Back to School: Can Your Website Serves Your Students' New Needs?

By Josh Barrer | Published August 17, 2020 | Categories: Higher Education , Cascade CMS , Web Development

It's that time of the year again. Back to school, when students get ready to... Wait.
Stop for a second. It's back to school time? 

Really? 

Isn't it... like... mid-June? Surely, it's not later than July... oh...

$%#@

man covering face with both hands while sitting on bench

Yep, it's really here.

Guess it's time to figure out how to return to school in this very unusual year.

What that looks like at your school might be one of a few different things: students may be on campus but largely sticking to their dorm rooms, or maybe they're all at home and doing all of their studies online via virtual classes.

Whatever approach your school is taking, there's no doubt that things are very different than any other year, and that your students' online experience is more important than ever. Therefore, your school's website must also be ready for this change, not only in terms of functionality, site health, and accessibility, but in terms of content as well. Fortunately, it's never too late to make sure your site is delivering the right content and performing optimally.

What Students Want

Inside Higher Ed recently polled students about what they want this Fall, and though their answers covered several topics, a key element throughout the student responses was "clarity" and "real answers."

pexels-gustavo-fring-3985199.jpgStudents - prospective and current - are savvy, especially when it comes to communication on the web. They know and understand that this Fall semester is going to be very different because of COVID-19. So, they aren't looking for vague reassurances or empty promises. They want to know the truth about how your school is going to adapt and deliver a valuable and substantial experience. And if they don't get those answers, they may choose to defer their education for another time. 

Your school's answers to these student questions may vary. That's fine. But what's essential is making sure your website can deliver important information to students clearly and efficiently. No matter how good your online learning plan or back-to-campus safety protocols may be, if students don't know the details, it's no use.


How Your Website Can Deliver for Your Students

So how can you be sure you can communicate with your students and deliver the information and online experience they need? It'll take a few things.

First, a healthy and functional website is a must: you need to be sure it's ready for the increased traffic, and that loading times are brief. Explore your site and make sure key links are active and take you where they should. You don't need students looking for important data to get frustrated and give-up.  

glenn-carstens-peters-npxXWgQ33ZQ-unsplash-1.jpgSecond, assess your design. Is it engaging? Does it present a strong, modern design that's aesthetically pleasing? Depending on how your school is handling things this Fall, your website may be where students spend a vast amount of their time. So make that time valuable and real for them. 

Third, consider your content. Does it effectively and concisely deliver important and essential information, such as new policies, school news, course info, emergency information, and more? Does your website create a sense of community and enhance your school's culture virtually? Remember, this may be your only vehicle for doing this, at least for the fall of 2020. Take the time to make sure your content is well-planned, accessible, and engaging. If your content reads like DMV instructions, students will likely move on (wouldn't you?) and may miss important info. 

pexels-edward-jenner-4031818.jpgFurthermore, with respect to design and content, can students find the most important information intuitively and quickly? A well thought-out and clearly organized structure is an absolute must. Don't just throw a bunch of links on a page and expect students to sift through. Between attending classes, doing work, and navigating an unprecedented period of challenge in modern history, they've got plenty to worry about already. So be direct and put this information front and center. 

The best way to accomplish all of this is through an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) that supports well-organized and functional design. If - worst case scenario - there's a COVID-19 case on your campus and students need to quarantine, you'll need to get relevant details and information pushed to your website as soon as possible. Does your CMS support this?


It's Not Too Late for Beacon To Help Optimize Your Site

Fortunately, Beacon can help you meet all of these needs. We specialize in higher education website redesigns, content strategy and development, digital marketing, and more. We're also CMS experts, and can help train you and your team to be experts too, so you can keep your site and the info on it fresh and relevant.

So even though school is close to opening back up (or maybe it's already in session where you are), you've still got time to make sure your site is ready to deliver the best back-to-school, new era experience for your students. Contact us today to find out what we can do for you. Big dates and deadlines may sneak up on you, but we'll make sure you're ready to help your site and your students tackle any challenge. 

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