Case Study

South Dakota State University (SDSU)

Closeup of a student taking notes
19 %

mobile traffic increase

11 %

bounce rate decrease

8 million

pageviews over 9,700 pages, and 14,900 unique URLs



The existing SDSU content management solution was insufficiently robust, difficult to update, and extremely limited in mobile and personalization capabilities. As a result, the university couldn’t communicate in a timely manner or deliver the digital experience today’s prospective student expects.


The university’s small marketing team needed a solution that would enable a wide range of contributors across campus to update content, and provide the capabilities they lacked, all while fitting within a budget constrained by recent spending cuts.

Our Solution

SDSU chose the open source Drupal CMS, partnered with Acquia Cloud Platform

  • Mobile traffic increased by 19%, to 39.3%
  • Bounce rate decreased from 46% in 2015/16 to 35% in 2018/19
  • 7.5 million views over 9,700 pages, and 14,900 unique URLs

The Client

South Dakota State University is the state’s largest higher-education institution, with a fall 2018 enrollment of 12,107. Today, SDSU students hail from every state and 83 countries. The university offers 82 majors, 35 specializations, 94 minors, 36 master’s degree programs, 15 Ph.D. programs and two professional doctorates.

The Situation

Siloed processes and a fragmented, outdated CMS system meant SDSU content editors across campus faced a number of challenges when providing updated information to current and potential students, as well as faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. The university’s lean marketing team needed to ensure the site effectively engaged with all of its audiences without requiring constant assistance from the IT department.

Additionally, the existing system was unable to deliver the personalized, mobile-friendly experience today’s student is accustomed to, putting the university’s recruitment outreach efforts at a disadvantage.

The Challenge

While the SDSU marketing team could make content updates on its own, other updates—like adding additional functionality to the site — left them completely reliant on the overburdened IT department. The team sought to gain a greater level of control by implementing a CMS that a wide range of stakeholders could easily update. But the undertaking faced multiple challenges from the onset.

In the world of higher education, change comes slowly, processes are often deeply entrenched, and budget cuts are common.

Additionally, shifting control of the CMS from IT to marketing team would be a sensitive undertaking, requiring all involved to have a clear understanding of the benefits of the transition.

Finally, past implementation problems and recent staff turnover presented further complications.


The Solution

Significant issues and limited capabilities with existing resources surfaced the clear need to move away from the university’s existing CMS platform. When defining their priorities, the team immediately determined ease of use was paramount. Non-technical staff must be able to update content and utilize the tools the new system offered.

As the SDSU team became more familiar with the benefits of Drupal, they quickly realized that Acquia, founded by the creator of Drupal, had the most Drupal expertise and was in the best position to help put the power of the open-source platform to work for them.

SDSU selected Acquia Cloud Platform to help them leverage the power and flexibility of Drupal, and enable them to manage all of their digital experiences in one place. Acquia Cloud Platform’s scalability would allow the team to grow their web presence without additional staffing or spending.

The addition of Acquia Personalization would provide SDSU with a powerful personalization engine, and enable the team to deliver the tailored digital experiences today’s prospective student expects.

The Results

The marketing team appreciates that their Acquia relationship ensures they’re always connected to the latest innovations and improvements from the Drupal community. They’ve found Acquia support to be reliable and efficient, typically receiving answers to questions or issues within an hour.

In the future, the team plans to capitalize on Acquia Personalization's capabilities to target specific geographic areas outside of the state, as well as specific regions within South Dakota.

With Acquia in place, SDSU has seen:

  • Mobile traffic increase by 19%, to 39.3%
  • Bounce rate decrease from 46% in 2015/16 to 35% in 2018/19
  • 7.5 million page views over 9,700 pages, and 14,900 unique URLs