The year is ending. Students have graduated. Vacations are still a few weeks away. Now is the perfect time to review the state of your higher ed web strategy.Whether your focus is enrollment, marketing, or development, your school’s website is often the first and only impression you have on your digital visitors. Be sure your website strategy delivers on what users expect.
Recent studies show that nearly all prospective students find your website critical in their decision to apply. Even so, most website users judge your institution within 3.42 seconds based upon design alone!
How do you stack up?The following is a 25 point checklist of the best practices in 2014 to make sure your site is ready for the new enrollment and development season ahead!
Higher Ed Web Strategy Checklist
QualityYour brand evokes quality. You strive to communicate the academic excellence of your programs. Be sure that your web and digital communications suggest the same. Live your brand through quality design and layout
From your traditional undergrad pages to different grad schools, be sure that you have a cohesive visual identity across all digital platforms. That includes your social profiles, email templates, and websites.
CreativeAs stated above, users create a judgment on your institution based upon design within 3.42 seconds. Your digital marketing is often the only impression they have of your school. What are you saying?
SimpleDigital media is consumed through scanning content – it has been that way from the very beginning. Keep the design of your website clean and simple to deliver the content and brand above all else. There are many tangible and intangible benefits to simple web design.
Authenticity and Emotion
Show your community through authenticity and real life. Your prospective students are hyper-sensitive to staged photos and artificial placement of students. Keep it real and true.
Avoid the trap of being all things to all people. More than likely, your school website should focus on enrollment with secondary emphasis on giving. Every page should drive your overarching goals and stay true to the primary purpose.
Every Page is the HomepageKeep in mind that in today’s search world, every page is your home page. Be sure that even the deeper level sites reflect the brand, quality, and messaging you want conveyed to every visitor. More and more visitors are coming through the back door. Review your analytics for more detail.
ContentYour website content is more important than ever. With Google’s recent update to their algorithm, it is more critical than ever to be producing great quality content that is relevant, timely, and valuable to your audience. Blogs are a great way to keep the content fresh and consistent for your higher ed web strategy.
AnswersEvery visitor to your website desire to answer their question. Questions include “Is this school right for me?” “How much will this cost?” “Does Professor Smith still teach here?” “Can I donate my stock?” Be sure you understand the most popular questions and have content that provides clear answers. This should be more than an FAQ page…it should drive the way you see engagement with visitors.
Photos & Video
Visitors want to experience campus; they want to envision themselves there. Show them photography, videos, create immersive opportunities through storytelling. It is a cliche, but a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
Infographics & Charts
Be sure to present numbers, graphics, and opportunities in the form of infographics and charts. Not only are these scannable and quickly digested, they are more interesting and engaging than paragraph form of the same information.
Inbound Traffic & Lead Generation
If you build it they will come only works in the movies. Yes, you’ll get your standard visitors you expect, but if you really want to make sure that you are reaching those students who are searching for what you have to offer, you need to create a strategy to convert them into your funnel. Inbound marketing is the way to accomplish that.
Be sure all of your key programs and conversion points are built upon landing pages. Best practices show that uncluttered landing pages convert more users than standard forms embedded in your website.
Your site needs to have a social engagement. Every time you post to new content, it needs to be amplified into the social media realm. Be sure your social media channels are segmented based upon target audiences (Instagram, Twitter, YouTube for traditional prospects; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for adult and grad programs; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for donors). Social has to be a large part of your higher ed web strategy.
As stated above, segmentation of your audience is key. Whether that is through social media channels, landing pages and portals within the site itself, or your email campaigns, be sure that you speak to your audiences based upon segmentation. Segmentation may include demographics, age, constituent type, geographic regions, known preferences, and other aspects from your data.
Is your content, design, social media, and all aspects of your marketing program relevant, timely, and valuable to your audience? If not, go back and tweak until it is. According to research, you have 3.2 seconds to convince the average user through your layout, design, and overall organization of your website that you are credible and relevant.
Call to Action
A user can discover content on your site and land anywhere at anytime. Now more than ever before, every page on your website has the potential to be the home page. Be sure to include relevant call-to-actions on each page to drive lead generation as well as conversion to deeper parts of your admissions funnel or donor engagement.
And speaking of funnel, consider how it applies to your website. Do you have areas of your site that are accessible once a prospect reaches a funnel stage? For example, is there a private network available for accepted students? Are deposited students provided a concierge area to address registration and forms? How do you treat your users as the move from one level to the next?
According to recent studies, half of all web users expect a page to load within 2 seconds. It is critical that website speed be addressed through various methods such as cache systems, pre-loaders, image sprites, etc. Be sure to work with your developers and IT department to assure a zippy experience for your users, or do some basic items that will improve the site, even if you are not very techy!
Recent studies show that prospective students are viewing your website via their mobile devices. Ninety-Seven percent state that they use their mobile phone or tablet to view college websites. It is critical that your site leverage what is known as responsive design to allow the site to adjust to the viewing device.
Your site budget may limit what you can custom develop for your school website, but that does not mean you should go without critical tools. Software-as-a-Service tools allow you to engage your site visitors with sophisticated experiences, tools, and options for just a few dollars per month. Tools that assist with inbound marketing, email sign-up and newsletters, social media integration are key areas to consider.
Be sure to technically review all aspects of your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. That will include review of 301 Redirects, analysis of your Google Webmaster Tools account, and other assurance that your pages are set up to maximize your SEO strategy.
Content Management System
Today, there is no reason your school website should not be created in a content management system. As with anything else, the options are plentiful. WordPress is a personal favorite for a cost-effective and ease-of-management option. Moving up from that may include tools such as Drupal, SiteFinity, and a host of other options. These tools will allow the non-programmers access to manage content, which is the fuel of your higher ed website strategy success.
With a content management system you have the ability to distribute the authorship of the site to the departmental level. The CMS provides the ability to “lock-down” the templates, design, and fonts only allowing text editing and limited uploads. This is critical on larger campuses where the web management staff may be limited in resources.
I am a full believer that enrollment and marketing should have discretion on the education website. With the tools available today with content management systems and SaaS tools for everything from landing pages to email marketing, there is no reason to have the site held hostage in IT.