3 common problems with university websites

'It's clearly an opportunity still being missed by most'

Poorly designed university websites drive potential and current students away, Melonie Fullick writes for University Affairs

Fullick asked Twitter users for their thoughts on university websites and found the problems largely fell into three categories.

"The website should be seen as an opportunity to help people make sense of, and navigate, a complex institution. When viewed that way, it's clearly an opportunity still being missed by most," Fullick writes.

1. Search, navigation, and design

Higher education websites frequently are difficult to navigate. The sites bury information, making users click through several links to find basic things, like campus maps, fees and financial information, the university's mailing address, and schedules. "Link loops" also trap users, bringing them back to the same few pages over and over again.

"Site structure reflects what the institution thinks is important, not what site users actually want to know," Fullick says.

Often, universities group information by "current students" and "staff," while users may actually need a mix of both. Additionally, the websites are generally slated toward information undergraduates need, making graduate students work harder to find relevant information. When a website's search doesn’t function properly, it complicates these problems.

Many websites are also not accessible for users with disabilities and don't perform well on mobile devices, commenters say.

2. Outdated and missing information

Even when users can find what they're looking for, the information may be old or incorrect. Faculty pages are often missing or incorrect. 

Build a donor-centric website

The responsibility of updating website pages falls to various groups of people, making it difficult to keep the information up to date.

3. The mix of marketing and academic materials

A university's website must serve all current students, faculty, and staff, and potential students. However, the investment in the recruitment content often alienates those who need the website for their daily activities. 

How to develop a compelling and differentiated website

"The university website is how institutions communicate not only with students, both prospective and current, but also with parents, journalists, prospective faculty, and anyone else who's looking for some kind of information or interaction with the university," Fullick says, (Fullick, University Affairs, 7/4).  

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