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Implementing A Digital Media Strategy With Measurable Results

Processes
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership

Challenged to increase enrollment and retention, the University of Southern Mississippi looked to their existing ongoing relationship with Last Call Media for ways to implement a digital media strategy with measurable results. Last Call Media focused on building a new digital platform for the University that focused on increasing engagement with the University’s primary audiences: prospective and current students by implementing fresh designs with improved pathways and navigation. 

We already knew that USM.edu was an aging Drupal 6 site that was slow and difficult to update under the hood, but furthermore, site admins had little to no visibility into the performance of the platform, coupled with limited functionality and almost no reporting tools. Beyond Drupal 6 quickly becoming end-of-life from a development standpoint, USM agreed that from the marketing ROI perspective, it was time to move to Drupal 8. 

Due to Last Call Media’s long-standing working relationship with the University of Southern Mississippi, we were able to break ground quickly. The marketing and IT teams on USM and LCM agreed to work iteratively by first focusing efforts on launching a pilot site on Drupal 8 and prioritizing additional departments and colleges after the initial launch. This allowed the LCM team to formulate a focused yet creative digital strategy that would get into the hands of the USM audiences faster and allow for user feedback to inform future, more complex, development and content needs. Additionally, USM was able to communicate directly with the Acquia Certified Drupal 8 developers and architecture consultants at LCM, to provide expertise on best practices and development techniques. This direct line of communication with our certified team gave USM confidence in their ability to develop the new Drupal 8 platform alongside us. Some Acquia technologies we used on USM.edu are Acquia Cloud, Acquia Cloud Shield, Acquia Cloud Edge, Acquia Search, and Acquia Ready. The Acquia platform allowed USM to maintain a homogenous interface to their new Drupal 8 product and the workflow tools have allowed internal and external developers to collaborate in building new features and has made the quality assurance and release process consistent and seamless.

Since the relaunch of USM.edu on Drupal 8, feedback on campus has been overwhelmingly positive. The community was engaged and involved along the way, so it was a huge moment on campus when the site went live. 

There have even been some tangible technical results that the school benefited from almost immediately. One of the key results the site achieved was a sub-second page load for the homepage, despite using a video in the hero region. To accomplish this, we worked with the USM development team to obsessively reduce and minify front end assets, prefer CSS over images for presentational styling, and to lazy-load large assets not required for the initial pageview. Throughout the process, we tested using a front-end performance benchmarking tool (Phantomas) to keep us on track and efficient.
 

Though the LCM and USM teams were optimistic and bases were seemingly covered, the immediate success or failure of the site, however, rested on its ability to stay up during the initial launch. The University expected up to 85,000 visitors in a day due to our marketing efforts. To meet this goal, we developed and executed a load testing plan, giving the University the confidence and success they expected on launch day. Since its launch, the new USM.edu has been a huge victory and the University continues to see benefits from more in-depth reporting via Acquia, to site admin efficiency, all on a stable and supported Drupal 8 platform.