July 26, 2017
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that one-quarter of prospective students decide not to apply to a college because they’ve a bad experience on the school’s website. (And no, just having a responsive site doesn’t guarantee a good experience.) Here are three things you can do to up your site’s game as a great admissions partner.
1. Structure your content
It makes sense that content should be your main focus. Yet a typical higher ed site has tens of thousands of pages, many of which never see the light of a user’s screen. That’s why your site’s structure is so important — and that includes both architecture and navigation.
For example: Your main page should have no more than seven sub-pages (any more and it won’t fit on mobile), and your menu should be no more than three layers deep. Place the search field near the header so users can find it easily.
As you work to clear out old content, make sure that you retain clear paths to information. Guide prospects to the content they care about: price, majors, residence halls, location, and student life. And always have a call to action that gets them to the next step.
2. Consider your page weight
Research shows that the average user will wait three to seven seconds for a webpage to load before abandoning the site in frustration. The problem? It’s usually the page’s weight.
Think of each webpage like a wagon: the more things you put in it, the heavier it becomes. It gets harder to push and therefore moves slower. Photos, videos, animations, analytics, content, and more — it all goes into your page’s wagon, making it heavy and slow.
Instead create a basic page that’s nice and lean, and then build up from there. Carefully consider every plug-in, widget, or analytics tool that you add. If it’s not offering you or your users a clear benefit, it’s best to scrap it.
There’s also a difference between page weight and page speed. Weight is the amount of stuff that you’re sending to a user’s computer, and speed has to do with how much they actually see. It’s essential to optimize both. Google makes it easy for you to test this.
3. Decide who’s in charge
Hint: It’s not everyone. Higher ed sites of yesteryear were overflowing with pages and content because everybody had a say in deciding what to include. Today, site governance is the critical component for keeping that in check.
Consider your internal community: How many people do you need to operate? What are their roles? What’s your workflow and protocol? How can you be more agile in getting new content up quickly and old content down? Who has the final say in what content can be included, and what drives these decisions? Answer these questions and distribute the information to all your internal stakeholders. Once they understand the guidelines about what content makes the cut, they’ll be more likely to abide by it.