs easy navigation and simple structure.

A brilliantly designed website that perfectly aligns with the business goals of the university. The website limits distractions and streamlines information excellently. The website also includes an excellent call to action.

Glenville State College

Glenville State College improves user experience with simple navigation and effective imagery.

The only way to describe this website is charming. Immediately entering the website, a video header image plays in full screen, accurately demonstrating campus culture. It’s inviting, warm, and targets potential students nicely. 

West Virginia State University

This website is in dire need of updating. The site is dated, over-cluttered, and is in far worse shape than Fairmont State University. The website does not align with the business objectives of the college.

Core Content Statement

A core strategy statement defines the essential purpose of content and the exact audience it’s intended for. All content created and distributed by the Fairmont State University should follow this statement.

“To increase enrollment at Fairmont State University, we will provide a genuine, media rich content website that future and current students, families, and community stakeholders will feel empowered, responsive, and limitless”

Proposed Core Content Statement

Messaging Framework

A messaging framework is the content strategy in action from an audience’s perspective.

First ImpressionValue StatementProof
What first impression does the University want its audiences to have when interacting with our website?What do we want the University’s audience to know or believe about the value provided?What will demonstrate that the audience wants to know or believe is true?
Wow. This school is awesome!
I didn’t realize how much Fairmont State University has to offer.
I know I can come to Fairmont State and become a better version of myself. 
I am ready to be empowered and engage with the FSU community.
I can see myself as a member of this learning community. 
They care about me as a person.
They are willing to prepare me with meaningful skills.
They deeply care about their community.
I was able to find the resources needed to enroll in classes, and apply to the school.

Key Performance Indicators

Aligning content with business objectives is a crucial step for the success of the new fairmontstate.edu. To measure success, key performance indicators (KPIs) will need to be developed and checked often.

The following table includes guidelines for collecting KPIs:

Business GoalsContent Objectives
Increase student enrollmentCollect, chart, and analyze student enrollment data every month.
Collect increase or decrease in admissions schedule data measure and collect analytic data from the website
Increase student engagement through sports, academics, and other activitiesCollect and measure analytics from activity pages.
Measure and analyze activity enrollment population conduct student interviews after being involved inactivity.
Improve clarity and communication throughout the campus and drive users to the website.Collect and measure analytic data across web pages.
Review and analyze data from users seeking website help conduct periodic interviews with students, faculty, and regional stakeholders.
Increase student housing ratesCollect and measure housing rates
Collect and measure analytics from housing pages.

Content Design Guidelines

User ScenarioUser SegmentFocus
What content is important to the University and its users?
Drive
What content does the University want to drive people to?
Guide
What content is important to users but not the University?
Meh
I’m a high school senior or parent of a child seeking information about colleges.Prospective StudentProgram of Studies
Meet with Admissions
Virtual tour
Apply
Athletics
Opportunities
On campus living
Apply online!
Tuition
Class to staff ratio
Student and Faculty Stories
News and Updates
Impact on West Virginia

Social Media
Campus History
Meet the team
University Awards
Fun Facts
I’m someone who graduated high school but hasn’t been to school in some time.Prospective StudentHealth and Safety Information
Semester information
Tuition
On Campus living
Apply now!
Mailing list
OpportunitiesActivities
News and Updates
Student and Faculty Stories
Impact on West VirginiaSocial Media
Campus History
Meet the team
University Awards
Fun Facts
I’m someone who is already enrolled at Fairmont StateCurrent CustomerHealth and Safety Information
Semester information
Tuition
On Campus living
Mailing list
OpportunitiesActivities
News Updates
Student and Faculty Stories
Check grades
Register for classes
Athletic registration
Internships
Upcoming Events
Campus History
Meet the team
University Awards

I’m someone who wants to already has a bachelor’s degree and explore graduate programs.
Prospective Graduate StudentsGraduate Program of studies
Tuition
Admissions
Alumni Stories
Social Media
Tuition
Mailing list
Class to staff ratio
Student and Faculty Stories
Impact to West Virginia
Athletics
Opportunities
Campus History
Meet the team
University Awards

Content Model

A content model focuses on core pages of the website directly aligned and developed from the University’s business objectives. With core pages in place, wireframe mockups of the website can begin to be developed; see the following section.

GoalCore ListCore PageHeader Label
To increase the overall image and favorability of the campusAbout usExploreCOVID-19 Information
We are West Virginia
Virtual Tour
The Campus
Fun Facts
To increase student enrollmentApply
Admissions
Study
Admissions
Explore
Schools
Undergraduate programs
Graduate Programs
Certificate Programs
Course Catalog
We are Falcons
Apply Online
Visit Us
UndergraduateGraduate
Transfer
International
Financial Aid
To increase student engagement through sports, academics, and other activitiesOpportunitiesEngage
Athletics
Clubs and Organizations
Campus Events
Jobs
Work Programs
Recreation
To increase student housing ratesHousingLiveCOVID-19
Fairmont, WV
Your New residence
Dining Services
Apply for Housing

Wireframe Sketches

The redesigned homepage includes simple options for users and provides relevant information to invite users to want to seek more information.

Wireframe Sketch: Study

The Study page includes all information related to studying at Fairmont State University.

Writing Guidelines

Writing for the Fairmont State University’s website should be concise, easy to understand, and avoid academic jargon. Writing should also be written for audiences at a high school reading level.

The voice and tone of Fairmont State University should empower all learners with a limitless attitude.

The Associated Press Stylebook has developed a series of best practices for writing on the web. It is advised the University become familiar with writing in the AP style. This will ensure clarity is achieved on all platforms. 

Sample Writing

Current Fairmontstate.edu admissions page: 

“Fairmont State turns opportunity, passion, and hard work into excellence in a vibrant, close-knit campus community where students and teachers become your friends for life. Here, you’ll enjoy the opportunities offered by a comprehensive state university combined with the personal attention and campus atmosphere you’d expect from a small, private school. Being the “biggest” or “most exclusive” school has never been our goal. We just want to be the school that prepares hard-working, passionate students like you for a lifetime of success.”

Proposed Writing Style

“We are Fairmont State. We are West Virginia. Your future is ready to take flight.”

Roles and Responsibilities

Fairmont State University will need a dedicated staff to manage this content-rich website. The University will need to develop a team that includes:

  • Editors- responsible for the content strategy integrity
  • Site Owners- responsible for ensuring content is accurate and updated regularly
  • Writers- content creators who focus on developing content based on the content strategy
  • Subject Matter Experts
  • Reviewers- review content before it is live to the audience
  • Proofers- reviews content for grammar, typos, and formatting
  • Publishers- push the content on live platforms.
  • Multimedia Producers- create graphic designs, photography, and video to support the content rich strategy.

References

Associated Press. “Associated Press Stylebook.” http://Www.apstylebook.com. https://www.apstylebook.com.

Casey, Meghan. 2015. The Content Strategy Toolkit : Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right. San Francisco, California: New Riders.

Fairmont State University. n.d. “Fairmont State University.” http://www.fairmontstate.edu.

Glenville State College. n.d. “Homepage | Glenville State College.” Www.glenville.edu.

Ismail, Kaya. 2013. “Content Modeling: What It Is and How to Get Started.” CMSWire.com. January 3, 2013. https://www.cmswire.com/content-strategy/content-modeling-what-it-is-and-how-to-get-started/.

Klipfolio. 2019. “What Is a KPI? Definition, Best-Practices, and Examples.” Klipfolio.com. 2019. https://www.klipfolio.com/resources/articles/what-is-a-key-performance-indicator.

Lang, Peter. 2012. “Five Tips for Effective Web Writing.” Uhuru Network. July 10, 2012. https://uhurunetwork.com/five-tips-for-effective-web-writing/.

Pearson Education. 2015. “A Roadmap for Creating an Effective Content Strategy | | Peachpit.” http://Www.peachpit.com. July 22, 2015. https://www.peachpit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2422809.
WVU Potomac State College. n.d. “WVU Potomac State College | Keyser Campus | WVU Potomac State College Located in Keyser, WV.” Www.potomacstatecollege.edu. ‌

Cover Photo Courtesy Fairmont State University

Still Need Help?

If you made it to this section of the page, you’re probably serious about developing a content strategy for your nonprofit or educational institution.

As challenging as it seems, let me help! Let’s schedule a free consultation and develop a content strategy that works for you.

About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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