The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

The Evolution of University Websites: Becoming Adaptable


It’s hard to imagine, but some universities needed convincing before integrating a school website in the 1990s. Fast forward to today, not only is a school website essential, but requires a superior level of content, keywords, and consistent updates if you hope to differentiate yourself.

We speak with Cam Tracy, Web Development Agent at Union University, about his experience building a university website with the school catalog, how the website has changed since its start, and helping marketers deal with change.

Join us as we discuss:

- Cam’s professional journey background

- The evolution of website content & keeping up with change

- Helping colleagues adapt to change

- Key takeaway for the audience

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

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... another to google search console. You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Ed Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer and I'm here with my cohost and cross country cheerleader, Bart Taylor, and today we both talked to Cam Tracy, Web Development Agent at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and we're going to talk a little bit about the evolution of the websites and Higher Ed Marketing. Yeah, I had a chance to meet CAM few months ago through a through another person at Union University that I've known for a while, Rick Taphorn, and Rick shared with me that Cam has been the director of the web since its inception in one thousand nine hundred and ninety five, and I was fascinated with that. I've had an opportunity to be involved with my Alma Mater's website since the early days as well, and so I just was really looking forward to talking to cam today. I just about his involvement on one highered website for going on, you know, twenty five, twenty seven years now, and so it's a great conversation even if you're not interested in kind of the the reminiscing. I CAM has a lot of really good things to talk about with just how the how he engages with the Communications Department, how he keeps everybody up to speed and even how he shares some of that knowledge with the adjunct teaching that he does at Union. And so it's a good episode. I'm looking forward to sharing it. Here is our conversation with can tracy. It's my pleasure to welcome can tracy from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. Can thank... for joining us today. Sure I'd be here came if you would tell us a little bit about Union University and then your role. They're sure youngs is a small, liberal, large private institution and Tennessee. We've been. We're about to come up on our bicentennial. So we'll be celebrating two hundred years next year. I've been here for about twenty seven of those two hundreds. Well, that is wonderful. And what have you done over that twenty seven years? On a high level, I think we're going to get into some of it when we talk about the history of Web Development in higher education, but give us a little bit about your journey. Well, I started in the library actually, and instructional technology, of course. When I graduated from college, I don't know what the Internet was and I took a job about a year and a half after he graduated back in Mama Motor and kind of stumbled into doing the web when I was here. We got the Internet when I first probably we without a month or two of me coming back and then as just sort of got insted in it and volunteered to do the website. That's great. So I know that. You know I was fascinating when I was when I was talking to one of your peers, Rick Taphorn, there at Union and he was telling me about your being there for for twenty two years and having really been in charge of the web for all of twenty two of those years. And so it's interesting to me because I've had the opportunity to work with my Alma Mater as an external partner, but to help them with their website for for nearly about the same time, and it's interesting the idea of how much it's changed. I mean, I mean just I know different schools, like when I when I was helping Anderson, you know, it was in the it department and I think I remember the very first time I saw it. It was like just, you know, picture of the IT guys. You know, can I hammon it up? Welcome to welcome to the university. Tell me a little bit about how it kind of evolved at union with with your recollection. Well, I thought we needed something.

Oliver Dassman had just gotten the Internet instituted at Union. He had had to go to administration and convinced them that the Internet was going to be a good thing for us going forward, and it's seen to kind of weird to think you have to convince somebody that now, but at the time it's kind of like I need to have running water from my house. Yeah, exactly. But once that guy put in, I started, you know, using the Internet a lot more and started so I thought was talking to Ourpr office and just said you mind if I try to put something together? So I said sure, we'd love for you to do something, and so I took the undergraduate catalog and that was my content at the time. We didn't have I mean we had news releases and things like that, but what described the school was the catalog at the time. And so start of that spent about two months at night, not during the day, because I admout structural technology things going on, and kind of put it together and we actually launched December ninth of ninety five. So we've celebrated twenty six years now, I guess with that. Yeah, it's just been developing, evolving ever since. I went for a graduate degree probably a few years later, and when I came back I was able to just focus on the website full time. At the time that wasn't a it wasn't a job, you know, to be the web developer of the university. It was, you know, a sideline thing or something on those lines, but they let me focus on it completely starting about ninety nine, and so it's great. That's kind of kind of when things started to take off. was, you know, late s ninety nine. I remember we launched a website for the for my own modern ninety nine, and you know, it got picked up by the chronicle and things like that because there really really wasn't hurting anybody that was using the website. And and so I'm I find it fascinating just to kind of see how much things have changed in your your involvement in the past twenty six years with it. It's a it's a testimony to just kind of that ongoing learning and I guess that's one thing I was just going to ask you about a little bit, as it just how have you stayed up on all that? I mean,... know, you and I both, I mean we probably remember the days of bracket, html Brackett, you know, starting to write it that way, whereas you know today, I mean a lot of people don't understand, especially younger generations don't understand, you know, what a content management system really how that change the game, sure to doing. I mean it's, like I said, when I went to floor state for my graduate degree, I kind of was able to formalize some of the things I was learn you are learned on my own, you know. Ever since then just tried to keep up. You know through I'm part of the number of organizations and just kind of you know, I like to play and that oftentimes googling something that went now googling something, but, you know, just trying to find somebody else that done something similar, look at their source code and kind of, you know, Mimick it for yourself and just, you know, a lot of it. Also teach. So I when I got my graduate degree, I came back and I've been teaching adjunct for twenty two years now, and so that kind of keeps in fresh as well. I mean I get to see the student gets see it through the students eyes and then I have to of course, present it to them in a way that is understandable for them now and of course I get to teach all the new stuff and I still have to maintain some of the old stuff. But you know, can't always be cutting madge, on everything you're doing, you know. But I guess even beyond the idea of just the you know, looking back and kind of walking down memory lane, things have really changed. I mean there's been a focus change, if I if I'm kind of hearing you correctly, and I know this as well too, but back then you said, you know, content with the catalog, and you know tell me how that's kind of evolved over time that you've seen. Sure, I mean we started with just, you know, buckets essentially that you know. I think we had about ten pages that you go to and then maybe drill down to a department site and things like that, based up on what they put catalog. But you know, as things progress, you know we've been through multiple iterations of our website now. You know, we sort of shifted to a news focus first. You...

...know, that was like you came up to you know, newspaper about union and maybe seeing and then those links were sort of off to the side. But then, you know, as things progressed probably into the two thousands, we started going with more of a marketing and missions type focus so that, you know, this is the first impression of prospective student, prospective parent will have, and so that's going to be we're going to put that out front and you can still get to all the other stuff, but we started adding more layers, different you know, more sophistication, I guess, to it to make it more visually peeling and more functional to get to everything. Of course, you know where you probably know this ring a higher education website. You know, everybody wants their site on the linked off the front page, with all their content linked off front page, and we've kind of gotten away from that now with the with the missions focus, but we do still have sort of, you know, some ways to get to everybody, everything from are you know, master navigation list there as well. Yeah, and I think that it's changed. I mean, I don't know about you, but I mean obviously that the sites have gotten bigger. Content is really kind of driving a lot more. Mean we have to be a lot more conscious of keywords and Google and things like that. And I mean, and I guess I go back to you know, just how are you keeping up on all that? I mean I know that you know you're doing it day by day, you're teaching it, but I mean where do you go to kind of learn what's going on, or do you just are you just a student of paying attention to everybody else? I'm paying attention to quite a bit, but I mean, no organizations. HIDEWEB has been a great resource for me. been to a number of their fiscal conference. Has Been doing a lot their all allow once since the pandemic and picked up a lot quite a bit from there. I really like the list apart group and they're event apart. Some of the things they do is very cutting madge. But for how I read, I mean just as far as staying current on things. It's no seeing somebody else do something then Google out how to do it. Kind of see...

...what trends will take you. I guess is sort of out keeping keep up to day. In the way things are changing so rapidly, I imagine that it can be a challenge keeping up with the technology, but also, since this is the Higher Ed Marketer, also keeping your marketing colleagues and so how are those conversations going and making sure that they are staying flexible and helping them to adapt, because I'm sure there are lots of changes that you have to talk to them on a weekly basis. Sure. Well, I'm in the communications office, so I'm in constant contact with our marketing folks there, you know, right down the hall and are on my team. I think a lot of hihad groups have their web master and their it department or maybe some other location, and I just find it works best for us. It's not right or wrong, you know, of course, but yeah, we're continually going back and forth with you know, how do we get this program More appalls? How do we promote this event, and just trying to strategize the best ways to do that. Course, Google tag manager became a really good resource for our marketing folks to be able to do the things they need to do and not I don't have to go in update the website every time they have a new, you know, ad that's going up. We can just add it to tag manager and it push es it don there, you know, Friday things like that. But yeah, just seeing quite a bit with helping our marketers do their job and being the authorititive source for the information. Is what I feel like my job is, and so, you know, just letting them be where the audience is and then, you know, helping them drive them back to our site for more detailed information and more and maybe the functionality of registering for an event or hitting the call for entries on applying enquire things like that. Yeah, it seems to me like even though some of those things, even the way that forms are evolving and management is evolving.

You know, I'm not sure how much you know self management. Some of the other team members have as far as content development. But you know, that seems to be a trend sometimes too, as being able to have different people being able to log in to manage different areas of the website. It back in the day, you know, if we can say that. Back in the day, you know, you really had to know html code, you need, you needed to know some basics of scripting to be able to edit those things. But with with modern tools, you know, as long as somebody's a good content you know person and they understand the basics of a word type of interface, it changes things and I think that opens up a lot more tools for the highed marketers. Sure, sure, I mean you cms is definitely a great, great tool. I mean, I'll built once I learned how to do database design, with the hooking on database up to a website, I've been able to build a lot of things that leverages some of the content that, you know, people update, like our news folks have been able to post since adding that from a content management system, and so we sort of have a homegrown system for what we're doing and some of the department sites we you know, kind of build all tools to let him do it. But content for you know, a lot of folks. Content Management Systems, wordpress, variety of those tools are a great resource to be able to allow people to use stamplets that are existing and go from there. So yeah, yeah, a lot of times. I mean I think that as you get more people involved in it and they start to get used to the tools and things, whenever ideal presentation always have a slide the time that either has YODA saying, you know, you must UN learn what you've learned or, you know, you fancy Er Alvin toffler quote that says, you know, the the litter to the twenty one century or those not going to be those who can't read and write, but those who can't, you know, learn on, learn and relearn. But how do you help your colleagues understand that, you know, maybe what's going on today with a piece of technology or with, you know, a certain way that digital marketing is...

...working, whether it's the web or whether it's social media. How do you help them understand that you know, it's probably not going to be that way tomorrow or five years or even maybe even the administration where hey, we just you know, they say, didn't we just do this investment five years ago? We need to do it again already and it mean things change. How do you kind of navigate that? Well, it's building trust with your clients and just, you know, showing them sort of like what some of the new opportunities are for getting the word out out their programs or their events and teaching them how, you know it when they're writing content potentially for their area, that fill it up with some of those key words. And you know, what other types of things can we use to put on their page or what our topic types of content streams going to get on their page that they're going to help lodge it into Google's brain, I guess, so that when people are looking for it that they'll get to it. And you know, I do a lot of things behind the scenes to you know, like I'm working with structured content, a lot of structure, data, a lot now to what that kind of communicates directly. We have google. You know, someone will send me an event page, but I'll build that sort of behind the scene so that Google can see that. So I kind of feel like my job is to put the best face on it for them but then kind of make sure that the behind the scenes is doing all the job, doing the job it needs to get rankings and you know Google skiing in many ways for search and let mean we use some of the being stuff and all that too, but just making sure that you've got good web standards and you know that you're able to be seen a variety of ways that you know that's the goal. You know. Final question as we close the episode. Is there a final thought or maybe a takeaway you could offer either folks that are in the Web Agencyat or the marketers that work with them closely? Well, you know I've mentioned a few google tools. I mean you definitely want to make sure that you know whatever you using is tied end somehow and other to google... console, Google's you know you have good analytics, but more specifically Google I likes for now, so that you'll have some that data in the future and that you're just utilizing some of those tools as for intelligence on what it is you're trying to do to improve your site and in just kind of shows you a lot of things. There's other tools for that to the DUB bods and the those type of things, but generally, yeah, those tools for what rely upon daily wonderful. We really appreciate your time with us today. Can if someone would like to reach out and start a conversation with you directly, what would be the best way for them to do that? Well, see, trying to see CTRICY, you you do channel the best way. Emails by favorite. That's generally about it. So, I mean I'm on some of the socials, but out overly responsive. Okay. Well, we certainly appreciate you being responsive to us and being a guest on the show and we appreciate you taking us down the journey that it's been fun listening to you and Bart reminisce of, from the first time that you created websites for your almor maters to how everything has changed today. Bart, do you have any final thoughts? Yeah, I really appreciate a lot of what cams talked about today, with just the idea of being able to evolve and kind of learn. I mean I think that that's such a skill for high ad marketers, regardless if you're in the Web Department or whether you're content writer or whether you are working in branding, designer, whatever it is, being able to recognize that the more that you can adapt and be flexible, the more valuable you're going to be to your institution. And I think that some veterans like like Cam and myself and others who have been around for a while, I think I've seen that over and over again of just being able to adapt and pivot and change. I mean, you know, I think Cam I really appreciate a lot of what he said. They're at the end with with different ways...

...of using the Google tools, whether it's the search console or analytics for and some of what he's been talking about today is you know, I end up doing more of the business relationships than the actual, you know, development these days, and so, you know, I don't understand everything that can maybe talked about in some of these things, but I think that the fact that I've got people on the team that can understand that and that I can trust them and that I need to adapt and be flexible to realize that. You know, I don't need to know at all, but I need to have people surrounding me that do know it, and I think that's something that we all can learn as highed marketers is that we can't be an island. Even if your department of one or two, which I know a lot of small schools are, it's still is important for you to be able to at least find other places. You know, cam talked about some different resources of places that he goes to get inspiration, whether they're list serves or whether their online websites or events or things like that. There's always other people out there that are willing to help. I know there's organizations like knackap and and other places where a lot of schools kind of gather around to do professional development, and those are important things to do as you kind of learn to flex and adapt and change in this evolving digital market place. I mean, we just we did a blog post this past week on, you know, the metaverse and how that's going to change things, you know, coming forward, and that's you know, we haven't even talked about that on the hired marketer podcast yet, but the idea that there's a there's a seismic shift coming in the way that we consume the data on the Internet, and that's through, you know, this this virtual artificial r VR type stuff, and you know, not to get into that today, but it's going to require us to adapt and be flexible again, and so that's that's kind of the takeaway that I'm taking away from a lot of this today. Thank you very much, Bart, and again thank you, Cam for being our guest today. That closes our episode. The High Ed Marketer podcast is sponsored by Klos Solutions, a marketing strategy and branding agency specializing in Higher Ed Marketing, and by Think Patent did, a Marketing Execution Company specializing incombining print, mail and digital marketing for cohesive,...

...dynamic outreach campaigns. On behalf of my cohost Bart Kaylor, I'm troy singer again. As always, thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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