As part of our study on communicating the value of university research, we conducted an audit of research websites. We developed a list of the 14 most valuable features based on website usability principles and exemplary research websites. Read on to learn about our key findings.
1. There is significant opportunity for improvement across research websites, even for top-tier institutions with high research expenditures.
Not a single institution had a research website that included all 14 features. In fact, research websites had only 5.48 features on average. The percentage of institutions with each feature was also surprisingly low—for 11 of the 14, less than 50% of institutions had the desired feature.
Furthermore, the three most common features were the most basic—first result in Google search, matching Google and homepage links, and research link on the institutional homepage. These data indicate that institutions are not leveraging their website to boost the value of their university’s research to a broad audience. For example, only 38% included jargon-free research stories. Far fewer—only 14%— clearly communicated the broader impact of their research projects to the greater community on their research websites.
2. While institutions with higher research expenditures tend to have stronger research websites, institutions with lower research expenditures can start bridging the gap with easy updates.
On average, institutions with research expenditures exceeding $100 million had research websites with 6.68 of the 14 features. In contrast, institutions with research expenditures between $10 and 99 million had research websites with 4.28 of the 14 features. For six of the most valuable website features, there was a statistically significant (p<0.05) difference between institutions with higher and lower research expenditures. This is concerning for institutions seeking to rapidly grow their research enterprises.
However, there are opportunities for them to quickly and easily start bridging this gap. For example, only 60% of institutions with research expenditures between $10 and 99 million had a visible “Research” link on their institutional home page, whereas 92% of institutions with research expenditures exceeding $100 million had such a link. By simply adding “Research” to the main menu of the institution’s website, institutions with lower research expenditures can immediately improve the visibility and accessibility of their research sites.
3. Research websites aren’t tailored to a media audience.
4% of institutions with research expenditures exceeding $100M provide specific information for media on their research websites.
Virtually no institutions included information or instructions tailored for media on their research websites—only 4% of institutions with research expenditures exceeding $100 million, and 0% of institutions with research expenditures between $10 and 99 million.
In many cases, institutions only had media information and instructions on their central communications or news center websites. But if institutions intend to prioritize and improve research communications with external audiences, basic contact information and instructions for media is essential. This can be a relatively easy improvement to make. Moreover, it signals institutions’ willingness and interest in speaking with media and bolstering research news coverage.