University websites are the “outward personification of a university’s soul,” according to Michael Facchinello, head of Denver operations at Clique Studios. He says the website is often the first impression of the university.
And first impressions matter.
Do You Need a Website Redesign?
“When interacting with your website, prospective students should be able to visualize themselves on campus, and alumni should be prompted with feelings of nostalgia. Also, current students, faculty, and staff should be proud,” Facchinello says.
When it comes to prospective students specifically, university websites need to be easily accessible. It should be easy to find information, fast. Websites serve as an important tool for students to find prospective universities, and websites are the most important tool for universities to show who they are and what they’re about to students.
Three Questions to Ask Yourself
In order to determine whether or not your university needs a redesign, ask yourself these questions:
Does the website’s information architecture and navigation reflect the university organization chart?
If yes, redesign. All too often, university sites reflect the politics of the organization rather than what is important to the people using the site. Focus on what is most useful for the student – this includes things like career development and academic resources.
Do people say, “I never use that site”?
If yes, consider a redesign. Of course, students need to use your website otherwise life is going to be very inconvenient. Is it easy to find student resources? Do they have to call their advisor every time they have a question? That’s a problem.
Does the site evoke a sense of pride?
If not, consider a redesign. Students want something they can be proud of – so they can think, I attend (insert your university name here) and that makes me proud.
Things to Consider When Redesigning a University Website
Facchinello says a successful university website redesign involves lots of collaboration — so think about the people in your organization first. Who needs to be involved, at what level of involvement, and what evidence (deliverables) are needed to make the team confident in a chosen strategy?
Once you have all of your team committed to a website redesign, you can then think about a way to implement the redesign.
Here are some other questions to ask yourself before you redesign:
- What is the core purpose of the site?
- Which audiences are served by this purpose?
- What are the two or three secondary purposes of the site?
- Which audiences are served by these purposes?
To answer these questions, begin a user experience audit. Start by interviewing the admissions department to learn about what is driving students to apply to your university. Then organize website usability studies for different groups: prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Do these studies with about 5 people per group. Find out how the website makes each of these groups feel. For example, do current students feel ashamed about the website? Or excited?
Once those questions are answered, you can then improve the website. Here’s what goes into a successful university website design:
Easy to Use Navigation
Easy-to-use navigation that accounts for the different people who use the site and the different contexts they use it under is essential. For example, make sure it’s easy for prospective students to see the information that will be useful specifically for them. You don’t want prospective students digging for information getting lost on your website.
Clear and Emotional Branding
A clearly articulated and emotional brand so that prospective students can see themselves on campus, and can envision their university experience is key to pulling them in. The website should get prospective students excited about attending your university. Part of creating this vision involves website design that is clean and modern — but also design that does not distract the user from the content. For example, Northwestern University is all about the feeling of prestige. Its website design for The Bienen School of Music reflects that feeling with easy navigation and smooth transitions.
Your website should include clearly outlined university programs and degrees. Prospective students want to know how your communication program, for example, is different than communication programs at other universities.
Your website is where prospective students and parents will go first when conducting research on your university. It serves as the first impression with prospective students. It’s the key to determine if a prospective student takes the next steps or continues to look elsewhere.
A university’s website is also the primary means by which students compare your university against their large lists of potential other universities to which they are considering attending or applying.
While the first impression of the website is so important — while that prospective student is deciding on a university to attend — your website is where that prospective student will go after they are accepted. The website is their source into your university throughout their entire time getting a degree.
And, once they become an alumni, that once prospective will continue to visit the website — reconnecting with their alma mater on a continuing basis throughout their life. Make sure the entire digital experience — from prospective student to alumni — is good.