First impressions are everything – especially when it comes to prospective students seeking an education. Chances are your website is one of the first things they’ll interact with, and it serves a wide audience.
While, at first, it might sound like you need to appeal to the general audience, in there lies the challenge: Every user is unique. Whether it be from a certain way they like to communicate or if they have a disability.
You need to ask yourself how your site is affecting your target audience, or, as Epicosity’s Digital Director John Eining puts it, “How are you providing that information into a digestible area in a way that these prospects can actually make decisions and reflect the confidence in them?”
University sites need to get on a certain level of communication that appeals and empowers all prospective students. Here are a few adjustments that you can do to make your college or university site more user-friendly.
Accessibility is Key
What does it mean when we say “accessibility”?
“When we actually talk about ‘accessibility’ accessibility, there’s a surprising number of students that get overshadowed in everyday life,” Eining says.
“There’s a lot of blind and deaf people that are trying to go online and do this and – maybe not even be completely blind or deaf, but people that have color blindness, poor vision and things like that. You have to make sure that your website is reflecting to these people that you’re ready for them – that your whole campus is ready for them and that they’re being treated fair and equal to everyone,”
Eining says you should be thinking “user first” when creating your college or university site.
“We’ve got to make sure they can take in all of our content, feel confident in our abilities and our tools, and then what builds out from that is actually what search engines are looking for,”
For example, say you have someone who is visually impaired who wants to learn more about your school. Does your site offer a feature for the computer to read text aloud? Maybe someone who is visiting has a sensitivity to certain colors. Does your site feature any way for them to swap them?
It’s taking these into consideration that can make a huge difference, not only for prospective students but also how you feature on Google search.
“When someone searches something and clicks on my university site, if they’re there for a while and they’re clicking around, Google’s going to love that,” Eining says.
Google is tracking your movements. If they see how fast someone leaves a site upon finding it, and they change their search, they’ll take that and work to answer the next question more precisely. Basically, if you aren’t portraying yourself as someone with the answers, you’ll come up less and less when that question is asked again.
Sometimes, students will leave your website before it even loads. That’s means it’s taking too long to load, lucky, we’re here to get you up to speed on how to improve that.
Speed is a Factor
“Three seconds to a 16-year-old is not fast,” Eining says.
Prospective students have a shorter attention span than you might assume. So much so, that if your site doesn’t load in three seconds, the student will be inclined to ditch it and search elsewhere.
“There’s two speeds that happen for university sites that are very important: load speed and response time,” Eining says.
When you’re building your website, you ultimately have to decide what’s crucial to keep and what can be removed. A website that’s overstuffed with non-essential data can cost you loading speed. So, it’s important that the site only contain clear, precise information and doesn’t get bogged down by extra noise.
“People are making such a huge decision and they want to be sure you’re there for them every step of the way,” Eining says.
Speed doesn’t just factor in to how well your site loads, but how fast and efficient you communicate to your prospective students when they need you.
Eining says that responding to questions or concerns on simple applications or forms can be huge as the students will feel as you’re helping them navigate these bigger, tougher decisions.
Higher ed sites hold a ton of digital content, and it’s important that your site can load it all at a good pace. However, speed can be affected whether the student is accessing the site on a computer or their phone.
Make it Mobile-Friendly
In fact, smartphones are a majority of where site traffic comes from. We live in the generation where everyone has quick answers in the palm of their hand, so putting the phone first when it comes to site efficiency is crucial.
According to an article published by EriDesign, 98% of the current generation owns a smart phone with 55% being on them for 5+ hours a day.
Having a website that’s not optimized for mobile will also have negative effects on your Google search rankings. This will make it difficult for students to find you.
At the end of the day, however, it’s not always how fast you say as opposed to what you’re saying.
Tell an Honest Story
“You’re trying to engage people without being another source that’s just telling them things,” Eining says.
Many institutions like to boast about their awards and placements, but this isn’t something a freshman out of high school is looking for. They’re looking for a connection.
One of the best ways to connect is through stories.
“If we’re going to buy a product, and I hear what these five people are saying about this, then that’s going to entice me to decide to buy it or not,” Eining compares attracting students to your college or university to selling a product. The advertising is most effective when it’s relatable and it comes from someone you can trust.
Sharing testimonials from students who’ve taken the journey has a better chance of new students being inspired to take their own.
“You’re scared of so many things and so many big decisions there,” Eining says, “you want to know that you aren’t the only one to face these kinds of challenges or make that jump, and what’s that like when you’re actually on campus.”
He also mentions that, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and technological advancements, familiar events like campus tours aren’t as attractive to students. “People are much less often going to take in person tours. Being able to click on something that’s like Google Streets, is huge. People are loving that type of content right now.”
Virtual Tours can also be a great resource for college and university website. With fewer students physically visiting colleges before applying, you need a virtual solution to convey campus culture, differentiate yourself from other institutions, and tell your unique story.
When you’re marketing to prospective students, make sure to put them first, especially when it comes to your institution website.
Major elements to consider when developing your site is to keep student access at the forefront; Consider that they might not all have the same abilities when it comes to accessing the content. Make sure your site loads fast and efficiently for both desktop and mobile versions. And make sure you’re taking time to connect with students by either helping them through tough hurdles or sharing stories from other students.
These tips will not only improve site performance but improve relationships and chances of connection with your future students.