NSights Blog

Rebuilding unr.edu

A new web experience is close at hand.

It's hard, if not impossible, to overestimate the importance of the website to the life of the University. It's our picture window, the conduit that provides a sense of where you would work, study, live and play, both on campus and in our beautiful and culturally vibrant Reno community.

It tells the University's story, gently placing its thumb on the scale to answer the question, "Why Nevada?" It provides the information users seek and the information they would benefit from knowing. Our website strives to be the next best thing to an on-campus visit. Even as social media and other technologies proliferate, it remains the bedrock.

Our current site was launched five years ago, so in web years, where things change at breakneck speed, it's a senior citizen. So, on February 20 we will begin the phased rollout of our new site. The first phase will feature unr.edu's Top 6 pages (About, Academics, Admissions, Athletics, Campus Life and Research and Innovation) and related subpages, as well as the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts. The remainder of the colleges and schools will migrate on a rolling basis throughout the first phase, which concludes at the end of March. The second phase will open in April and marks the migration phase for major units and their offices, such as the Division of Student Services and academic departments and programs for each college and school. The final phase will begin in July and end on November 13th, with the remainder of site content migrating during that time.

This relaunch comes after a rigorous process of research and discovery, design sprints, usability testing and much more. This site will feature pages that have been reimagined and built from the ground up with the user central to all design decisions. This process began more than two years ago.

For context, last year the University website generated 4.6 million user sessions (i.e., visits) that resulted in our website content being viewed more than 20 million times. It carries our brand, our message and often provides the first introduction to our University. It's the place where students can apply to the University, find a major, pay their housing bill, learn about campus and as many other activities and transactions as they can find across this active campus.

In the rebuild, we've created pages that are visually fresh, intuitive to navigate, mobile friendly, and easily discoverable by search engines like Google, which is critical given that three out of every four visitors comes to the site from search engines. We've updated the content management system (CMS) – the engine that serves content around unr.edu – and taken measures to ensure ongoing quality control.

The new site will be dynamic and will capture the personality of the University, while providing a news and content hub for building reputation. It will feature video and act as a feeder to social sites, all while being accessible.

Our full site has to be accessible to everyone, from providing pages with suitable color contrast so visually impaired users can better distinguish the words to offering physically impaired users the ability to navigate the site using only a keyboard (no mouse). Every aspect of the site's myriad pages and components is built with accessibility in mind to ensure all visitors feel welcome and are able to experience everything we have to offer.

There is an aspect that could derail our accessibility efforts if we're not diligent. First, a quick primer: there are two types of webpages on our site - those that live within our CMS, of which there are about 20,000 pages, and those that live outside the CMS, of which we've identified approximately 500,000 pages. The majority of the web content for our colleges, schools and administrative units are within the CMS. MarCom is able to manage and ensure the accessibility of anything within the CMS. It's the nearly half-a-million pages that fall outside the CMS that present the special challenge.

The solution to this challenge lies in the notion that many hands make light work, which is to say that we all should be prepared to make these pages accessible or to take them down; there's no middle ground. If you want to know more about the sites inside and outside the CMS and the types of pages on each site, ask your accessibility liaison (every major unit has one) or contact us with your accessibility question. There is also a list of accessibility resources below this article.

"What did all of this cost?," you might reasonably ask. The University is proud to say that we are handling this weighty task entirely in house, thanks to our talented and dedicated team. This keeps extraneous costs to a minimum.

When one of our high-achieving sports teams makes a championship run, for example, Nevada fans may want to check out the website for more information. It's there that they find the answers to questions big and small and may leave the site quite pleasantly surprised; surprised at the strength, breadth and depth of the academic choices they can find on our beautiful campus.

But none of this is important, however, if you don't actually like the site. We hope you do. We invite your feedback, which you can leave via the small pop-up window hovering near the bottom right of each page. While the site will launch anew on February 20, this just begins the next phase of a process the Japanese call kaizen, which means continuous improvement, only fitting for one of the University's most important assets.

Thomas White