Our recent study of prospective and current college students shows your website is the most important tool in your college recruitment marketing arsenal. In the finale of our 3-part series on college recruitment marketing, we focus on how to ensure your website is meeting their needs – and driving enrollment growth.
In part 1 of our 3-part series, we looked at how design thinking affects engagement with prospective students; in part 2, we looked what prospective students really want to know about your school. Now in part 3 we’re looking at your college website – and how to make sure it’s doing its job.
Our recent survey of prospective and current college students shows that your website is a primary source of information about your institution – it’s where prospective students turn first to learn about your academic programs, financial aid, campus life, athletics, graduation rates and career placement statistics. It’s the first step in determining whether your school is the right fit for them, so if the website doesn’t create a connection they won’t go any further. Here are 7 essentials for an effective college website that drives student interest, belief, and action:
1. Content Strategy
A clearly defined content strategy, backed by research and based on personas, is a critical tool for creating a website that builds those all-important connections. It drives students to take the next step and, ultimately, to apply, enroll, and graduate (increasingly important in the era of outcome-based funding). A solid content strategy will also help keep your website focused on its primary purpose: recruiting prospective students.
Humans are visual creatures, and we love to see things for ourselves. Cisco predicts that by 2021, videos will comprise 80% of all consumer internet traffic. People already watch more than 1 billion hours of video on YouTube every day, and that’s growing all the time.
Done well, video can provide prospective students with insight into what makes your school unique and can help them envision themselves as a part of it. A campus overview video, clips of students sharing their successes and what they love about your institution and events are all great options for video content.
Authentic, engaging photography showing what campus life is like is key to engaging prospective students. They want to see who your students are, what your campus looks like, where they’ll be going to class, who their professors will be, and what they can do in their downtime. They need to be able to envision themselves on your campus and how they’ll fit in. And with more students than ever playing sports, it’s important to highlight athletic facilities, too.
4. Great Copy
In addition to video and photography, you also need to tell your story and provide context. Keep your copy short, use bullets where possible, and make sure the “voice” of your content is personable and friendly. Your prospective students aren’t going to read long pages of content, so it’s up to you to get your message across succinctly and engagingly.
5. Navigation and Search
It doesn’t matter how great your content is if your users can’t find it easily. Conduct user testing to see where your prospective students look for specific items, and organize accordingly. A powerful, effective site search that returns relevant content is also critical – and with Google’s ad-free site search for educational institutions, there’s no excuse for not having a great search tool on your site.
Accessibility has always been important, but it’s getting more attention than ever before. It’s not just important for compliance, though. According to the most recent U.S. Census, 19% of the U.S. population has some type of disability. If these users can’t effectively navigate your website, you’ll lose this part of your audience. With today’s enrollment climate, that’s something no college can afford.
7. Mobile Experience
This might be the most important factor of all. Currently, more than half of Internet traffic is from mobile devices, and Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Complete Forecast predicts that only 25% of internet traffic will come from desktop systems by 2021. Your best option is a responsive website that automatically adjusts (responds) to the user’s screen size to deliver an optimized experience.
These basic principles will go a long way towards helping you create an engaging, focused and effective website for your school. These 7 essentials can help drive your prospective students and their influencers to take the next step, ultimately leading to more applications, higher enrollment and better overall results.
Ready to get started creating a more effective website for your college or university? Let’s talk.
If you haven't already, don't forget to check out Part 1: Design Thinking for Better College Recruiting and Part 2: Top 6 Things Students Want to Know About Your College.