Category: Industry Trends

My Michigan Tech (Student Testimonial) Initiative

We have been busy launching a student testimonial initiative called My Michigan Tech over the past few months. This is really neat project that has allowed us to talk to a bunch of our students and learn about their Michigan Tech experiences.

Project Motivation

In August, an admissions and enrollment consultant came to campus. One great idea shared was to prioritize letting prospective students learn about Michigan Tech through storytelling by our current students. This could be accomplished through quotes and stories in text and video forms.

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool. More importantly, though, it is a genuine way to share great information about Michigan Tech. Our students are our story, after all. Why not hear from them?

Initial Process

We put together a Google Form asking five basic questions about our students’ experiences. We then put together an email list of student ambassadors that Undergraduate Admissions works with and invited those students to tell their story. We also invited the campus community to refer students directly to our form via a Tech Today announcement.


We used a voluntary approach to collecting these initial testimonials to speed up the process. Student ambassadors are passionate about Michigan Tech making them the perfect students to talk to. Opening the invite to campus via Tech Today made sure no one was left out.

As responses came in, our editorial team started categorizing them. Some were perfect for the web and some perfect for a video testimonial. We blocked a couple dates, times, and locations with our videographer and emailed more than two dozen of the student respondents—explaining the video component of our initiative and inviting them to choose a time slot to be filmed. In total we contacted ~30 students with the goal of filling 12 video time slots.

We used a first-come, first-serve approach to scheduling video to move quickly and efficiently, knowing there was a desire to show immediate progress. We wanted to mature our concept, knowing that a successful product would lead to more interest in helping us down the road.


In total, 60 students voluntarily responded to our initial Google Form. Their stories were truly outstanding. We used those responses to identify more than 200 quotes and stories for our websites. We also created nine testimonial videos.

As of February 12, our My Michigan Tech videos have been viewed more than 2,600 times on our websites and YouTube. Additionally, we are running the videos natively on the various Michigan Tech social media accounts. And, we are using these videos in various UMC-driven digital ad campaigns.

These quotes, stories, and videos have been distributed across the program pages on the Admissions website and extra content has been shared with relevant academic CMS liaisons for use on their own sites. In particular, the School of Business and the various departments within the College of Sciences and Arts have done a great job of getting testimonial content onto the majority of their recruitment webpages.

Future Plans

For the spring semester, we are expanding our My Michigan Tech video series by scheduling seventeen additional recordings. For this round, we are working to create a more well-rounded view of our campus and the programs. We are also finishing processing some footage captured in the fall.

Campus Collaboration

The campus community is invited to share potential testimonial students with UMC by emailing We will continue this series in the summer and fall and will need additional volunteers. We can also use some backups for the spring, in the event that some previously identified students can’t participate. We are excited to work with you!

Create Your Own

You can also model your own testimonial series to match ours by following these tips:

  1. Create a digital questionnaire using Google Docs or Google Forms
  2. Send the questionnaire to your students. Student ambassador lists are a great resource as are learning center coaches, lab supervisors, and student workers.
  3. Edit the quotes and stories for your social media accounts and CMS website. Email if you would like any editing tips.
  4. We can recommend a local video vendor to assist you and can lend you our graphics package. Email for more details.

The Digital Services team is really excited about this project, the progress that we’ve made in a short time, and future stories that we will be capturing. We have such special students. It is exciting to give them an avenue to share their experiences with future Huskies and and we’re thankful for the opportunity to work with them. Feedback on this initiative is welcomed.

Joel Vertin
Director of Digital Services

Professional Development Resources

At a presentation last week, someone asked me how we “know” which updates we should be making to our websites. They asked if there was a ‘gold standard’ higher education or corporate website to reference.

The truth is, no . . . there is no perfect website that we can model ourselves after. You might look at university A and see that they have a great homepage, but that their admissions website is not so good. Or that university B has a great giving/advancement website. Or that university C handles their news reporting well, but not their academic content.

Our Approach

We base our upgrade decisions on the latest industry standards and trends and rely on professional development to stay current. We follow not only higher ed trends, but also general web and technology trends. We supplement this approach with strategic benchmarking and user testing that focuses on the specific project that we are working on, such as a “forestry website” or an “online giving form”—to borrow the best parts of what others have done to blend in with a department’s goals and our own experiences and expertise.

With a small team and limited resources, we are not always on the cutting edge. Rather, we make sure that new techniques or technologies serve both our customer’s and the University’s strategic goals.

Being a webmaster has evolved into a highly skilled, complicated profession over the past few years as expectations for web design, function, and maintenance have grown. Below are some of the topics that are top-of-mind right now along with resources we use to stay sharp in an ever-changing environment.

Hot Topics

We have outlined some of the hottest topics in the web industry. The Digital Services team has recently implemented or is in the process of implementing each of these technologies and concepts as a part of our new template and website rollout. Each topic is linked to an external overview website.

Professional Development Resources

The Digital Services team uses a number of resources to keep our skills sharp and learn new concepts, trends, and implementations. If you have a good resource that is not on this list, please share with us. We are always looking to expand our network!

We use 5% time to encourage continual professional development within the team. The last two hours of each Friday (5% of the work week) is dedicated to professional development. Additionally, we are firm believers in traveling to web conferences and with networking with other universities to learn and share new ideas.

General Trends

Analytics and SEO

Web Design / UX / UI

Higher Education


Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager

Why We Are Going Responsive

When universities or corporations redesign their website, the trend is to ‘go responsive.’ There are a few important reasons, beyond being trendy:

  • Mobile usage is exploding: More than 33% of our web traffic is on a mobile device and that percentage increases every few months. Our Athletics website has already seen “the flip” where more of their traffic is via mobile than any other platform.
  • Consistent user experience: if your customer is used to your desktop website, they should have a similar experience on a tablet or mobile phone. This is ensured by serving them a responsive website that adapts to their screen size. We believe in serving the same content, regardless of the screen size. Smartphones are fully capable of displaying all of the content that a desktop machine can.
  • It is recommended by Google: Google will boost your search engine rankings if a user is searching on a mobile device and your website is ‘mobile friendly.’ Although Google also values a separate version of your website as being ‘mobile friendly’, they recommend that your website be responsive.
  • Cost effectiveness: in the long run, it is easier to make your website responsive than it is to maintain two or more separate versions of your website. With multiple website copies, it is easy to be lazy and develop for ‘desktop only’ and then have to redevelop for the other screen sizes. A responsive website puts the focus on all screen sizes and one code base.

The Importance of Mobile

Administrators and others who are not trained web professionals often overlook the importance of having a fully functioning mobile website. Sitting at a desk all day can make you forget that this is not how everyone accesses your website. Think of your friends and family members who don’t even a computer now that they have a tablet.

The Pew Research Center has some excellent information about mobile device usage:

From those reports, these statistics especially stand out to Michigan Tech:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans relies on a smartphone for accessing the Internet either because there isn’t “any other form of high-speed Internet access at home” or because of a “limited number of ways to get online other than their cell phone.”
  • 7 percent have neither broadband service nor other alternatives for going online other than their smartphone
  • Younger adults: Fifteen percent of Americans ages 18-29 are heavily dependent on a smartphone for online access.

Here are some other statistics that were discussed during the 2015 HighEdWeb Annual Conference:

  • 60% of college freshman say the visual environment is the deciding factor for college choice.
  • 40% of students use mobile devices to view any website “all the time”
  • 88% of juniors and 86% of seniors find college websites through search engines.

Putting Our Best Foot Forward

In order to reach the audiences that we want, moving our websites to a responsive design is not just a desire—it is a must. We’re excited to be putting our best foot forward to better serve our users and to reach a wider portion of our target audience. Going responsive is not a trivial initiative, but we’re ready for the challenge.

Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager

Navigation Benchmarking

Our websites will be upgraded in August as a part of our ongoing brand initiative. We will no longer use a left navigation structure as the only choice for our websites. Beginning August 1st, top navigation will be the default CMS option and will be supplemented by left navigation on internal pages that require it.

Although there are numerous advantages to this approach, our decision was supplemented by reviewing 125 universities classified as division one institutions. Our goal was to determine what type of navigation structure was common in higher education. We reviewed the main homepage, alumni association homepage, and one internal academic webpage from each university.

Homepage Navigation Location

Alumni Homepage Navigation Location

Navigation Location for Internal Webpage


We found that either top navigation or a combination of top + left navigation is used prevalently. This is particularly true for homepages and is inline with industry trends that we have observed over the past few years.

It is more difficult to implement across full websites, which explains a near 50/50 split as you move to internal academic webpages. However, with our CMS we will be able to manage a top + left navigation combination for internal webpages. This will provide a cleaner user experience.

Using top navigation is especially important on a homepage, because it opens up so much space. Think about it—the left navigation bar on our current websites takes up nearly 33% of the content space. By moving that navigation to the top, we greatly increase what we can do with the design of our homepages!

Homepage Navigation Designs Chart

We saw that 35.3% of homepages used a hover menu as their top navigation implementation. An equal 35.3% used static top navigation tabs. We elected to use hover navigation because it provides the user with a better experience. Users are then able to scan the initial set of links under each tab. We are also confident because of the success we have had with the hover navigation on our main homepage.

We excited about this change. It allows us to build responsive websites that are more visual. Moving the navigation out of the content body will allow us to take our academic and administrative homepages to ‘another level.’

Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager

Image Carousels are Dead

Why do people always ask for image carousels, especially on their homepage? Ok, I understand that sometimes it is politics. “I can’t feature just one topic on my department’s homepage. Can we add seven images, so no one is mad?” Sometimes it is because novices thinks that it “looks cool.” Sometimes people see it on one website and think they should copy the effect. None of these are good reasons for an image carousel, though.

No One is Watching

Politically, you may feel better about having an image carousel, but your users don’t care. No one is watching past the first image. Not only do our own analytics show it, but it has been well documented by others on the web as well:


Instead of an image carousel that no one will be looking at, sprinkle strong imagery and content through your homepage, informational page, or marketing page. Users will scroll—especially on mobile devices. Instead of cramming all your images into one small section of your page, use them throughout your page. You’ll find more success.

If You Must . . .

If you HAVE to use image carousels, we recommend the following:

  • No more than three images. Don’t make the user load anything more than that (bandwidth isn’t free)
  • Optimize your images to reduce total load
  • Don’t rotate your images automatically. It affects those with motion sickness issues or other motor skill deficiencies

Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager