Transformative Ways University Websites Are Engaging with Prospective Students

For reasons too numerous and obvious to list, it has never been more important for a higher education institution to have a strong web presence to stay top-of-mind with prospective students. These students expect to navigate your university website easily and have their questions answered quickly.  

So what are the basics of a good website? Jeff Bradbury, owner of the Teachercast Education Network, recently hosted the webinar, 10 Things All Successful Websites have in Common, with Agile Education Marketing. The presentation offered a helpful look into the basic needs for any website.

Purpose, Tone and Audience

A lot of what Bradbury presented may seem simple, but many of his insights are too often overlooked in the website planning stage. For example, not knowing your website’s “purpose,” “tone” and “audience” during development can lead to insurmountable problems in the future.  

If the purpose of your university website is to convert prospects into students, you may plan to have a quick and easy-to-access form. You want to have that form visible within a single click. You want a clear “call-to-action” button so that anyone wanting to ask for more information knows where they can ask for it.  

Create an inviting tone on your page to coax the web surfers (prospective students) into taking the next step to get in touch. Never lose sight of whom you wish to appeal to and what you want your website to accomplish. The 10 things covered in the webinar address these basic tenets of planning, but universities have more things to consider.  

Multiple Audiences

A big obstacle for university websites is that they typically have multiple uses and goals. A university website must appeal to prospective students, current and newly enrolled students, faculty members, and alumni. Each of these audiences typically require different kinds of content to drive their engagement.  

Separating this content is one of the many ways a college or university can keep the right people engaged at the right place. You can see this on Georgetown University’s website … as they feature stories from “Students,” “Faculty” and “Alumni” with information relevant to those audiences. Each of these pages is accessed easily from the main navigation, so it becomes instantly clear for each audience member where they need to go.  

Easy navigation is important for all websites but is especially crucial for .edu sites. It can be difficult to know just what to prioritize when you have a sizable audience with different interests and backgrounds.   

You can see with Alvero College that they keep it as simple as possible at the top navigation, dividing everything into four categories; Academics, Apply & Afford, Campus, and Current Students. Each of these break down into more areas related to the selected category. The more direct resources web visitors may need — campus visits, events, athletic schedules, etc. — are above the main navigation, remaining prominent and easy to click without interrupting direct audience engagement. 

Involvement Information

Another way universities cultivate engagement from their audience is through clearly defined “involvement information.” Many people coming to a higher ed website want to know about campus lifestyle, available academic offerings, campus activities, visit schedules and alumni events.  

Bates College demonstrates a strong understanding of this involvement information by placing all four of its major CTAs for this type of content front and center. The college also does an excellent job of having its virtual campus tour within one click of the home page. For the longest time, the “virtual tour” was limited to photos in a brochure. Now technology has advanced to a point where prospective students can see every corner of a campus on their phone, even mimicking building placements through augmented reality.  

For example, Texas A&M has customized visual campus visits. After registering with your name and interests, you are sent a Zoom link where a guide leads you on a tour that is catered to your higher education wants and needs.  

Technology is always advancing and allowing new avenues for creators and developers to heighten the online experience of any audience. Without question this includes the diverse needs of higher education prospects, students, faculty and alumni. The tools to appeal to these audiences will continue to advance.  

Keeping an eye on the current trends and utilities can help inspire new ways of advancing forward in the never-slowing arena that is web design. 

By Brandon Jones, Digital Media Manager, Capture Higher Ed