3 reasons your higher ed. website isn’t doing its job.

Your higher ed. website is likely to be underperforming. If so, you’re not alone; a majority of higher ed. websites struggle to drive applications, enrollments, and next semester registrations. It’s an industry-wide issue. But why? 

There are some sneaky fundamental flaws your team of marketers, communications professionals, and IT pros don’t see. And those weaknesses are sabotaging your website. 

Your website is a critical piece of a current and prospective student’s decision-making process. It’s where transactions happen — or don’t, depending on the number of fractures.

But you can’t fix something if you don’t know where the cracks are. We’re here to show you.

Your higher ed. website is not focused on students as customers.

This is taboo territory we’re not afraid to wade into: Your students are customers. If you’re not considering them as such, there’s no way your website is doing its job. Instead, your site is trying to be everything to everyone – research partners, alumni, current students, faculty and staff, the broader public… everyone. And that’s not going to cut it for what you ultimately need it to do: drive recruitment and retention. 

Your higher ed. institution might have the greatest brand proposition in the market. But that doesn’t matter when a prospective student lands on your website and finds a mishmash of content geared toward…who exactly? The subliminal message running through their head is: This place is not for me.

When a prospective student lands on your website and finds mishmash of content, the subliminal message is:
This place is not for me.

Your prospective and current students are looking for specific information at specific points in time on your website, including:

  • What the application process looks like.
  • How to sign up for a virtual campus tour.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
  • How to contact a real person to answer an important question.

If it isn’t abundantly clear where they can find that information, trust quickly erodes, leading to immediate page exits and low time on site. Worse, prospective students look elsewhere for a university site more geared toward their needs — and pay them tuition instead.

But wait, there’s more. When students aren’t considered customers, there’s an inherent lack of content that is easily accessed and understood that could be the fuel for a buyer’s journey. You need to embrace the tools used for generating ongoing, personalized, and timely communication. It’s critical to understand that you can’t neglect any part of the customer journey (awareness, discovery, qualification, nurture, attendance, advocacy). 

For example, CRM data could be used to spark a personalized conversation with a prospective student early in the buying cycle. Staying in touch with that student as they go through the decision-making process through email, text, or video can be an enrollment linchpin.

So, rather than it being a provocative point of view, considering your students as customers is a mandate

Think about it: You can’t have a conversion-driving website without prioritizing the audience you’re designing it for in the first place. And driving conversions from students (in application numbers, enrollments, and registrations) is what your higher ed. website should be all about.

Your user experience and user interface are disconnected from your higher ed. brand.

There’s more to a website than sharing breaking news and showcasing photo galleries. There’s the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX) that drive your audience’s engagement on your site. And too often in higher ed. these crucial design and programming considerations aren’t viewed through the lens of the overall brand.

  • The user interface is the visual elements a user interacts with to get around your site.
  • The user experience is how it makes the user feel (‘ease of use’ is a great example). 

Often, the UI and UX are operating on their own, separate from the rest of your brand. This is evident in the number of dead ends, uncoordinated messaging, and discombobulating information architecture. 

  • You post a link to a sign-up page on your TikTok channel, but that page has a confusing form to fill out.
  • You share an online event on your LinkedIn page targeted at prospective grad students, but when they arrive on your website, it doesn’t give them a way to sign up for more information.
  • You send a welcome back email to students talking about new mental health resources on campus, but that information is nowhere to be found on your website.

So many disconnects. 

A lack of effective UI and UX on your website means that students can’t find what they’re looking for, or fill out information without fighting friction. It means information is confusing or outdated, or they can’t find a real human to talk to about their financial aid. 

If that sounds bad, well, it is. Not just because those are hurdles to conversions. But because all of this is part of your brand delivery. And therefore, it shouldn’t be broken. A seamless experience is an expectation, especially with today’s digital natives. 

The fewer clicks the better. Only ask for the most important personal information you need from your prospects. Today’s website visitor holds that information closely and is reluctant to share.

And this means no dead ends. That visitors can easily navigate between platforms and pages. That there is an intuitive organization of information. That your website is encouraging and empowering instead of frustrating and fruitless. And that the user can trust your brand to deliver. 

Bottom line: A good UI and UX tied to your brand is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a need-to-have. 

UI and UX are the forebears of CX – customer experience.

Your higher ed. website’s data is overlooked. 

There is undisputed power in data — and you have plenty of it, thanks to tools like Google Analytics. But if you’re not using the data to improve and enhance your website, you’re making a costly mistake.

Data can provide valuable details about how well your website is (or isn’t) working.

  • What information is being clicked on most often?
  • What information isn’t being clicked on that should? 
  • What search terms are being used within the site?
  • What search terms are bringing people to the site?

You don’t have to guess what you need to do, it’s in your data. The analytics tell you what your students do and don’t do when they come to your website. And if what they don’t do is what you need or want them to do, then you’ve got work to do on your UI and UX.

Data also shows you what words to use. What words are students using to indicate their intent? Selection process, criteria for admission, scholarship information, campus life. Lean into what the data provides you and use those words to meet their intent. Choose the wrong words and you may as well be invisible. 

Fixing your higher ed. website is within reach.

Like fingerprints on a window, once you see the flaws in your website, you can’t unsee them. And that’s a good thing. Because when you know where the faults are, you can go right to work correcting them.

And if you can’t fix everything on your own, no sweat. We’ve got our own set of tools. Just give us a call. 

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