College-bound students flock to universities’ mobile websites

Forty-seven percent of students polled said they would return to a college’s mobile website, with the same percentage saying they might come back to the site. Six percent said they would not.

The recent mobile-web survey showed that colleges shouldn’t rush to develop their own mobile apps for iPhones and Androids. Seven in 10 respondents said they were “happy” to research the school’s offerings through a mobile site rather than finding and downloading the college’s app.

“While such applications could allow you to customize and optimize the experience even further, they also would require development and testing that are probably not worth the extra effort,” the report said. “Stick with creating a terrific mobile version of your site instead.”

The potential shift in web development tactics, Gapinski wrote, could be welcome news for campus IT officials scraping by on stagnant operating budgets and looking for new, cheap ways to get a technological advantage on peer schools.

“It costs a fraction of a full site relaunch to do a mobile site, usually because the information provided is more transactional and self-contained in a mobile environment than it is in a sprawling college or university site,” he wrote. “If you’re thinking about how to prioritize web or marketing budgets, consider that mobile is both future-friendly and comparatively affordable.”

Noel-Levitz researchers suggested that colleges and universities should sync their traditional and mobile sites so that when one is updated, the other is, too. But updates should be double-checked on mobile versions, because embedded media players, for example, often won’t display on mobile sites.

The mobile web’s growing relevance was plain to see in statistics compiled by WVU’s IT department. During the fall 2009 semester, when WVU’s site was launched, there was an average of 1,500 daily page views.

By fall 2010, the daily page views hovered around 4,200. The mobile site was viewed more than 4,500 times every day during the spring 2011 semester. The university’s mobile site recorded 7,000 page views on the first day of that spring semester.

Gapinski said skeptics of students’ preference for mobile sites should take a close look at the private sector’s reaction to the growth of mobile devices and the decline of desktop computers.

“It’s not to say this should be a primary consideration, but many companies outside of higher [education] are now developing for smart phones … first, and then developing for a desktop website experience,” he wrote. “The demands of code and site development are starting to follow the conventions of devices sold to access the internet.”