Today’s high school graduates are more picky than ever, especially when it comes to all things digital. They know what they like and they have no use for technology that fails to meet their expectations. With the plethora of choices available to them, they do not have to settle for technology that frustrates them, wastes their time, or insults them. Heads-up, college administrators—this may include your college website.
The mistakes of yesteryear’s college websites will not be forgiven. Regardless of the quality of instruction and staff at your institution, if your campus website fails to capture students’ attention, your school will fail to capture their tuition dollars.
Getting a prospective student’s attention begins with realizing where your college website fails to meet the grade. Let’s look at the top five things students are NOT looking for when visiting a college site to see if yours passes the test.
In the age of 140-character tweets, and often shorter text messages, expecting students to actually read anything is a push. Expecting them to read long, dry paragraphs full of multi-syllabic words on a college website throws reality to the proverbial wind. Hopefully, you are a different audience.
Sadly, most college freshmen read at a 7th grade level. Sadder still, this means your college website must be at the 7th grade level, especially the sections used to attract prospects and to guide them through the application process. No, we’re not kidding.
More than a dozen different formulas and methods exist for assessing the readability of text, and they do not all agree. Even though many methods can accurately determine the readability of content once it has been written, they are not very useful in helping writers to write at a given grade level. In fact, most attempts to use readability formulas to make writing easier to read actually have the opposite effect.
Only a small percentage of website content writers can write at a specific grade level, or at a specific level of readability that is different from what they are used to. What, then, is the conscientious college website content director to do? Many institutions have learned that they don’t have the talent in-house to properly write much of their website content, especially the marketing prose.
At the end of the day, your site must convey the necessary information students are looking for—nothing more and nothing less. Using short paragraphs and simple words to do that is how you will ensure that your content will be read by the next generation of enrollees.
By now, you may be wondering if your website might be written poorly, or just written at too high a level. Could be either, or both. In any case, if a 7th grader can’t read through your website with ease, your only hope is that their parents are post-grads.
How many words can a picture tell? Judging by some college websites, not many. Cliché pictures, culled from stock photo sites, litter far too many college sites, leaving prospective students cold.
A quick Google search using the keywords “college stock photos” yielded 17,300,000 results. Unfortunately, many of those end up pasted on websites for institutes of higher learning as if no one will notice.
Neither students considering applying at your university or their parents want to see photos of students on a campus. They want to see photos of students on your campus. And images of students posed for the camera won’t do, either. They want to see students, like them, doing the things students do on campus—with exceptions, of course. They want to see students walking across the campus lawns, students in class, students performing experiments in well-equipped labs, students hanging out in the cafeteria sharing pizza. They want to see themselves, there, doing those things. If the images do not capture their imagination, the student may not feel enticed.
Candid images, combined with some documentary-style photos from important events on campus, will go a long way toward creating a website that invites visitors to look deeper.
It might surprise you, but some colleges are full of themselves. And their website show it.
To be frank, no one cares to hear that your institution “provides individualized attention to students to help them adapt to a rapidly changing hiring market.” Of course you do. You’d better. But so does every other college. Sorry, but it’s all been said before. Time wasted spinning marketing clichés or waving your campus colors is time that you could have used to talk about what makes your college unique.
Do you have a better acceptance rate than others? Do you have special programs for those with learning disabilities? Do you have the only virtual-reality engineering program within five states? Do you have the lowest incidence of serious crimes of any college in your region? These are the things students want to know. It is also important to explain any special programs that you may offer.
Let your reputation speak for itself. Use your website to say the rest.
College websites notoriously burden prospective students with long, arduous forms that they must complete in order to get the information they need. Today’s impatient youth will quickly exit a website that requires them to complete a form just to learn more. It is enough that a prospective student is visiting your institution’s site. From this point on, you should be prepared to literally spoon-feed them whatever information they require. It is not they who owe you information, it is you who owes them information.
Rather than requesting information from the student, your site should be designed to dispense information to them. If you want to invite them to leave their contact information, do so, but do not make it a prerequisite to learning about your school.
Consider alternatives to long forms for collecting information from prospects. The investment required to establish and maintain a live chat portal can be more than offset by the additional applicants it helps to capture. Not only will a live chat feature save students time, it can also save your admissions office time answering questions from prospects and applicants. Well-designed Q&A pages can keep the chat system from being overtaxed.
If you wish to attract rather than repel potential students for your college, scouring your site for long forms is a good place to start.
College websites are, by necessity, voluminous. Entire sections of the site must be devoted to admissions, to outlining the programs offered, to introducing staff and faculty. Of course, athletics and alumni must be given their due. And then there are sections on research, giving to the college, and the ever-changing news and events blog. Over time, content becomes replicated, or worse—inaccurate, and navigation becomes non-intuitive and downright unwieldy.
As prospective students seek out information on academics, admission requirements, campus life, and tuition assistance, many sites force them to straddle several pages to get information on a single aspect of the college.
But it must not be so.
A poorly organized site loses visitors and applicants, and you can ill afford to lose either. Your biology department may be on the verge of curing cancer, but if your website wastes students’ time, you will fail to attract the bright minds that you need to keep your college strong.
It does not matter that your IT department head designed your campus site; if it wasn’t designed well or is no longer fresh, inviting, and easy to navigate, you need a new roll-out. Maybe you have staff members or current students who are capable of updating your site layout or building a suitable replacement. Chances are you don’t.
When You Need Assistance
Your site is the face of your institution and is increasingly becoming the primary portal for students, staff, and faculty alike. You cannot afford to compromise.
At some point, every college administrator or board must decide the time has come to build a new site. Bringing in professionals who specialize in college website development can often be the best choice.
KDG offers world-class academic website development and support. Whether you need help pruning down you current site, or you need an entirely new platform, our experienced developers can tailor a solution that meets the needs of your college today and for years to come. We can do as little or as much as you wish, from consultation to complete site management. Why not call us today?