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.