October 24, 2011
Feel like your school’s news sites are out of control? Vanderbilt University did. They got the chaos under control by using WordPress, Lacy Tite told an audience at HighEdWeb 11.
VU found itself posting a single story to multiple sites, controlled by multiple people. If a change had to be made to a news story that could mean tracking down four or five people to make that change on the different sites, and not knowing exactly when or if the change was made. But by the end of 2011 Vanderbilt will have merged 8 different ways of posting news into WordPress, and the results have been dramatic, Tite said.
(Full disclosure, Lacy is one of two art directors for Link, and as you may have noticed, our site is built on WordPress too. So she practices what she preaches.)
With 12,000 students and 23,000 employees thanks to the school’s medical center, research is prime driver of news for Vanderbilt. WordPress now powers the school’s main news site, a video/media site, employee communications page, a research news site, a monthly magazine, an “experts” page for media use, a medical center magazine site, and later this year the medical center’s news site comes on line.
Merging content makes your content more manageable, useful, interesting and interactive, Tite says. It’s has increased VU’s traffic and also lead to more comments on news stories. Vanderbilt uses Discqus to merge the discussions across their various platforms, so if a comment gets posted on one site, it is posted on all.
The approach has been wildly popular on campus, Tite said.
“We haven’t had to convince anyone to use this,” she said. “In fact, people have asked how they can join.”
The approach is driven by using WordPress categories and tags. Categories provide the broad framework that identifies which site a story should be posted on. All the posts tagged research for example end up on the research site. Using multiple categories means the story goes to multiple sites.
Tags help make the content highly searchable. Need to find all the stories about Vanderbilt projects receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health? Search the NIH tag and you’ll have them instantly. The same system helps generated “related content” features on various school pages. and that boosts the amount of time visitors stay on VU sites by enticing them to read more, Tite said.
How do you keep users on your site? You show them more of what they want,” Tite said.
Vanderbilt has used WordPress to automate emails as well. Twice a week emails for reasearch news are built in a fraction of the time it used to take, because of tagging and categories in WordPress. The school has built its own link shortener that works with WP, and site specific help pages too.
You can view her whole presentation, with some cool code samples, at lacytite.com/heweb11.