• Content/Data Migration
  • Engineering
  • External APIs
  • Ongoing Support
  • Strategy

Architecting a Modern Web Presence and Customized Editorial Experience for the World’s Largest Jewish Campus Organization

The largest and most inclusive Jewish campus organization in the world, Hillel International, serves over 140,000 Jewish college students every year. Having first started in 1923, Hillel celebrated its 100th birthday in 2023, and serves as a safe space and resource guide for Jewish students at over 850 colleges and universities worldwide.

Leading up to its centennial year, Hillel sought to refresh its branding and establish one powerhouse platform for students that could also serve parents and supporters wanting to learn more about Hillel’s mission and work. As Hillel’s established branding agency focused on driving a complete rebrand, Hillel began a thorough search for the perfect team to architect a new web presence that would show off the new brand, properly reflect Hillel, and better serve their audience’s digital experience needs heading into the organization’s second century.

After considering several potential partners, Hillel turned to a joint proposal by digital agency 10up and creative agency Wide Eye. Hillel was impressed by the distinct capabilities, experience, and vision each agency brought to the project, as evidenced by prior joint projects like the Biden-Harris White House site design and build.

Bringing a Refreshed Rebrand to the Web

Wide Eye designers dedicated themselves to bringing the rebrand’s new look and feel into a web design language. As the design team composed wireframes for the future site layout, 10up engineers consulted on the technical realization implications, helping to ensure the best responsive web experience and maintaining full awareness of the designers’ vision, while proactively and collaboratively controlling for budget. During this wireframe process, both teams collaborated with Hillel to ensure the design matched their vision of a platform serving millions of students, prospective students, families, and supporters.

10up front- and back-end engineering was then guided by Wide Eye’s meticulous design direction and wireframes. The result is the new Hillel.org, a stunning reflection of the new brand powered by the WordPress content management system (CMS).

Extensive & Targeted Search Capabilities

From the earliest conversations about a redesign, it was paramount that the new digital experience enable prospective students to quickly and easily search across different colleges for information about the Jewish community and services offered on each campus. With data covering over 870 campuses, intuitive and fast-performing filtering of search results is imperative for students navigating all of this information.

10up engineered an experience that enables students to search by name, location / vicinity, Jewish experience and population data, overall student body size, and whether the institution is public or private.

Smart location filtering is supported by an integration with the Google Maps API, which converts any location input into latitude and longitude coordinates; ElasticPress then uses this data to filter campus results into the selected radius (i.e., within 25, 50, or 100 miles of a location).

While complex search queries and data filtering can be cumbersome to develop and impact the speed and performance of a site, integrating 10up’s ElasticPress technology eliminates those issues—this plugin brings open source Elasticsearch technology to WordPress, providing an efficient path for engineers to bring fast search performance and modern search capabilities, like fuzzy matching to correct misspelled words in search queries on Hillel.org.

To further aid students searching through schools, 10up implemented a compare feature, which enables students to select up to three different schools and compare different factors such as acceptance rates, kosher food availability, tuition costs, and study abroad programs in Israel.

Students can also search through a large database of scholarships, with information about eligibility requirements, deadlines, and scholarship amounts.

All of the college and scholarship data updates every 24 hours through an integration with Salesforce, where the Hillel team stores and updates the information.

Customizing the Editorial Experience

With tight new brand guidelines and web design standards to follow, controlling the editorial experience was integral to ensuring the digital experience remained on brand and consistent with the original design concept. 10up architected the content management experience around the WordPress block editor, providing a component-based editorial experience that mirrors the front of the site, empowering editors to have confidence when creating and publishing new content.

Bringing the new design vision to life often required 10up to engineer custom crafted editor block components. For instance, 10up custom engineered a new block to bring to life a beautiful new accordion-like feature, which seamlessly presents different information and images without jumping to new pages.

The flexibility of the native block editor sometimes allowed for a little too much liberty—editors could change colors, fonts, sizes, and placements at their own will, which could lead to nonuniform design throughout the site. 10up crafted custom blocks for Hillel content creators that ensured design continuity while providing variation when appropriate. For instance, instead of having to create separate blocks for a header, paragraph, and image, 10up built a custom block that included all aspects together, making it easy and painless to achieve a uniform look across the site.


Adhering to High Standards for Accessibility

The established color palette defines specific colors for certain site page elements (i.e., type, background, or icons)—ensuring brand consistency, accessibility, and ensuring that the site design will work effectively in a dark mode. In addition to making the site feel more modern and dynamic, dark mode can make it easier for people with visual impairments to interact with and read the site.

Ultimately, through these design choices and a thorough adherence by 10up engineers to the company’s strict front-end accessibility guidelines, the Hillel International website meets the high Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standard.


Utilizing Open Source Plugins

To further elevate the site management experience, 10up also implemented open source plugins such as its own Simple Local Avatars, enabling users to upload avatars to their profiles, and Safe SVG, which makes it easy to upload SVG files into the WordPress media library.

Additionally, 10up installed its Safe Redirect Manager to heighten the site’s performance during redirects—rather than taking up unnecessary space or leading to a 404 error page, Safe Redirect Manager stores redirects as Custom Post Types, making the Hillel data portable and website scalable.

10up’s Open Source Practice—a team dedicated to making a better web by building and maintaining dozens of free and open source solutions—created all three of these plugins.

Detailed Training With Transparency

Throughout the build, 10up presented demo training sessions to the Hillel editorial team, pulling back the curtain on the in-progress site to demonstrate how different parts of the site functioned, from simple updates to more complicated editing. The transparent, behind-the-scenes access gave the Hillel team immense insight into the entire process, proactively ensured alignment, and ultimately supported their learning process ahead of their internal content management work.

Before launch, 10up guided Hillel through larger training sessions to make sure the editorial team felt confident and capable of taking over the site.

Quality Assurance Aiding a Successful Launch

All three teams—10up, Wide Eye, and Hillel—conducted extensive quality assurance reviews before the launch, making sure nothing went amiss. The new Hillel.org launched in December of 2022, just before the organization’s 100-year anniversary in 2023.

In the first month following the new site launch, site visitors and engagement spiked—particularly when student scholarships were announced for the next school year, causing a 306% increase in visitors in one day.

10up continues to partner with Hillel, providing maintenance and management to the stunning new Hillel.org.

Background of 10up team members

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