Today, many people go online to research colleges and enroll for classes, as well as to donate to alumni groups and even plan reunions. So why do so few university homepages showcase their majors, location, or anything else valuable to prospective, current or alumni students?
Looking at homepages of Forbes’ top 10 schools in the U.S., we can see patterns. Most college pages have many choices, but no clear path. How can your school website improve?
1. Determine your audience
Some university websites are just overwhelming. On the Williams (#9 on Forbes’ list) website, there are so many important items that they all blend together.
To focus on just one or two interactions, Williams should first determine its highest priority student.
· For prospective students, Williams might highlight “Who we are and what makes us Williams.” By using darker colors or fading the other areas of the page, Williams can catch the prospective students’ attention.
· For current students, Williams might highlight “get the latest varsity scores.” This could also appeal to prospective students, showing that athletics are an important part of the Williams’ life.
· For alumni, Williams might dedicate a banner to encouraging donations.
2. Give users a call to action
Once the school has a student in mind, they can guide that person’s site experience. Take, for example, Columbia University (#5), where the website offers news, events and announcements on the homepage, in addition to a long line of sidebar menu options and a rotating banner of images.
If Columbia is focusing on current students, and wants to offer free flu shots (currently hidden in the tiny “Spotlight”), they might choose a color that contrasts with the blue homepage and use words eye-catching words, like “Don’t Catch the Flu!”
From there, we can imagine a clear user journey:
While these pages could include links guiding students to secondary goals, such as signing up for athletics or perusing course options, Columbia would maintain a focus on one goal.
3. Avoid static content
Many college websites rely on static content. For example, Stanford, (#1 on Forbes’ list) has homepage content that doesn’t need to change for months, announcing professors who won the Nobel prize, and a fellowship for early-career teachers. But the most useful information, like application deadlines or finals schedules, needs constant updating.
Luckily, many important events are annual, and a web team can store and recycle copy and images yearly to offer important information to students.
The college experience is a formative time. Does your website reflect the value of your school?
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