Why You Need to Invest in Your Website in 2021

By Beacon News | Published January 21, 2021 | Categories: Higher Education , Digital Marketing , Web Development , Ecommerce

Colleges and universities all over the world have seen the status quo upended in the last year. While many were already considering how to adapt to, and compete in, an increasingly online world, the COVID-19 epidemic has been a catalyst for a nearly overnight change in college operations. Though you may miss the days of welcoming students to your campus in person for tours, orientation, classes and more, caution dictates we keep such operations remote for now. As such, your institution’s website has taken over as the primary landing pad for student recruitment, engagement and retention.

2021 doesn’t look to be changing that trend, so now, more than ever, is the time to invest in your website. Remember, your site is your marketing centerpiece—brightly showing students what your school is all about. Other institutions are already working on making theirs stand out. Here are three big reasons to up your game. If you are in doubt, ask your online users. They will tell you!

Your Site Is Outdated

Cassette TapeNo one likes to admit to judging a book by its cover, but with websites, we all do it. As web design trends evolve, our tastes evolve with them, and we know when a website feels, well, just off. Stanford University’s Guidelines for Web Credibility report that 75% of users admit to making judgments on credibility based on site design alone.

So if you’ve put a lot of work into the content on your website and the quality of your instruction, don’t let poor design or dated features undermine that. For example, you may have invested a great deal in your online teaching technology, but students won’t have much confidence in that if your website looks like it hasn’t seen any love since 1996.

The idea of outdated content goes beyond your layout and design. If students are looking for tuition information or application deadlines and have to sift through two or three-year old articles, you need to spruce up the site. What about all those contact pages? The staff and faculty directories? Depending on your institution’s turnover, these pages may need updating regularly.

Your Site Is Too Complicated

Person biting pencilWe get it. Your institution comprises many players, and getting on the same page can be difficult, but simplifying and streamlining your website is a crucial way to improve user experience and keep visitors engaging with your institution. This means simplifying both in terms of content and structure. But how do you know when your site’s too complicated?

Ask yourself first if your website is structured too much like your organization. Universities and colleges are wild and sometimes sprawling ecosystems: offices on top of offices, subcommittees sprouting off from committees, academic and non-academic departments all competing for space, funding and credit. Don’t let this be the case for your website. You may understand your institution’s hierarchy and structure (or you may not!), but it’s unlikely your students will. Focus on their real needs and what actions they need to perform and design your website around those.

Second, does your content read like a post-grad thesis? As an employee of a higher ed institution, you’re used to the jargon and elevated language of academia, but that language hurts your website’s performance. Not only does it alienate prospective students, it obfuscates rather than inveigles; It enfeebles and enervates where it should rouse. So keep your language as clear and concise as you can, even if that means keeping your content out of the hands of your academic departments (sorry, professors!).

This doesn’t mean you’re underestimating your audience’s intelligence or that you’re “playing down” to anyone. It simply means you respect their time and want to meet their needs quickly. With your website being the one and only impression prospective students are getting, you want students informed and inspired, not lost and frustrated.

Check out our November blog for more tips on trimming down on your excess content!

Your Students’ Needs Are Changing

Person thinkingEven before the pandemic, students’ needs and priorities were shifting. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, more and more students reported financial concerns as their primary motivator for going to college. A 2019 survey they conducted discovered that the greatest motivator for going to college was finding a good job. In uncertain times—and these times are nothing if not uncertain—students want to be sure that their investment in an education will yield tangible results.

Then came COVID-19. Those needs shifted even more drastically. Where students were concerned about student organizations, study abroad opportunities and more, they are now concerned about transparency and clarity regarding the college experience during the pandemic. According to Inside Higher Ed research conducted in 2020, students had four big demands for colleges in the fall 2020 semester: 

  1. Invest in career building initiatives during the pandemic.
  2. Be transparent and detailed about what classes will look like in the fall.
  3. Adapt for safety without compromising traditional benefits.
  4. Be honest and transparent about networking opportunities with peers and employers.

Do you know what the specific needs of your prospective students are? What does your website reflect? If they have certain informational needs and you’re putting a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in their way, they are likely to become frustrated and look elsewhere. For example, what do you do if your institution has long relied on its academic reputation, but your students are more concerned with job prospects? In that case, you should be putting more attention and energy into highlighting career and financial outcomes for your students than your department accolades. Let your students’ needs, not your own, lead your design.

The Takeaway?

Your institution still has so much to offer its students, but here in 2021, you have fewer venues for sharing those offerings with them. But this doesn't have to be a bad thing! Invest in your website now and you'll have an enduring and powerful tool for recruitment, engagement and retention. Contact us today to learn how to make the most out of this unprecedented time with a website redesign.

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