7 06, 2018

Bringing Your Web Design to Life

By | 2018-06-07T14:08:43+00:00 June 7th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

HTML: The Foundation of Your Website

It’s common knowledge that, in today’s hyper-digital marketplace, your chances for success are limited without a strong website presence. As an experienced marketer, you know reflexively that a well-designed and expertly developed website is an irreplaceable marketing tool that differentiates your brand from your competitors.

What makes a great website, however, is a topic that can be debated without end. Ask a content strategist, a graphic designer, and a site developer that question and you’re likely to receive different answers from each — maybe even wildly different.

Regardless of their favorite website features or components, digital marketing experts know that, without a strong foundation, no site will ever perform up to expectations. So, what serves as the foundation of a website? What brings to life your creative vision, technical capabilities and conversion opportunities?

That answer is easy — it’s the underlying HTML code. Laying that foundation properly, to withstand the shifting sands of time, is the tricky part.

Mapping Your Creative Into HTML

At Beacon, we’ve developed a time-tested process for website development – our Brains, Beauty and Brawn approach. Foundation laying is brawny work. But it’s made easier by the steps completed in the Brains and Beauty stages.

In these first two phases, we suss out our clients’ cosmetic, functional and design requirements and create detailed webpage outlines. This work is informed by our research into target audiences and interviews with various stakeholders. The insights gained in this process are translated into page mockups with notes explaining how each included webpage feature should operate.

Our mockups include mobile and desktop variants. In order to make your site as user friendly as possible, it’s important to think about how the site will function across various devices that your target audiences use.  To ensure a smooth build-out process, these decisions have to be considered in the design stage, before development begins.

Once the mockups receive client approval, our developers start the heavy lifting — writing the HTML code and building out the site per the approved specifications.

Developing Flexible Templates

Our goal is to deliver a website that’s not only easy for users to navigate, but also easy for our clients to manage. Brains and Beauty take care of your site visitors. The Brawn phase is geared to make your website administrators happy by giving them maximum control. We do this by building flexible page templates that can be arranged into a number of different configurations.

Traditional website development calls for the creation of static page templates — home page, landing page, interior content page, etc. The larger and more complex your site, the more templates you’ll likely need. Additional templates add expense to an already costly development process. They also add confusion for your website managers.

We get around these problems by creating templates that can easily be manipulated into different variations by your staff. This puts them in control, ultimately making your website more responsive to your users’ needs.

Instead of restricting all design decisions to the front end of the development process, flexible templates allow you to continue optimizing your site for the duration of its life. The result is a living website that changes and grows with your audience.

Beacon Knows Websites

Have questions or concerns about your website’s performance? Request a free website audit, and let our team evaluate what’s going right and what could use a helping hand.

22 05, 2018

Functional/Audience Design

By | 2018-05-22T15:38:17+00:00 May 22nd, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Audience is Front & Center in Higher Ed Web Design

What makes a higher education website effective? The answer can certainly be complicated. Universities, colleges and community colleges are large organizations, with numerous goals, many decision-makers and a diverse set of users.

Prioritizing among a multitude of sometimes competing needs can be tough. How do you decide what gets top billing? For your school, the answers lie within your specific mix of prospective students, current students, faculty and staff, and the larger community to which your campus belongs. The other part of the equation is research.

There are a lot of factors that go into building a great site. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to this: Understand the needs and user habits of your primary and secondary audiences, and shape their experiences on your site accordingly.

How do we do that?

User Experience Research

At Beacon, way before any technical development work starts, we dig in to help you understand your audience mix. In a previous post, we covered the specifics of focus groups and surveys. These methods are key in gaining actionable insights into your target audiences.

We’ve also talked about heatmaps, and how helpful they can be in identifying the portions of a webpage that receive the most attention and engagement.

The other tool in our tool-belt is session recording software. This is used to analyze user behavior patterns and areas of interest on your site. The results are helpful in spotting common user difficulties and identifying opportunities for improvement.

The results of that research is parsed and presented during the strategy phase. It’s then used to inform the decisions in the design and development phases of the website build.

Insights Drive Navigation

Our goal is to deliver a website that caters to all of your intended audiences, is responsive to all devices it can be accessed on (laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet), and satisfies all ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. In short, we design websites that are easy to use and navigate.

Understanding your audiences allows you to create intuitive navigation paths that lead users to the information they are seeking in the shortest amount of clicks.

With higher education websites, we recommend structuring your main navigation menu around the needs of your primary audience: your prospective students. The menu items should focus on the needs of this group, which are gleaned during the research phase. The header should also include an expandable menu with links to audience-specific resources and other frequently visited pages, as well as an easy to spot site search feature.

To make your website mobile-friendly, all menus should reduce down to an expandable hamburger menu (appears as an icon with three short lines). It’s also helpful to have a site search feature that expands to cover the length of the device screen.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Web Design

If you’re not sure if your website’s current design is meeting the needs of your students, we’ll be happy to take a look. Request a complimentary website audit, and our team will provide you with an honest assessment of your site’s strengths and weaknesses. No strings attached. Feel free to give us a call, too, at (866) 708-1467.

30 06, 2015

Higher Ed Sites: Understanding Your Most Common Target Audiences, Part I: The Millennial

By | 2017-07-20T08:46:52+00:00 June 30th, 2015|Categories: Digital Marketing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Designing Higher Ed Web Sites for StudentsAll websites have at least one challenge in common:  They all have a target audience, and the success – or demise – of their site rests heavily on how well their site ‘speaks’ to that particular demographic.

But wait – let’s back up to the beginning! First, let’s understand what a target audience really is:  To put it simply, a target audience is a particular group of people that have been identified as the deliberate recipient of advertising or messaging relating to a product or service a brand is ‘selling’. Given this definition, higher education sites face a hefty challenge – they generally have 6-7 unique targets for one web site! The following are the typical categories:  Prospective students, current students, prospective parents, current parents, faculty and staff, alumni and donors.

In this series, we will cover some of the key considerations a higher education web site should incorporate to attract each audience most effectively.

First, let’s visit prospective and current students, who the majority of them today are categorized as Millennials. Today’s Millennial is technologically savvy, so developing a responsive site is a must, especially considering that the average Millennial interacts the majority of their time on a smart phone. They tend to have a very high sense of urgency and if they aren’t satisfied with their findings on your higher education site in 1-2 clicks, they will likely bail and go somewhere else. Asking questions via surveys or focus groups prior to higher ed web development will help to ensure you are answering their searching needs. This generation is intensely social (at least via social media channels!) and they look to their peers for advice or referrals. Millennials trust their friends much more so than any other marketing tactic employed today, so the use of testimonials, videos and reviews on your site greatly impacts their perception of the school. In conjunction with their social nature, Millennials love to engage, contribute to content and broadcast their own thoughts. Sites that have boldly incorporated a full social media feed, such as Nazareth College for example, are perfecting that channel as it relates to this audience. Higher Ed UX DesignInterestingly enough, 26% of all Millennials rank Twitter as their number one social media platform, and 59% of all Millennials currently have a Twitter account. Many Millennials have been ‘awarded’ their entire lives so the use of game-like elements with corresponding ‘rewards’ resonates with this demographic. For example, Saint Joseph’s University incorporates “+” symbols that allow the viewer to interact in a game-like way to learn more. Lastly, this audience also visits your site to get a sense of the experience they will have while attending. Ensuring your site a) reflects your school’s brand and b) visually feels modern and ‘real’ and c) demonstrates through photography student’s life-experiences will all help to convince this group that your offering fits their needs.

So let’s recap:

  1. Responsive design
  2. Listen to understand their needs
  3. Use testimonials, videos and reviews
  4. Up-to-date social media feeds – notably via Twitter
  5. Game-like elements with corresponding rewards
  6. Visuals reflect the brand and personality of the school

While surveys are paramount in understanding any audience – and keeping in mind that each school is not ‘cookie-cutter,’ these six points will help most higher education sites start their develop on the right foot and most effectively target today’s prospective and current students.