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Drew Diskin
Hopkins’ new head of Web Services has taken apart and put it back together again.

blank Drew Diskin

Over many years, the Johns Hopkins Medicine Web site grew haphazardly, a vast garden without a master planner. Its components were disconnected and difficult to navigate. In fact, when Drew Diskin was hired as director of E-Strategy and Web Services 11 months ago, there were more than 200 Web content managers working individually from different departments.

Now Diskin, 35, has beefed up his staff in Marketing and Communications and reduced the number of templates from 450 to six. Recently he sat down with Dome to discuss the progress that’s been made and what’s to come in the future.

Why did you need to rebuild the Web site?
When we started looking into how people used the Web site, we were shocked to discover that 60 percent of visitors were abandoning it within 30 seconds. Imagine 100 people coming to the front door of the hospital, then 60 of them turning around to leave without ever going in. The old Web site was not allowing people to get easily to the information they wanted. This Web site’s purpose is to make life easier for others.

When did you launch the new site?
It was launched in July and now averages roughly 1.8 million page readers and more than 500,000 unique visitors each month. During one three-week period in July, the number of visitors to the School of Medicine’s application page doubled, and three times more visitors clicked on “Find a Doctor” than over the same period last year.

The new site has four distinctive home pages: the main page and ones for patient care, research and education. Each offers its own video introduction.

What did it take to get this project under way?
Making the site more progressive and accommodating means removing everything that’s inside, rebuilding the basic structure, and then filling it back up again.

We’re using an incremental design approach, the kind used by Amazon and eBay, to evolve along with consumer preferences. We can look at the behavior of people online, see what they click on, where they go and where they abandon the site. Then we try to find ways to present the same information for easy access.

What are some of the structural differences?
Visitors go to Web sites either to learn more about something or to take action. So now, on the right hand side of the screen, you will always be able to take action with links such as “Apply for,” “Find a Doctor” or “Make a Gift.” The left hand side is where you will go to learn more. That’s where you’ll find “About Us,” “Our Experts” and so forth.

There is now a thin navigational tool bar at the top of every Web page. You can click on “Explore other Johns Hopkins sites” to reach such areas as patient care locations and home health services.

You have also added a Google search engine to make navigation easier. What else is new?
We’ve made it possible for people who are visually impaired to control the readers they use to browse the Web pages.

We’re also using a syndication tool, RSS (Really Simple Syndication), to pipe the latest Hopkins news and podcasts throughout the site.

We’re adding Web features for cell phones. The whole Web page will display differently on your phone. We’re testing a feature where you can send a physician’s information to someone else’s phone. It can link back to the Web site that will also display in the phone.

What is your timetable for the Web site?
Phase 1 was repackaging the Web site. Phase 2 is about integrating some of the bigger independent sites, like Bayview Medical Center, Neurosurgery and the Heart & Vascular Institute. Phase 3 will integrate smaller sites. It will take a couple of years.

How many people are involved in the care and feeding of the sites?
Probably around 250. There are roughly 205 Web content managers from individual departments who are working with us. We have had tremendous support from an advisory board, partner vendors and our own marketing and communications team, plus my web team, which included Aaron Watkins, a Webby Award-winning information architect, and Stephen Gaede, who oversees the operations and content management system.

What is your role?
I’m the strategist and collaborator. The white board’s my best friend. I spend a lot of time looking at how to organize information, then work through problems and situations with our team and stakeholders.

Before you came to Hopkins, you worked on Web sites for hotels as well as health care. Have you always been a techie?
Although I have my master’s in technology management, my undergrad degree was in marketing. I grew up working in my dad’s ad agency in New York City. Long before I discovered I had a thing with technology, I learned that you can take anything, package it, give it a persona, market it and make it something of value.

How will you gauge success with the new Web site?
The visitor volume numbers tell that story. We also look at the feedback. We’ve put a feedback mechanism at the bottom of every Web page to ask how well we did. That helps us learn how to improve the architecture of the site.

We also continue to see growth in the number of sites which refer to us. There are now more than 85,000 inbound links coming to our Web site. It’s a learning process, and we’re humbled by what the next day or technology will present.

—Linell Smith



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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