Guest Post: Update Your Academic Website to a Modern Design

Flat modern illustration, web design development workflowA college’s website is no longer just the online version of their brochure, it is a place where people go to find detailed information. Like any website, if it’s difficult to access or find information, people will likely move on to their next choice. Update your school’s website to tap into this new generation of students and technology.

Understand Your Visitors

The 2013 E-Expectations survey done by the National Research Center for College & University Admissions (NRCCUA) said that 68 percent of the students responding use mobile devices to research school websites. More people are using their smartphones and tablets to access online information. Your website needs to accommodate these mobile students. More than 90 percent of those students said they would remove a school from their list if they couldn’t find the information they needed on the site.

Mobile-Friendly Versus Mobile-Like

The idea of creating separate portals for your mobile users has given way to responsive design. This is a technique using custom style sheets that allows your site to adapt to the device being used to access it. The content is the same, but the way it is displayed is different on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Responsive design means all of the website being accessed is readable and usable by the mobile visitor. The portal method often meant that the person would click on a link and be dropped back into the regular website, designed for a desktop with a large monitor. This is one way to lose a visitor from your site quickly.

Focus on Key Content

Put the most important information in front of your visitors first. Look at your website analytics to determine the most visited pages. They are likely the academic program information, admission information and financial aid. These key topics should be easily found at a glance on your home page. The links to go to that information should be obvious. Don’t bury them in content that must be scanned before finding the link.

Content That Keeps Visitors on Your Website

Use images and videos correctly to capture the attention of visitors. Photos of large stone buildings on the campus have their place, but they don’t engage the visitor. Use images or stock footage of students in a classroom or studying in small groups. This helps the visitor to visualize themselves as part of that activity. Use graphics containing three or more students instead of just one individual to generate that desire for belonging.

Concise content or summaries with links to more in depth information works well for the mobile user. They may have a few minutes at lunch or while waiting for a bus to look at your site. Compact pieces of information that generate curiosity are more helpful than long pages of detail that has to be read.

Social Media Needs To Be A Part Of Your Website

Social media is a popular way for people to get information and communicate. Your website must include links to the social media sites for:

  • student organizations
  • study groups
  • academic programs
  • campus information

Besides the information they provide, the social media sites engage the student visitor to begin interacting with students and faculty. This makes the person feel more welcome and influences their choice of schools and programs.

Don’t Ever Be Done

Don’t let your website get stale. Plan changes to happen incrementally and continually, suggests University Business. If you must, develop a two-year plan for your website update. At the end of the two years, create another two-year plan. The technology used to access websites is ever changing, as are the viewing habits of people visiting websites. Plan for your school’s website to be always changing to meet the needs of your current visitors.