St. Thomas Aquinas College- Website Redesign

Evolving a College’s Web Presence

STAC Web_Desktop

St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) is a small, private college located in Rockland County, New York, less than hour from New York City. The college prides itself on the close community offered to its students and the personal approach they follow when engaging with prospective students and their parents. While the admissions team had strong print and email recruitment materials, the college’s website was not conveying the true STAC brand and was in need of a complete redesign.

The STAC team reached out to the Zone 5 higher education team to discuss not only their need for a redesign but a new CMS as well. Following extensive discussions with the college’s IT team and web content managers, Zone 5 recommended Drupal as the preferred new CMS.

During the site’s creative development process, STAC officials wanted to be sure that the new cite not only highlighted the college’s key brand attributes and messages, but that the site’s overall look and feel was also complimentary to the current recruitment communications program. With these directives in mind, Zone 5 developed more “evolutionary vs. revolutionary” creative direction for the new site.

The new website launched officially in January of 2014, the response thus far has been extremely positive. Early reports from the admissions team and thru Google Analytics indicated an immediate increase in site traffic and engagement. Unlike with the old site, admissions counselors are now much more inclined to direct prospective audiences to the new site. Their confidence paid off. Early reports indicated a measurable increase in new-student applications and enrollees for fall 2016.

STAC Web_Mobile

(Mobile View)

 STAC Web_Tablet

(Tablet View)

Resolving To Be Better In 2015

Many of us make resolutions this time of year. And while we may personally think about eating less or exercising more, the New Year isn’t a bad time to refocus your marketing efforts and lay down some new ground rules for the year. Here’s what a few members of the Zone 5 team resolve for in 2015 – for themselves and their clients.

z5_NewYears resolutions


Dave Homsey, Creative Director

Be simpler, shorter, more to the point.

Earth-shattering revelation: “The attention-span of my clients’ audience isn’t getting longer.” My creative must follow suit. That doesn’t mean I’m going to dumb it down. It’s smarter to be direct — simple is usually harder to do but easier to understand. Clever is dumb if it complicates the message, or worse, hinders its digestion. I resolve to aid in the digestion of my client’s message — to be a Legume of Marketing Communication!


Victoria Barbeisch, Account Executive

Re-enforce that positive action can result from less than positive perspectives.

Since joining Zone 5 this summer, I have conducted a variety of focus groups both in and outside of our facility, ranging from shopping preferences to health care initiatives. In these focus groups, client often have one perception of their organization and learn that their audience may have a much different one. That may be difficult to hear, but in many ways is a great thing.

Even negative feedback can provide better insight; drive needed change, and foster an environment that will result in something better. It’s important to understand that all feedback is important and can improve your organization.

Therefore, it is my resolution to inspire my clients to act on that feedback for the better.


Timothy Dunn, Vice President 

Focus on strategy, not tactics.

“I NEED A BROCHURE!” That’s the frantic request I get regularly (or swap out brochure for website, bannerstand, press release, or Twitter handle). While the specific deliverable can vary, the request is the same – “I need X tactic.” And while we believe the client is always right, a request for a specific tactic can often come without a strategic look at the core aspects of making an impact in marketing, specifically – what message am I trying to deliver to what audience…and what action do I want them to take?

In 2015, I’m going to work even harder to help clients develop a strategy with a specific goal, then build and deploy the right tactics to reach that goal. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Especially when you’re in crunch time and need that brochure.


Brittany Gilman, Account Executive

Bigger isn’t always better.

When it comes to your digital audience and performance, remember to weigh quality over quantity. Sure, having a ton of fans, followers or impressions is great, but what really matters is how much engagement is taking place. In other words, you can have an enormous audience to market your messages to, but it won’t make a difference if they’re not contributing any feedback.

On the other hand, having a smaller, more targeted audience that’s more engaged—and more likely to advocate for your brand—is much more beneficial. Likewise, when analyzing your digital performance, remember to look at the bigger picture. Of course a high number of impressions is great for visibility, but take it further. Of those who saw your message, how many actually took action?

All too often, marketers try to cast a wide net and reel in whatever they can. Instead, understand that bigger isn’t always better. Target your niche audience and benefit from a more passionate, engaging group of those who can help leverage your messaging and advocate your brand or services.


Ray Witkowski, Vice President

Be a partner, not a vendor.

I too often hear the term “vendor” when it comes to how prospective clients refer to agencies that they are seeking for a new website, branding campaign, etc. I don’t think they mean anything negative by using the word vendor but it’s still a pet peeve of mine. The work that we do as an agency is built on collaboration and is a partnership, not a “vendorship.” I often say when meeting with prospective new clients for the first time that “every great partnership begins with a conversation.”

So, this year, my goal is help prospective clients appreciate the value of what it means to be in a partnership focused more on interaction and less on transaction. Let’s make it personal.


Alyssa J. McClenning, Director of PR and Social Media Strategy

Put the bullhorn down and listen more.

Press releases, press conferences, tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts… These are all important pieces of a comprehensive public relations roll out. However, it’s easy to get so focused on getting your message out that you forget to listen and dialogue with your audiences! Real conversation and message osmosis happens when you build an engaged community. Sometimes you need to come down from the mountaintop from where you are shouting and put your ear on the ground.

You might be surprised at what your customers and followers say and how that will positively affect your future message development. Therefore, it is my resolution to encourage my clients to listen more.


Spencer Raggio, Senior Web Strategist

Think like a user.

Too often we forget that our clients/customers/audiences don’t know our company or sector as well as we do. This is especially important on the web, where we need to ensure that new visitors can easily find what they need. But it also applies to all our marketing and communications efforts, where industry jargon and acronyms can easily obscure our intended message.

All told, pretty solid resolutions to drive toward more impactful marketing in 2015.  What’s your marketing New Year Resolution?

Teen Web Trends: What the Data Means to Your Digital Strategy

GWI: Teen Audience ReportThis week, GlobalWebIndex released an audience report on teens (16-19 year olds), looking at:

  • How and why teens are going online
  • Usage of mobile and tablets
  • Engagement with social and gaming platforms
  • How teens are consuming media and content
  • The ways they interact with brands and discover new products
  • Regional- and country-specific trends

I’ll take you through three of their key conclusions and let you know how I am interpreting the trends.

You don’t get engagement without providing something in return

“Teens want brands that reward and entertain them… 56% claim that gifts/rewards increase the likelihood of them advocating a brand online.”

Rewards sounds like a great way to blow up your marketing budget, don’t they? Does this mean you need to host contests and give away swag? Nope. Think hard about what your teen audience would find rewarding, and what you can do to offer it.

Popularity/fame and identity are the two rewarding things that pop into my mind. And those are a lot easier to handle for my service-based clients (as you can’t really giveaway your product, can you?).

You’ll probably want to go beyond social badges and flash mob videos into fresh ideas. If you are a higher education institution, consider creating a Buzzfeed quiz that tells prospective students what famous alumni they would be. Sponsor a class project where computer science students create a game based on an event that happened at your college/university. Go the philanthropic route and donate a tablet to a local pediatric ward, preloaded with a slideshow of get-well wishes from your campus community. There are lots of entertaining and “rewarding” possibilities if you think about them creatively (I’m full of this stuff – so give me a yelp if you are stuck).

A decrease in activity on the large social platforms

“The biggest social platforms all lost active teen users during 2013 (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+)… However the numbers with accounts on these sites remained largely stable…”

Teens aren’t dumping the large social platforms, they are simply using them less. For content marketers, this means your message may be buried even more (not even getting into recent changes behind-the-scenes on Facebook that decide what shows up on walls).

To counter this, frame thematic messaging in your editorial calendars and campaigns to span longer periods of time, to ensure you are capturing the full potential of your audience. Don’t be afraid to rework a message a few different ways, or to repeat your most engaging messages. Also, look at your statistics and analytics in terms of these broader messaging groups, rather than by individual messages, to see the true impact. In short: think horizontal, not just vertical.

Mobile apps and micro-blogs are a solid source of information

“16–19s are less likely than other internet users to turn to platforms such as review sites, price comparison tools, search engines, or brand websites. In contrast, they are ahead of average on using newer channels such as pinboards, Q&A sites, micro-blogs, video/content sites and apps…”

None of Zone 5’s client sectors are in a position to abandon review sites, search engine optimization, or brand websites. And indeed, the data isn’t showing that teens don’t use these things, just that teens hit them up less often than adults. And it’s showing us that despite a decrease in activity on the big social platforms (that is what micro-blogs are – short social media posts), teens still regard it as a valid source of information.

I see two driving forces behind this data trend – one is that teens are just generally more active in a mobile/micro-blog space, so it makes sense that they would look there, and the other is that they are seeking peer-validated, truthful information in messages that haven’t been run through the PR office.

The message here is that it would be ideal to invest in those spaces where the un-sanitized truth can be found quickly. And I don’t mean take those spaces over with top-down brand messaging; I mean start living up to and scaling your brand. Communications is more de-centralized than ever, in terms of channels, which means you have to be more centralized than ever in terms of your brand’s messages. If all your messengers (professional or not) are aware of, agree with, and are focused on your brand strategy, you will be in great shape.

There is a lot more to discuss when it comes to interpreting teen web trends, and what it means to your industry, but I hope this post was a good start. You can download your own free summary of the GlobalWebIndex report or get membership for the full version.

RPI – Designing for the Design Professors

The Challenge

HASS Arts: Art GalleryThe School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) fully embodies the mission of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “…the application of science to the common purposes of life.” HASS wished to link together five academic disciplines with a series of websites that underscored innovation, cutting-edge design, artistic vision, and leading technology.

The Solution

Zone 5 took this direction and ran with it, presenting a series of web templates that pushed responsive design to its limits while introducing intriguing shapes, textures, and uses of imagery—all while fitting into the existing Rensselaer brand. Zone 5 was delighted when HASS told us, “Yes! Keep going. Take it farther!” We complied.

HASS RPIZone 5 developed a robust template, which was designed for easy implementation within HASS’s existing content management system. Photos and multimedia can now be brought to the forefront to engage prospective students and faculty. News stories are easily accessible. And densely packed academic information is now broken down into manageable chunks.

The Results

The results speak for themselves. Six new websites have been introduced by HASS, ranging from economics to electronic media—each site cleanly and dynamically presenting the best HASS has to offer.

Care and Feeding of Your Website

Why websites aren’t done at launch, and why that’s okay

Zone 5 is an open-source web shop. The majority of our web development is done through Drupal or WordPress. These content management systems (CMS) are a great solution for many client needs. But what a lot of people don’t realize is, the website isn’t finished when it’s launched.

I don’t mean this in a lazy, irresponsible way, of course. The site works. It looks beautiful. It’s useful and engaging to people. But it won’t stay that way without a little tender loving care.

What changes

The web world is an ever-changing thing. Updates and enhancements happen to the Internet every single day. Think of your website like a person taking a walk—the weather changes, daylight shifts, and shoes wear out.

After a while, the functionality and appearance of your website won’t be the walk in the park it once was. Here are some things that change frequently in the online atmosphere:

Servers: Internet stuff lives on all kinds of servers. Web servers for the web files, proxy servers to filter requests, email servers for email, and so on. There are hordes of server administrators out there to keep it all straight and to make upgrades and improvements for faster, better service.

Browsers: Sites appear on browsers, whether through a computer, a mobile phone, or tablet. Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox are all regularly updated with new functionality and features.

Social Platforms: The best websites have optimized their code to ensure their content easily shares across social platforms. And many websites use social functionality as their own (think user log-ins). Social platforms change their APIs all the time. You don’t want your site to break or look old because of it.

Search Platforms: Google, Bing, and other search engines refine their search algorithms many times per year. You want to keep both the content and back-end of your site up-to-date with attention to SEO best practices.

Security Risks: Hackers gonna hack. In 2013, web-based attacks increased 30%. Organizations and businesses need to adjust their websites to these ever-emerging threats. Don’t be left behind.

Spam Attacks: That Nigerian prince still hasn’t been able to transfer his millions of excess dollars out of his country. That means he’s still trying to fill out all the forms on your site. Don’t make him a pen pal.

What needs to change in response

Your website, of course!

To address all of the above, the developers who construct Drupal and WordPress create updates to them (and their associated plug-in/modules) on a regular basis, but these updates don’t (and shouldn’t) automatically install on your site.

Before you click that update button, you need to test all the components (new against the old) to make sure nothing breaks. Sometimes it’s better to hold off if something new hasn’t been fully vetted, rather than risking bigger problems to your site.

If you don’t have a web maintenance agreement or a web administrator to take care of these updates, you need to get one soon. If you don’t, you’ll soon find that the web world has changed, and left you behind.