Producing an Engaging Design for Higher Ed

What exactly is “an Engaging Design”?  There are really 2 questions here.  First, what factors define whether a website or web page is engaging?  And secondly, how do you affect those factors?

At Beacon, the level of engagement is based on 4 factors:  Time on site, Pages Viewed, Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate.  In other words, students who stay on the website for longer periods of time, viewing lots of pages are considered to be more engaged – even more so if they fill out a form or take a desired action.  Keep in mind that an engaging design doesn’t always mean a long visit.  It could be a shorter visit that results in a conversion – because of an intuitive design that quickly led the student to what he or she needed. 

When designing your website, here are some things to keep in mind that may affect engagement:

  • Creative, compelling design – show the university experience through high quality images that are on brand (e.g. students that are happy and involved and on campus)
  • Good About Us page – use interesting ways to communicate facts about your college or university, and build confidence.
  • Limit choices – guide students, parents and alumni to what they want and don’t overwhelm them with too many options.
  • Power of faces – show faces that convey emotion, looking directly at the online user.
  • Tell stories – people process information better this way
  • Don’t be pushy with calls to action - build commitment over the duration of their visit.
  • Maintain brand consistency – to show professionalism and common feeling.
  • Design for the user – prospective students, current students, parents, alumni and faculty have very different needs, cater to each.
  • Easy navigation – be clear and consistent.  Don’t try to be clever or too unique.  Users should have a good idea of where they are, what to expect when they click on links and how to get back.
  • Simple layout – students are looking for information to help them learn more and ultimately make a decision about next steps.  Make the process simple so they can digest everything your college or university has to offer.
  • Clear Calls to Action – This is the primary objective of every website.  What do you want students, parents, alumni, etc. to do when they are on certain pages?  Once they are excited or find what they are looking for, help them take the next step by locating the call to action prominently and using user-focused verbiage.
  • White space is good – Clutter is stressful.  Show visitors that your institution is organized, even though you have thousands of pages under your website.  Too much content will overwhelm students and may be interpreted as too push or sales-oriented.
  • Easy to read fonts – you have them on your website, don’t make it difficult to read with fancy fonts.  Better yet, use common web-ready fonts and avoid fonts that may not render properly. 
  • Design for mobile (multiple devices) – Responsive design is essential as your website should gracefully transition from mobile to tablet to desktop, such that your design elements are just as engaging regardless of the device.
  • Voting and Polls – Social media and technology has made it easy for users to participate and provide their opinions.  So utilize quick-hit features to capture their interest and drive engagement.
  • Keep it fresh – The Higher Education recruiting process is lengthy.  Prospective students and parents will visit your site often.  Don’t let it get stale.  It’s an opportunity to put new, interesting images and information in front of them to further entice and engage them. 
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