Poorly designed university websites may turn off prospective students, according to research from higher education development company KDG.
The company conducted a year of research and user testing to learn about prospective students' experiences with college and university websites. Students provided feedback on websites based on their usability, uniqueness, focus, and message retention, especially as these criteria compared with the websites of competitive institutions.
College websites that don't meet students' standards saw traffic drop over the last admissions cycle—by about 30% to 40% fewer unique visitors.
"When we reviewed the data, we found that prospective students are no longer forgiving of sites that fail them in certain key areas," says KDG CEO Kyle David. "Traditional prospective students have grown up in a world that sees the usability, simplicity, and readability of Facebook and BuzzFeed to be the standard. Websites have to compete with that standard and do it successfully."
KDG determined five mistakes that colleges make when it comes to their websites:
1. Using overly formal language
Students appreciate short paragraphs and simple words. Website copy should read at the 7th grade level, especially the sections geared toward prospective students and the application process.
Related: The art of effective student communication
2. Requiring students to fill out forms
Prospective students may give up on a long form they must complete to get the information they need. Instead of forcing students to jump through hoops to get their questions answered, offer a live chat feature or an in-depth Q&A section.
3. Focusing on the wrong features
According to KDG, many college websites frontload their home page with tons of information, which "force[s] students to straddle several pages to get information on a single aspect of the college." Keep the home page clutter-free by being selective about what content to include.
Also be sure to focus on the website as a whole. A beautiful home page won't matter to students if the rest of the website is outdated and difficult to navigate.
4. Featuring generic images
Not only do stock photos look cheesy, but they also fail to provide an accurate picture of college life. Prospective students want to see real students on campus engaging in real activities they could envision themselves doing.
How one school revamped their site to be high-impact and mobile-friendly
Prospective students also respond well to digital media content, especially in the form of video.
5. Using clichés
Prospective students tend to hear the same things over and over again in their application process. All colleges emphasize their dedication to individual student success in the midst of a changing job market. Relevant information, not clichés, will impress prospective students. Focus on what makes your institution unique, whether it's an exclusive program or first-rate student support services (Stansbury, eCampus News, 5/24).
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