Do you remember the first time you opened the website of a university in which you considered applying?
I do. Let me tell you – it’s not a pleasant memory. Among the multitude of menus and vaguely familiar academic terms, I could barely tell if I was opening a website in a known language. This, combined with my general confusion regarding my future studies, didn’t help me narrow my choices too much.
The good news for prospective students nowadays is that higher education websites and online communication strategies have evolved immensely since 2004. Modern students now have greater online access to the information they need to make this all-important life decision. And that access empowers them to be more critical and judgmental of every university website they encounter in their research process. School marketers have no choice but to perfect the usability of their websites and the practical value of their online resources.
Why focus so much on prospective students?
An effective website of a higher education institution needs to be organized to meet the information needs of all members of your community — current students, prospective students, international stakeholders, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and partners.
Prospective students are just one of those audience types, yet we believe that your school’s website should place an outsized priority on informing them.
They are the stewards of your school’s future reputation. And your Google Analytics reports may also suggest that prospective students represent the majority of your website’s visits — especially during seasonal application peaks. Therefore, welcoming prospects with a functional and informative website is a crucial investment in your university’s long-term success.
As your prospects hunt for information, they also seek it within familiar content types, especially those that have become most common in the Web 2.0 era. Here are 5 content types that will satisfy their cravings. If possible, all should be present directly on your homepage:
1. Community news
Fresh news from members of the community should be the beating pulse of your homepage.
When prospective students arrive and see something interesting that happened about someone in your community yesterday, or just last week, they will immediately sense the vibrancy of your community.
Couple this with visible links to your main social media profiles, where that vibrancy and freshness continue, and those stories extend into authentic conversations.
2. Comprehensive PDF guides
Comprehensive guides, organized around major themes such as academic programs, athletics or extracurricular activities enable your site visitors to extract and “take home” important compartments of your program that are especially important to them. They can they print them, share them, or save them to a tablet or e-reader to finish reading later. And as your prospect revisits this guide over time, it will continually remind them of your brand.
Another great benefit is that by sending a whitepaper via email, you will be acquiring a prospect’s name and email address, which you can include in your recruiting newsletter and other lead nurturing programs.
3. Visual content
Whether they live in the same state or across the globe, prospective students want to picture themselves on campus and imagine how they’ll feel in such a setting.
That’s why visual material is a second very important aspect that your website should offer. Oftentimes, a new visitor upon entering will be immediately attracted to the images and visual elements of your website, and if those images are not welcoming or intriguing, they could “bounce” before reading a single word, never to return.
4. Video content
Traditional lines dividing Internet and TV are indistinguishable to young people. They expect websites to have TVs inside them.
Video content is usually the most engaging form of content on a website, often serving as the strongest contributing factor for conversions. Virtual tours are one popular and effective format.
Here you can go a step further and think about video testimonials from current students and alumni. Although arguably subjective, video testimonials — especially when unscripted — are much harder to fake, and therefore are more trustworthy that written testimonials.
5. Student blogs
Student life at your university is best revealed by student diaries. Today, those are called blogs.
Student blogs typically feature “day in the life” posts, recommendations for where to eat (and more importantly drink) around town, and much more about how to have fun and make these precious few years in your life’s story truly memorable.
Blogs further build on the authenticity and transparency lent by your video testimonials. Together, they will build trust in your institution in the eyes of prospective students. When prospects virtually meet students who remind them of themselves, via a student blog, they will more easily follow that student’s same path to your campus.
The interactive, social and rich media experiences that your prospects enjoy on sites all around the web dictate that your school’s website must level up and provide similar experiences. It’s never too late to start making such improvements, and great websites never stop evolving in their pursuit of the user experience.