For a prospective student starting his or her path toward college, your website can be an initial touchpoint. As such, it should provide the most useful and relevant information to those most likely to investigate what your university is all about. But how do you arrive on the most important elements that should be included on your college or university website?
Here are five things that the likeliest end users will be expecting from your online presence.
Perhaps more than any other element of your college or university's website when it comes to student visitors, clear direction is key. A prospective landing on your homepage won't want to be bombarded with conflicting messaging—a visitor needs an obvious direction that is clearly prioritized. Limit yourself to a manageable number of calls to action, and size them according to the biggest focus or return on investment. Eight animated banners and a menu with 12 buttons will be a wash in terms of directing a potential student down the path toward enrollment.
With future college students beginning their investigation into potential options as early as freshman year of high school, chances are, these prospectives will be visiting your website time and again. (The admissions, tour-scheduling and enrollment processes alone ensure they'll be making return visits.) So a crucial part of your website strategy is engaging with new content on a regular basis. Make an effort to put dynamic content front and center on your most popular pages—this may include a social or blog feed or heroes or headers that automatically change per predetermined periods of time.
One potential problem a college, and especially university, website might face is the plethora of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to determining priorities in the most valuable of real estate. To stay relevant to your visitor, you need to react to the way they are using your website. A one-and-done web design build doesn't typically allow for this—your web presence is best suited for continued improvement over time (especially during big admissions or enrollment seasons). Use the data you can easily gather on your website visitors—and don't sit on it. Make the effort to make your site more useful and relevant to your end user.
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One potentially fatal mistake in web design for a college or university is forgetting about the priorities of your end user when it comes to contextual imagery. While showing off stoic campus buildings (particularly if your institution has an impressive or storied history) can be an important part of your web imagery strategy, it's also important to remember that younger users are going to want to see themselves on your campus. (And we mean this quite literally.) Provide the context for your college experience—show off your students in natural, exciting settings (we're not talking the "three and a tree" staged stuff). Select some of your most unique settings or activities, and capture the spirit of what it's like to be a member of your student body. And mix it up—too much sameness will virtually ensure a quick exit from your site.
Clear direction will play into this factor, but don't forget that potential students with decreasing attention spans and less patience for participating in drawn-out processes will want quick answers to key questions. Don't over-complicate your application process. And listen to your prospectives—lead with content that preemptively answers their most common questions. Admissions counselors saying students most frequently ask about FAFSA or the quality of the campus's dorm rooms or the variety of major options during certain times of year? Lead with content that directly answers these questions in your highest-traffic areas.