Your website may be a visitor’s only experience with you; your design and content need to be personal and convincing throughout. Until a student actually enrolls, they are still in the decision making process, and every step of that process can either encourage them to continue moving forward – or give them cause for concern.
In order for your school to compete, your website needs to be always up to date in four key areas – content and structure, content management, design and layout, and technology. According to a Noel-Levitz E-Expectations Report, which presents the results of a survey of prospective undergraduate students in the US, one in five respondents said they had taken a university off their list due to a bad experience with the school’s website during their search. This same report reported that 52% of prospective college students in the US used a mobile device to visit a university’s website, and that 33% used the institution’s social media page to gather information.
Your website is almost always people’s first point of contact with your school. It is available 24/7, and is the single largest source of comprehensive information about who you are and what you make available in one place.
Your largest target group, prospective students ages 16 to 24, is the most connected group in history, spending on average 3 hours a day surfing the internet and social media – and they (more than 50%) mostly access the internet from their mobile phones.
Your school is a service oriented business – specifically providing individual service for students as paying customers. Your website must be responsive to the needs of your prospective students, as well as your donors, alumni, your students, staff, and faculty, and the global research and education community. Your website must be in complete alignment with your institutional goals.
Content and Structure Concept: managing content and having it found quickly
Your visitors expect content to be up to date, relevant, and easy to find. When re-launching the website, considering the expectations of our user groups, and the focus of your communication strategy, we should focus on the content and structure of our website (tailored to user patterns).
When we speak about user groups, not only must you now be aware of your mobile and social media audiences, but also importantly your own internal audience.
Does your website respond to Prospective Students and their needs – or to Donors and Business? Does your website show an obvious connection with our Alumni? Is your Research and Learning clearly transported in the content structure of your website? At the same time, is your unique profile persuasively brought across in your web communication?
You must always pose the question “What are we trying to accomplish with this information?” Complex information (for example research and teaching) needs to be made simply and clearly available. As users “time out” after three clicks, content should be made available in three or less.
Considering the predilection of internet users for video your content should include much more multimedia – MOOCs and video for prospective students. (The average person spent 21.8 hours watching videos online last year – their attention span for video is 5.5 minutes.)
The tonality and quality of all information needs to be consistent throughout the website. As the format is neither SEO nor mobile friendly, you should not rely heavily on PDFs as a primary format for web content.
Available information on your website must be clear, and the time necessary to find that information must be minimal. There can be no conflict between finding content in a user context and the general overview of content, nor between sources and versions of content.
Content must be created and categorized in a way that meets the needs of all your target groups (and specifically prospective students) based on use cases and user flow. You should not assume that (for instance) prospective students have the relevant knowledge of our website. You should not write nor structure content for ourselves.
When an average visitor spends 90 seconds on a web page, engaging, relevant, and consistent website content is not a nice to have – it is a necessity.
Content must be flexible enough to work well in both social media, and within a mobile environment. Content managers must understand how to connect content with related content, share content in a social media environment, and to write content suitable for mobile users.