Note: This is the first in a series of two blog posts about the Sterling College website project. This post covers the unique team approach that resulted in an on-time, on-budget delivery of a website that blends a college’s one-of-a-kind mission with best-in-class digital web practice. The next post will address Google Analytics and Search Engine Optimization results accrued by the college’s new site.
Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vermont doesn’t just have a farm. It is a farm—one dedicated to the latest and greatest sustainable, organic practices.
With only 125 students—the institution hopes to grow to 150 total—Sterling offers an intensely curated educational experience focused on “environmental stewardship.” The college’s six majors—Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Outdoor Education, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems, and Self-Designed—are highly experiential and prepare students for environmentally focused careers and eco-aware lives.
Like many colleges and universities, Sterling’s website represented a hodgepodge of interests, lacked a recruitment/marketing focus, and needed both a technical and aesthetic refresh.
“Our remote and rural campus, innovative educational model, approach to shared governance, and work ethic make us incredibly unique,” explains Beana Bern, Sterling College’s director of marketing. “When setting out to make our new website, it was essential that our essence be palpable and that our most authentic self shine through. We wanted to pair best-in-field navigation and SEO with a skin that we were comfortable in.”
Sterling College sought a website that combined a recruitment best-practices infrastructure with a look and feel that reflected the beauty of their location in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and the hands-on, maker ethic of the education they offer.
With a vision in hand, Sterling College enlisted the assistance of our Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) Web Strategy Services team (we provided the site’s strategy, information architecture, optimized key web pages for search, and helped create recruitment-focused content) and Tannermooredesign (TMD), a Burlington, Vermont-based website development and design shop, which completed the design and development (TMD brought Sterling’s design to life, provided illustrations, as well as collaborated with RNL on user interface/user experience consulting).
“The team pairing was unconventional to say the least and there were some concerns that I was complicating the project by making this choice,” Bern explains. “I hoped that combining a deep understanding of industry best-practices and SEO content strategy paired with a design aesthetic new to higher education would result in something truly unique, innovative, and authentic for Sterling.”
Building a website from the ground up
Because this was a complete website overhaul and involved working closely with our campus partner and an outside design house, we at RNL referred to the Sterling job internally as a “barn raising” —the historical, agrarian practice in which a barn for one community member is built or rebuilt by members of the community.