Kentico Site of the Year 2014

The National MS Society’s previous website was about six  years old and the technology was not designed to scale to the kind of dynamic, personalized experience we want for people affected by MS so they can live their lives most powerfully and help create a world free of MS.
Many of the challenges faced in developing the site revolved around the scale of the site and the many access points for management. The National MS Society consists of 40 local chapters, each chapter having its own level of access and control; the Society wanted to ensure a greater level of consistency between chapter pages and the nationally-controlled pages. One major goal for the site’s redevelopment was to make better use of all of the local content input by each of the chapters throughout the site. Successfully accomplishing that goal makes heavy use of categorization and geolocation.
Weeks of planning and effort went into designing information architecture, user experience, and content strategy. Training a large and diverse management team included developing re-usable roles that created levels of permission and access to certain areas of the site for content administrators. Independent workflows accompany each chapter’s access and permissions for organizational approval processes.
Additional challenges revolved around integration with third party systems. The Society uses Blackbaud Convio for all of its fundraising and event management. Convio’s API for interaction with event data is limited; becoming creative with extending the integration to allow users to create supplemental content for each event within the CMS was necessary.  Additionally, the content could not conflict with the Convio event management pages. Synchronization of user accounts between national and the fundraising event portals was also a priority. National and the Community both use single-sign-on to authenticate all users through Convio, maintaining Convio’s account management as the master system of record for user accounts and authentication.

Finally, the site needed to be fully responsive, while providing a dynamic, engaging experience. The heavy use of graphics with the combination of style elements throughout the content was a challenge for fully responsive design behavior without sacrificing the content administrator’s flexibility in editing and rearranging content. 

The site was implemented with a full EMS License, using Content Staging and 3 primary environments. The individual local chapters have a subsection of the document tree that follows a microsite template. There is a Master Copy of the microsite template that controls shared content that is inherited by all of the chapters, eliminating redundant content where there are needs for consistent messaging to be controlled at the national level. The chapter microsite templates intersperse individually-editable regions among the nationally-inherited content to allow the chapters the control to edit their own content where necessary without interfering with the overarching structure or appearance of the microsites.

Content is heavily categorized, and once a user inputs a zip code to search for a local chapter or other local content, that entry is cached, allowing us to suggest related local content and resources to any subject matter that the user may be viewing at the national level. This allows us to increase the reach and visibility of local programs and resources without having to drive the user directly into the chapter microsites away from all of the resources available at the national level or forcing the chapters to replicate the resources at the national level so that the user can see both while viewing their local chapter. Great care was taken to eliminate redundant content entry and streamline content management wherever possible while still increasing the ease of access to all resources for the user.

The website is fully responsive and displays optimally for mobile phones, tablets, and desktops. In order to provide full featured editing flexibility to the content administrators while maintaining the extensive markup needed for the responsive behavior to work smoothly, DATA made extensive use of widgets. During planning and design, we allocated content design elements into a library of modules that could be re-used and re-configured. Each widget was developed to adapt to different widget zones throughout the site.
The initial phase of development took 11 months, which included planning, design, IA, content strategy, development, deployment, and training. A follow-on phase of improvements and additional features came approximately 2 months after the initial launch and took 6 weeks.

There has been a substantial increase in design continuity across all chapters and their microsites. The national organization has better control over consistent messaging and branding while still allowing each chapter to present their local content individually. Local content has also been more heavily integrated throughout the site, so that you don’t have to be in a chapter’s microsites in order to be exposed to local content. Cross-linking, and the display of nearby or related content has increased substantially; content editors have greater control over the maintenance and improvement of the crosslinking ecosystem.
With 12 million unique site users, 19 million sessions, and 54 million page views annually, the site must meet a large range of needs for a large base of visitors. The new generation of our website received an overwhelmingly positive response. Usability testing results showed a statistical improvement in task completion rates, ability to find information, navigation, presentation and layout, and organization. 40 percent of traffic now comes from mobile visits. CMS administrators reported high satisfaction over our old CMS. Peer organizations around the world praised the new site, supporting the Society’s position as the leader in the MS movement.