3RNet Website Strategy, Technical Specifications, and Development

Project Overview

3RNet began working with AVS Group in 2010 for website maintenance support for their old website, and for search engine optimization and social media services; then in September of 2010 we began planning the strategy for a new website.  
In most instances, the 3RNet website is the first point of contact individuals have with the organization. As such, it’s important that it present the organization in a positive, professional way; and provides the desired information in an easy-to-find manner. The old website had reached a point where repairs were becoming increasingly costly and the site simply couldn’t be expanded to the point it needed to be in a timely, cost effective way. The old website was more than 5 years old—and since it had been developed, web technologies have changed significantly. New technologies provided better options for increased functionality, security, and usability. 

Phase 1—Website Strategy

AVS Group worked with 3RNet to create and distribute questionnaires to the different audiences for their site, designed to gather input about what individuals liked or disliked about the site, and to gather ideas for improvements and enhancements. We also conducted numerous strategy sessions to discuss all elements of the planned website, from design, platform, interactivity, content, functionality, and more. The end deliverable of this phase was a written plan document, with sample designs, outlining the findings of the research and making strategic recommendations for the development of the site. 

Benefits of a Website Strategy

Working through a website strategy allowed us to: 
  • Conduct a formal, thorough review of the existing website—identifying (and prioritizing) opportunities for improvement, and developing a plan for website development that will result in less rework
  • Gain an understanding of key stakeholders’ likes and dislikes of the existing website (and other recruitment) websites 
  • Solicit feedback from key stakeholders about what additional features/functionality they would like to see implemented into the new website
  • Provide a means for key stakeholders to provide input, which helped with buy-in for the new website
  • Identify best practices and opportunities through a review of other recruitment websites
  • Identify other 3rd party applications (ASPs) or other web solutions that might provide the necessary functionality (or framework) to allow the creation of a new website (that met our requirements) at significantly less cost (and likely with less risk) than the development of a completely custom application
  • Explore website design concepts that would maintain brand consistency yet incorporate a modern look and feel, convey trustworthiness and professionalism, and help support the website’s content and purpose

Phase 2—Technical Specifications

After the Phase 1 Website Strategy was complete, AVS Group wrote the technical specifications for the website. The technical specifications were the actual “blueprint” for the new website, i.e. how each and every piece of the public site and the extranet would function.  This document guided the development of the new site, and helped ensure the new site was programmed in a way that was aligned with the identified goals of the site, with the end-users, and with future flexibility in mind.

Platform

The programming platform, DotNetNuke, was also selected in Phase 2. DNN is a Microsoft-based application development framework with a built-in content management system, which means that many of the functions of the site can be easily controlled by non-technical users. Because it’s a pre-existing framework that is used as a base to build on, we were able to save considerable costs over custom programming. In addition, DNN is very extensible. It utilizes pieces of pre-programmed functionality that can be purchased for very low cost, and easily added to the site—this makes making changes and additions cost-effective. It also integrates easily with third party programs. Finally, it’s a very secure, widely-recognized and used application—with over 700,000 websites worldwide.

Phase 3—Development

Development took just over four months. The new site includes many new features and enhancements, including:

  • Fresh, new design
    • Greater use of photographs (such as in the Home page banner and interactive photo albums on Location pages)  helps promote rural areas and adds visual interest
    • New, wider format provides for a better display on newer, more prevalent monitors; and allows more information to appear “above the fold” (accessible without scrolling)
    • Prominent registration buttons encourage facility and candidate registrations
  • Single sign in area (permissions-based sign in) allows all users to sign in using the same form, and takes up less real estate than multiple login areas for different user types
  • Password recovery option—allows users to securely reset their password if they lose or forget their password
  • Rich text content editor allows content to be easily added by site Administrators, even by nontechnical users
  • Search 
    •  Home page 'opportunity search' allows candidates to quickly jump in and begin searching for job opportunities right away—engaging with the site right away makes them less likely to “bounce” or leave without clicking to a second page 
    • The search opportunities form is easy to use; candidates can simply check off all the states they're interested in looking for jobs in
  • Location pages and opportunity details pages include a tabbed navigation to allow for the display of more content while minimizing scrolling
  • A “Donate” option encourages donations
  • Addition of a “Resources” section provides a space for relevant content to be added to the website to help provide a positive user experience, and keep website visitors coming back 
  • A Sponsors page in the top-level navigation, along with being featured prominently on the Home page in a rotator, allows for public recognition of sponsors 
  • A “Testimonials” page helps build credibility 
  • Social sharing buttons encourage users to share content with their social networks, also providing an SEO boost

Multiple Permission Roles / User Groups

3RNet.org has four primary user groups: candidates, members, facilities, and Administrators. Special functionality and features were developed to improve the user experience for each. In addition, special care had to be taken to create the permission levels needed to ensure site users are only able to access the content and areas of the site they’re supposed to.

Search Engine Optimization

The site was also developed to be very “search engine friendly” and a number of search engine optimization (SEO) tactics were included. The entire site uses friendly URLs for all content.  This means that querystring values do not include (default.aspx?myparm=myvalue) and all URL’s are re-written to contain helpful content within the URL’s, with a proper emphasis on avoiding duplicate content issues. Where possible, keywords are included in the URLs rather than Id’s, which is an important SEO tactic. Each page has a custom Meta Description and Meta Title.  And, an XML sitemap helps ensure that Google and other search engines can index all publicly visible content.  

Summary

The end result of this three-phase process is a robust website that meets the needs of its various audiences. Because it’s built on an easy-to-use content management system, Administrators are able to make many changes to the site themselves. Built-in reporting along with third party reporting provides actionable data to help Administrators make smart decisions about the administration of the site. And, new features continue to be added. 

View the new 3RNet.org website here

About 3RNet

3RNet is a national, non-profit organization that works to improve rural and underserved communities’ access to quality healthcare. 3RNet is made up of organizations such as State Offices of Rural Health, Primary Care Offices, AHECs, university programs, state-based non-profit organizations and Primary Care Associations. These agencies help recruit physicians and health professionals to work in rural and underserved communities throughout the country. The 3RNet.org website provides an easy way for facilities and 3RNet member organizations to post current job opportunities, and for candidates to search those job opportunities.

Client Feedback

“AVS Group met and exceeded all of our expectations during our recently completed website redesign process. 3RNet relies heavily on the success of its website and AVS Group has become a solid partner in our mission. They are extremely knowledgeable in the mechanics of website design and, more importantly, they took the time to really understand the functionality we needed and suggested many improvements. AVS kept us on time, updated and on budget and earned our highest recommendation.”
Mike Shimmens, Executive Director at 3RNet

"Congratulations to the 3RNet amazing staff, the website committee and the team that put together this sparkling new edition of 3RNet...I can’t wait to play around with it and explore all of the new stuff!"
3RNet Member

"I toured the website early this morning.  I stayed on it for a while so that I could go through each part, especially our section. GREAT job!!"
3RNet Member

"Thanks for all the hard work on this!  It really shows."
3RNet Member